‘Stop this mess’: council faces growing calls to halt school shake-up

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

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Council leaders are being urged to ‘stop this mess’ – a plan to axe head teachers – following a ‘flawed’ consultation.

The changes in education management, called the Collective Leadership Model, would see ‘executive head teachers’ in charge of clusters of schools across Argyll and Bute.

The council’s Community Services Committee decided in June 2021 to pause the proposals amid concern over how the public were being consulted.

A consultation, titled Empowering Our Educators, was then carried out in early 2022. The results are due to go before the committee on August 25.

In June, The Oban Times published ‘new information’ released by the council under Freedom of Information legislation, after the consultation closed on March 31.

Since then, Argyll and Bute’s 12 SNP councillors have voiced their opposition, saying they are ‘deeply concerned by the information’.

‘The public consultation process which councillors had to fight for, appears to be completely flawed,’ a spokesperson said. ‘What we clearly see before us in the documents is a one size fits all business model, with no clear educational benefit to pupils.

‘It is now evident the council employed a marketing company to influence our views on the proposals and our votes. This undermines the fair and democratic ethos of community consultation and is completely unacceptable.

‘The stress and anxiety caused to parent groups and the wider community by this process has long been clear and must now cease.’

Meanwhile in Kilmory Castle, independent councillor Mark Irvine said the consultation carried a ‘serious risk’ of damage to the council’s reputation.

The Lomond North councillor, speaking at the council’s Audit and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday June 23, said: ‘I am not talking about the policy, but there is a serious risk of reputational damage to the council.

‘I believe the process falls short of the highest standards we should be setting for ourselves.

‘We are being tried by the press and various bodies. I am sure a lot of members are aware of this, and the council’s reputation is being significantly damaged.’

Councillor Irvine’s request for scrutiny of the consultation was supported by Tracy Mayo, a founder of campaign group Wise4All, in a letter to the council’s executive director Douglas Hendry, titled: ‘Will you learn from your mistakes or is full steam ahead?’.

Ms Mayo wrote: ‘In January, parent councils, 29 at the time, wrote to you about their concern about the validity of the process. It seems their request for a pause and to discuss the process fell on deaf ears, and the process continued, and at all costs, resulting in the trust in the education team, who participated in this process, and the leadership of the council hitting an all-time low, some stating “all confidence” is gone.’

Calls to ‘stop this mess’ have reached a high pitch, she added. ‘Time would be better spent listening to the community’s concerns and moving forward. I am not sure if that is realistic, given the marketing brief which indicates this was always going to be “a tick box exercise”, “a token engagement” or a “fait accompli”.

‘Alarm is growing that this is being slipped in the back door in light of recent appointments, perhaps “operational” in nature by your standards, while others may see them as “provocative”.’

She concluded the council’s leadership ‘seems to be in a bubble of self-denial, as the disquiet simply rises and rises’.

A council spokesperson said: ‘Our priority is to ensure that our children and 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.

‘Thank you to everyone who gave feedback on initial ideas for action. We will report on this feedback to the council’s Community Services Committee so that the views of our communities are part of the overall presentation to elected members, to allow them to take informed decisions on the long-term future of education in Argyll and Bute.’