Stop and start again, Islay parents say to council’s school plan

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‘Transparency and trust need to be rebuilt, on both sides,’ Islay parents have said in a consultation on Argyll and Bute Council’s plan to replace head teachers.

The call to halt the proposal for collective headships, which would put schools in clusters and replace their head teachers with ‘heads of school’ under an ‘executive head’, was made by two Islay parent councils in a consultation which ended on March 31.

Parents of pupils at Port Charlotte Primary School, who collected signatures of 21 out of 24 families, declared no support for the proposal, in a letter to councillors (now candidates) vying for votes in May’s local election.

‘The overarching concern is the Education Department’s conduct in administering the proposal inception and consultation,’ they said. ‘There has been a severe lack of transparency, insufficient information provided, no alternative proposals considered, and no effective engagement/consultation with relevant stakeholders.

‘We therefore have minimal trust in the true reason for this reform, and the outcome this will have on our children’s education and the island community as a whole.

‘We are not against change, but we need to ensure that changes are for the better and do no harm. To date, we have not been provided the appropriate evidence and data to demonstrate a change for the better (or not the worse) in the proposal.

‘We formally request the current proposal process should be halted. The process should then be restarted, this time following proper regulations and consultation protocol.’

Keills Primary School Parent Council also disagreed, ‘strongly’. Their survey received 22 responses from 28 families, within which 77 per cent disagreed with the proposal, and 23 per cent abstained for lack of evidence.

‘The head teacher’s asked for more people on the ground, how will this look in each school? We need more teachers, classroom assistants and ASN (additional support needs) on the ground now. We have been told this proposal is cost neutral – how will this increase capacity on the ground if no new staffing will be employed?

‘Our level of trust is low with the education department due to the general lack of transparency and openness with stakeholders to date.

‘The council state that present difficulties in recruitment are because “posts are not attractive enough”, and no evidence has been provided to justify this statement. The council seem to be oblivious to other common factors affecting recruitment on Islay and Jura, such as lack of sufficient accommodation and childcare, ineffective vacancy advertising etc. The proposal in no way solves these recruitment issues.

‘This proposal is being marketed as a “proposal in principle”, which gives the impression it is a trial which can be undone if it is found to have a detrimental impact on our communities at a later date. We can confirm there is no legal framework to re-vote on this once the councillors have voted it through.

‘If a school cluster includes primary and secondary schools (which is highly likely due to our location), how can an executive head have the skills and experience to run both types of schools?

‘We would like to bring to your attention the massive workload this proposal has put upon the parent council bodies. This task was massive especially when the questions we were asking were not always able to be answered, or were answered in ‘management’ jargon which didn’t explain or justify the need for change.

‘The relationship between the education leaders and the parents has been strained.

‘Moving forward, we need to rebuild the relationship between the parents and education to ensure that the needs of our children are met in our own unique island or rural communities. Transparency and trust need to be rebuilt, on both sides, for the benefit of our children, we work better together!’