Sustainable Education in Highland Communities – Meeting of 25th June 2018 – Feedback to Parents

The HPCP was represented at the June meeting of the Steering Group for the Sustainable Education in Highland Communities (SEiHC).  You can now see the formal minutes of that meeting at:

Note that the meeting due on 17 August will not go ahead, so the next meeting will be on 1 October 2018.

The HPCP view, from Mark Gunn:

Progress is being made in the SEiHC programme, but it is complex.  The balance between getting it done quickly and getting it done right is a real challenge, and will remain a challenge as the SEiHC Programme develops.

Such major programmes can quickly become incoherent if not very carefully managed.  Having four people running the SEiHC Programme as their full-time “day job” should help to make sure it is done properly and professionally.  This obviously has a cost, but in my experience of such programmes, not having people dedicated full-time to running it would be a major mistake, and risk repeating problems seen during the original “Management of Schools” process 2016-2018.

Highland Council must make sure that no major “unintended consequences” arise from the SEiHC.  The Programme Evaluation covered in Section 5 of the Meeting Minutes is an important step.  It should help to ensure that the SEiHC Programme can succeed, avoid “unintended consequences”, and remain receptive to constructive external inputs.

It is clear to Highland Council that it must get the “community engagement” element of SEiHC right – that is why one of the four SEiHC jobs will be a Community Engagement officer.  This is not just about engaging effectively with Parents and Pupils, but also the wider communities that SEiHC could or will affect.   Five Associated School Groups (Secondary schools and the Primaries that feed them) are currently the focus of the SEiHC (Kinlochleven, Wick, Thurso, Gairloch and Inverness High School).  It is therefore likely that Highland Council will start (or restart) its engagement with Parents and other community groups in these ASGs, but expect that to widen as the SEiHC Programme develops.

One challenge is to define the boundaries for the SEiHC – what is “in scope” and what is not.  There is a real danger that SEiHC could grow into an all-encompassing programme that strays way beyond Education – for example, to what extent could/should it include adult education and Community Learning and Development?  Another is to decide what “Sustainable” means – so does SEiHC include things like expanding teacher training in Highland so we “grow our own”, and does the programme look forward 5 years, 10 years or 30+ years, so that changes are prepared for and then made when they are needed and/or when they can be afforded.

One challenge for us as Parents is to know when we have a legitimate right to be consulted – our views heard and acted upon – and when the Council has the duty and legal right to make a decision and only inform Parents about the outcome.  For many of us the main concern will be getting the best educational outcomes for our children, but how is that to be achieved?  In some areas recruiting headteachers (HT) to small Primaries is a real challenge, and ultimately a school with no HT has to close, so “clustering”, where one HT covers 3, 4 or even 5 schools may be the only alternative.  But what if you could or will get a better education for your children by closing the local Primary and putting the children on the bus for a 30 or 40-minute journey to a larger and better-staffed school?

Finally, from what I have seen so far, it is very clear that the current model of education provision in Highland cannot continue as it is (over 200 schools) in the face of steadily rising costs (both staff and buildings) and reduced funding (eg from the Scottish Govt).  Undoubtedly some of the problems we face stem from poor decision-making in Highland Council going back 20 years or more.  But some problems arise from changing demographics (the structure and changing age-ranges of the population), and nationally-agreed principles (such as pay rates and staffing requirements) that impose unintended but very significant burdens on large and mainly rural Local Authorities like Highland.

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