Documents shed light on council plan to axe head teachers

The Empowering Our Educators plan has met with resistance across communities.

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Campaigners against Argyll and Bute Council’s plan for cluster schools say they feel ‘misled’ following the release of ‘new information’ under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

Argyll and Bute Council’s controversial ‘Collective Leadership Model’ seeks to replace head teachers with ‘heads of school’ and cluster schools under an ‘executive head’. Its consultation ended March 31.

Many parent and community councils, and the EIS teachers’ union, spoke out against it. One meeting of 350 people on Mull failed to find a single person in favour.

Mull Community Council’s convener Tom Nelson summed up: ‘No-one can give a considered view, because Argyll and Bute has failed to produce any real evidence. It has been a waste of time.

‘We can have no confidence in the proposals if Argyll and Bute Council fails to properly address the questions that are being asked.’

Following a FOI request, more information has come to light in confidential council documents.

‘The council said these proposals were cost neutral,’ said Michael Breslin, a former lead councillor for education and lifelong learning, who studied the papers. ‘In fact, the starting point in late 2019 was that the proposals would save an estimated £675,000.

‘There has been no mention of the number of clusters of schools, but the figure of 16 appeared in another document.’ The council’s marketing proposal states: ’16 school clusters are proposed, with three early adopters in Dunoon, Bute and Kintyre.’

Last February, a council education manager told Oban Community Council: ‘Actual collectives have not been identified. If [the principle is] approved, which is the key decision, only then would more consultation begin on the design of school collectives.’

But an internal council report, summarising the project’s progress in December 2020, says: ‘the project team have also taken time to identify actual clusters in Argyll and Bute’.

A summary from March 2021 adds: ‘The project team have given consideration to identifying the actual clusters which could be introduced across Argyll and Bute.’

The council agreed a contract worth £23,180, excluding VAT, with a marketing agency to help run a consultation, called ‘Collective Leadership Model: Empowering our Educators’.

The council’s invitation to tender says: ‘Argyll and Bute Council are seeking specialist support to develop marketing products and a brand identity, with associated narrative, designed to influence a variety of stakeholders that our concept of executive head teachers managing a cluster of schools with a supporting leadership team offers improved benefits to them.

‘We need to segment our stakeholders, there are a percentage that mistrust and will never support. The silent majority are our target audience and we are looking to turn this group into advocates who will help us to persuade and influence within their own communities and peers.’

Mr Breslin commented: ‘It is evident that their concept was fixed. The words used were: “However, our concept and associated benefits with it does not change.” So, is this a genuine consultation or is it the marketing of the concept to the public?’

‘Why did it take so long to secure the documents?,’ asked Tracy Mayo, a founder of the campaign group Wise4All. ‘We are still missing information that is necessary to make an intelligent consideration of the proposal.

‘The documents have simply reinforced my concern about the validity of the consultation process, the future of small schools and the sustainability of our communities.

‘The overwhelming feeling I have is one of exclusion from key decisions impacting my own child’s education and worry for the quality of education for future generations and the likely lasting effects this proposal could have if implemented on our communities.

‘It is clear they are not “buying in”, they aren’t convinced, and in the words of a chair of a parent council “all trust is gone” in the council.’

A council spokesperson responded: ‘Our priority is to ensure that our young people benefit from a sustainable education service that works for every pupil. To do that we must take action to address the area’s unique set of challenges, such as rural settings, declining populations and competition in recruiting teaching skills.

‘We produced initial ideas for how this might be done and used those, through our recent engagement exercise, to gather feedback, views, questions and ideas from parents, teachers, young people, trade unions and many others. Thank you to everyone who got involved.

‘Decisions about the long-term future of our education service will be made openly and transparently through our committee services, so the next step will be to take a report to the council’s Community Services Committee, on outcomes from this engagement exercise and actions coming out of that.

‘The next Committee Services meets on August 25. Our focus is on delivering the best for our young people.’