Sustainable Education in Highland Communities – 14 May 2018 Meeting – Feedback to Parents

Sustainable Education in Highland Communities – SEHC.

The HPCP was again represented by Mark Gunn (HPCP Sec and Nairn Academy PC), Hugh Wright (Lundavra Primary PC) and Jason Hasson (Tarradale Primary PC).  It reviewed the SEHC draft (Sustainable Education in Highland Communities – Final 100518) paper being prepared for presentation to Elected Members in Committee later in May, the first steps to getting the revitalised Management of Schools programme approved and implemented.

Below you will find feedback from Hugh Wright with responses in blue from Barry Northedge (BN), SEHC Programme Manager for Highland Council.  Please note that these responses from Mr Northedge are part of the ongoing debate and not the official Highland Council position which has yet to be determined.

Note also that the comments refer to the draft report as well as discussions in the meeting held on 14 May 2018.  Further feedback on the meeting and on Hugh’s points from Mark Gunn are added at the end.

Some basic points first:

  • The HPCP engagement in the SEHC Programme is open, honest and robust.
  • The HPCP works with Highland Council as a constructive stakeholder in Highland Education; but it does not work for Highland Council and is entirely independent of Highland Council.
  • The HPCP aims to represent parents across Highland but does not claim to represent all views and shades of opinion, so it is a parental collective voice, not the parental collective voice.
  • Every Parent Council, indeed every Parent, can contribute direct to Highland Council or via the HPCP as you wish.
  • SEHC is the response to what can rightly be called a growing crisis in Education in Highland. There are many causal factors, some of which are within the control of Highland Council, but many (such as the funding settlements imposed by the Scottish Government, the national shortage of teachers, and public-sector pay rates) are not.
  • SEHC is looking to find sustainable, long-term solutions that offer equity of provision and opportunity in Education across Highland. This will not be easy but it is vital.
  • Implicit within the SEHC is an acceptance that many past decisions affecting Education in Highland have been incoherent or incorrect to some extent, and part of the work will be to understand how and why errors have been made, so that Highland can avoid making similar errors again.
  • As a guiding principle, rather than seeking to apportion blame for past failings, we should aim to constructively learn from experience and collectively find the best solutions to the current and future issues.
  • Remember that it is the Elected Members that make most of the key decisions, and good decisions arise from clear, informed debate, which we can all contribute to. Almost every decision about the SEHC will be a compromise of some sort, and in a resource-limited context some may even be about choosing the lesser of several evils.
  • It is absolutely clear that everyone engaged in the SEHC programme wants the best possible outcome for pupils across Highland: that is the aim.

Hugh’s points:

  1. Parent voice and other broader themes – the potential of the development of economies of scale through SEHC to help close the attainment gap and increase parental involvement in children’s learning got squeezed out (again) by employability related issues. These issues are very important to the success of SEHC but perhaps take this of the table for future meetings (or have separate meeting with teaching staff and others at end of each SEHC Strategic Group session and for those parent rep’s really keen to be involved in such discussions) or it may continue to dominate discussions at the expense of other fundamental’s?

BN: I sense a little frustration here Hugh but, I think, we need to remember that defining the governance of the programme is fundamental to the ‘voice’ that all stakeholders have.  Hence taking time to go through the paper again was worthwhile and at this point the HTs are rightly focused on protecting their roles and those of their staff.  I am sure that once the paper is finally agreed at committee we will be able to move on to the broader issues, two of which you identify.  We very much appreciate the contributions that yourself, Mark and Jason make and the time you are giving to the Steering Group.  We do want to work with parents to develop stronger parental involvement.

  1. P. 4 item ‘performing poorly against some standard measures . . .’ Is this specific to schools with higher proportion of FSM pupils or in general?  If school’s in Highland are ‘underperforming’  in relation to some standardised measurements regardless of different professional positions, interest and agendas then this has to be recognised and addressed.

BN: We accepted that this comment might be a little misleading and so have amended this to say ‘Highland does well in terms of educational attainment but could do better’.

  1. Community engagement and empowerment – think this needs a stronger statement on ‘communities of place’ e.g. are we intending to  empower communities or the professional practices, both statutory and voluntary, which services those communities?.  In general unlike communities of practice or interest – communities of place includes both the ‘school community’ and residents living in the wider community in terms of school catchment areas. Think focus should be on strengthening connections, relations and partnerships between parents, pupils, teachers and community . . . with resource support, both financial and in-kind, from statutory and voluntary sector organisations or parents may be excluded from this process and the opportunities that come with it to access the facilities and assets that schools have.

BN: Again here there was debate regarding what we mean by community and so there has been slight amendment in the paper to reflect this.  I think you will find that the engagement process we plan follows your suggestion of strengthening relationships between and focusing on the key stakeholders of HTs/teachers, children, parents and local community.

  1. Income generation – there is a growing tension between THC need to income generate and community engagement/participation which needs to be addressed. Difficult to incentivise parents in High Schools to become involved in x, y and z- most activities and programmes seem to be monopolised and delivered by particular groupings of statutory/voluntary sector organisations at the expense of parent-led projects, initiatives and strategies. Given the changing educational and funding landscapes schools through their PC’s are in a unique position to attract external funding. But many PC do not know how to go about this and more importantly lack any kind of capacity building support to do this unless they have skilled, knowledgeable and resourceful people, either parents or co-opted, on their PC.

BN: There are undoubtable funding opportunities to be tapped by working in true partnership with PCs.  From my own experience I have appreciated the value of a PC that can attract funding from wind forms etc. to enhance the resources of a school.  We need to make sure that we welcome the contributions of parents where they support and enhance what we are able to offer to our children’s education and social experiences.

  1. Perhaps there is a need to think out-side-the-box, be more innovative and experimental, for example, establish a SEHC ‘Resource Working Group’ led by CLD practitioners (both voluntary and statutory) and supported by other key stakeholders? Think the investment in time and initial resourcing of such a group would yield great benefits in terms of the development/delivery of SEHC and, also, leveraging of external funding at a local and highland wide level.

BN: As a person who was once the Principal Officer for CLD in Highland I fully appreciate the contribution that Community Learning can offer.  I know that Brian Porter has the Care and Learning responsibility for CLD and is the lead for the Support for Schools workstream.  Brian is to convene a working group for his workstream that should include representatives from Highlife Highland, I think this is the very ‘Resource Working Group’ that you mention above.

  1. External evaluation – would be good to see parent rep on any advisory group established to scope, monitor and support this.  Think any evaluation and monitoring approach needs to be linked into a parent/community engagement and participation strategy which, in turn, needs to be linked into a communication strategy.

BN: We are progressing this Hugh and do have two independent people in mind one of whom will have the very parent/community engagement role in the evaluation that you speak of.  At this point I am unsure how this will be ‘scoped’ but this will become clearer before the next Steering Group Mtg.

  1. Workforce development – would be good to open up access to joint training involving parents/teaching staff and other stakeholders as advised by Education Scotland to promote and support collaborative approaches to the design/delivery/evaluation of school improvement plans.

BN: Where joint training is relevant I see no problem with this other than when the training can be delivered. 

The 1st attachment (communication strategy) may help to inform development of a communication strategy (in terms of practice lessons learnt despite its health equity focus) and also the 2nd attachment (Attachment 2)  which focuses on focuses on school improvements/developments research and evaluation  – happy to provide more details of these as had hands on involvement with both of them.

Comments from Mark Gunn, HPCP Secretary:

Hugh, useful points and observations, not least the implied view (which I share) that the teaching community has not yet made the jump from the mindset dominating the previous MoS work (which was very “teacher-centric” in many areas) to the much wider programme that SEHC has to be/become if it is to work.

My perspective on the strategic approach: 

First, get the SEHC programme approved by the elected members, especially funding of the four core posts that will be the key to making the programme work.  

Second, assuming the elected members do support the programme, shape (with the core team) the key factors like Community engagement/empowerment, which includes the parent voice (or rather voices as we can expect many shades of opinion).  This will help with finding and enacting innovative approaches, although there will be suspicion of and resistance to innovation in many areas, especially if people (teachers, parents or others) see “innovation” as a cover or proxy for “savings”. 

Thirdly, there is a clear need for what I call “Red Teaming” – having a small cadre who continuously review and critique the programme both as a form of continuous improvement and risk reduction.  The Red Team needs to be independent but also knowledgeable, so can be a challenge to find and fund, but I would hope that we can find a few parents with the necessary skills to do that work as volunteers.  That might be a good topic for the HPCP Conference as by November there will be a need for a first stage review of SEHC.

Supporting all of this there does need to be a clear, concise and accessible one-page handout/poster on SEHC to inform parents of the key aims, objectives and concepts.  Communication is absolutely key to making SEHC work, and whoever takes on the Comms Officer role in the programme is going to need a lot of informed parental input to get the whole thing off to a good start.  If THC messes that up, then SEHC will quickly descend into chaos.

I am very concerned about “boundary management” in the SEHC programme; of necessity is is wider than the MoS concept, but it has to be kept within a workable set of bounds and not see mission-creep that takes it into the entire Care and Learning remit, or indeed beyond.  You are undoubtedly right that there is much that CLD concepts and practices, for example, can contribute, but if the programme encompasses all education (tertiary, adult, apprenticeships, etc) there is a real danger that the core statutory 3-18 issues get lost in the noise.  One answer may be to encourage THC to set up a parallel programme (CLD into SEHC?), perhaps with the longer-term aim to then merge the workstreams into a robust and comprehensive programme that keeps 3-18 aligned with 18+/CLD.  This would be ambitious – I am not aware of any LA in Scotland that has a working comprehensive approach to this, but if you are (or indeed from anywhere in the world), perhaps we can examine that for extraction of best practices and possible short-cuts.  Perhaps we could even ask a trusted researcher in academia for exemplars?  Any ideas on that?

Finally, communities of place (CoP) is a concept vital to all sorts of elements of SEHC, including determination of who are the stakeholders at various scales (from hamlet/village to Highland-wide).  However, when you start to map out CoP you end up with the mother of all Venn diagrams, and an associated boundary-management nightmare.  So we (collectively – including elected members) need to try and offer some sort of workable conceptual framework on CoP that will allow the Council to use CoP ideas effectively but not end up in interminable debate about what/who is part of the “community” in question.  ASGs offer an obvious physical mapping choice, but we all know that many of us as community members interact across multiple ASGs on education matters, with Inverness probably the most complex example.  The Virtual Learning environment is only going to complicate this further as the “community of cyberspace” grows (quite probably into the Northern Alliance as E-sgoil etc expand), and I think that we will need some good descriptions of generic CoP to help get the SEHC Programme team’s thoughts orientated.  If you have any guidance or academic papers in mind that can help paint the picture of what a truly workable multi-level CoP concept looks like, we really need to get that into the debate ASAP, otherwise we risk the concept being side-stepped as “all too difficult”, which would be a great pity.      


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