Wednesday 05 February 2020
Since my previous update statement at the end of September, my Committee has experienced a very quiet period...
The Education Law is 50 years old this year. For many years the States and successive Committees have acknowledged the need for a new Education Law. Next week my Committee will begin a period of consultation on draft proposals before submitting a Policy Letter on a new Law to the States, which if approved should allow for the Law itself to be submitted this calendar year.
Work continues on two other Policy Letters which we intend to submit to the States. One is a Plan for Sport, in which we will propose investment of around £1million over a number of years to promote sport and physical activity. The other is a Plan for Guernésiais, which will invite the States to provide limited but not insignificant funding to support our native language over a trial period of three years.
We are now entering the busiest period preparing for the celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the islands. A highlight will be an expanded motor cavalcade featuring over 150 military vehicles, 70 vintage cars and 30 floats.
At the end of September we opened the new 8-lane running track at Foote's Lane, which has been well received by athletes. Focus has now turned to phase 2 of the works which are scheduled to take place this year and next year, including much-needed repair and maintenance of the Garenne Stand and improving accessibility.
We have begun work with colleagues across the States to prepare substantial capital projects to enhance Castle Cornet and access to it. Another phase of conservation work at Fort Grey will start in the spring and the re-roofing of the Married Quarters at Castle Cornet is planned to commence shortly.
I would like to recognise the outstanding staff team at Beau Sejour for their achievement of receiving an 'Excellent' grade in their recent Quest assessment. This places Beau Sejour in the top 13% of leisure centres across the British Isles.
In 2019, the Committee recorded an underspend of around £120,000.
Nothing is more important to the Committee than working with professional educators to continue the development of the Bailiwick Curriculum and to provide schools and colleges with the policies, resources and support to raise standards and outcomes for students of all abilities.
The Committee was recently able to invest several tens of thousands of pounds in high-quality phonetically decodable books which have been welcomed by primary schools and are enabling them to enhance their teaching of early reading. A research-based initiative - 'Thinking Reading' - was recently introduced to our secondary schools and helped them reflect on how to improve the identification of students who need extra help with their reading.
As colleagues are aware, the Committee has appointed Ofsted as the new inspectorate of our schools and colleges. This decision was influenced by Ofsted's reputation as an experienced inspectorate; by its recent extensive research and development, which has led to a significantly revised and improved approach to inspections with a very strong emphasis on assessing quality of education rather than endless amounts of data; and by Ofsted's openness to work with the Committee and education professionals locally to adapt their inspection framework to the Bailiwick's objectives and unique circumstances. Formal inspections will begin in September 2020. Pilot inspections will take place in some schools during the coming summer term.
I will turn now to the Committee's leadership of the twice-agreed States policy - the States policy - of introducing two 11-18 colleges (Victor Hugo College and de Saumarez College) operating as one school (Lisia School) and integrating further and higher education in The Guernsey Institute in new purpose-built facilities. Closely linked to these policies are the long-overdue redevelopment of La Mare de Carteret Primary School and substantial investment in digital infrastructure and services in all schools and colleges, including in Alderney.
We are currently running the tender process for the construction of the two 11-18 colleges. Planning applications have been submitted and open planning meetings are expected in the next six weeks. We are pursuing changes to internal layout following feedback from teachers, including the layout of science labs and the creation of mezzanine floors to add more independent study space. In the new colleges all students will have access to opportunities and facilities which are currently unavailable to most students. The Executive Head Teacher and the two College Principals have been appointed. Teaching roles have been guaranteed to all teachers who want one. A full draft staff structure has been shared with unions and there will be consultation with all staff in schools in February and March. We anticipate submitting the Final Business Case in March. In September a clear majority of the States voted to provide delegated authority to the Policy & Resources Committee to approve the release of funds to allow construction to start this summer. Since September 2018 parents have been aware of which secondary school their child will attend in which years during the transition period which is now under way and in all future years.
I have said previously that, sadly not untypically for the States, communication of the reasons for these substantial reforms and the benefits they will provide has been deficient. We are trying to improve communication: for example, we have started a series of meetings with parents of children in primary schools, and of their own volition the school and college leaders are communicating more directly with parents to explain the advantages of the new model.
As well as seeking to communicate more effectively, the Committee is listening to representations from teachers and members of the public. There is scope, following further discussions with staff, to make additional changes to the internal layout and operation of the new colleges. The number of students at each of the colleges will increase gradually over a number of years and there is potentially scope during the transition period to require a further review of space and prompt a debate on whether to add more before the number of students reaches its maximum.
A Requete has been submitted. A majority of the signatories are members of the previous Committee which after 18 months in office was unable to present a model other than one considered not only undesirable but unworkable and which was rejected by all except six members of the States who had not been members of that Committee. The signatories are (almost, but not quite) united only in their opposition to the new model agreed twice by the States. I respect that they are exercising their right to oppose States' policy, but they are disregarding any responsibility to propose even a half-decent alternative.
The Requete offers no new ideas; no solutions; and a hopelessly unrealistic timetable for finding any solutions. The Requete is silent on the very significant costs of stopping the current reforms. It would have the effect of ripping up the transition plan for students known since September 2018 and terminating the current construction timetable such that there would be no space in schools which children are expecting to attend next year - and it does nothing to explain where those children would go to school instead. The Requete proposes detailed analysis of innumerable other models, which would inevitably create prolonged delay such that current Year 7 children and probably some of their successors would be denied the opportunity to access a full range of subjects once they reach Year 9.
It would keep all secondary school children stuck for an unidentified period of time in the current four school model which cannot provide adequate breadth of curriculum nor anything close to equality of opportunity and which is extremely expensive to operate annually despite requiring some students to remain in facilities which were inadequate 20 years ago. The Requete would also stop all the work to integrate and develop further and higher education in The Guernsey Institute [including the College of Further Education] and further delay the redevelopment of La Mare de Carteret Primary School. As I have said, the current debate about the future of secondary and further education has been going on for nearly five years. Successive Committees across two States terms have studied countless models with different numbers of schools in different locations catering for different age ranges. And yet - five years on - the Requete offers nothing more than to stop the only model which has ever been approved by the States and offers nothing in its place other than effectively leaving the next States with a blank sheet of paper. Whatever the current challenges and whatever questions the States and the community now want answered, the Requete does not provide the States or our community with a credible way forward.
The Committee - and, understandably as the Committee President, I in particular - have to face considerable criticism from people who between them would like to see a wide variety of different models [selection; non-selection; four schools; three schools at different locations; two schools at locations other than those selected; two schools at any locations but with larger buildings]. I understand why there is concern about these reforms: I myself am a parent of children who will live through the transition period to the 11-18 colleges. But at this time of change, and unless the directions of the States alter, the Committee has a responsibility to provide leadership in the challenging task of implementing the States' agreed policy.
Clearly this whole matter is going to be re-debated by the States in the next few weeks. When it is, I hope colleagues bear in mind that we are here not to act as a giant scrutiny committee only ever picking holes in the ideas of others, but to act as a government with a responsibility above all to provide solutions.
My Committee is not deaf nor inflexible. But my Committee will not withdraw from the principles which have guided its approach to these reforms, which include:
- That we must capture for our young people the best of non-selective education in terms of standards and aspirations, which means 11-18 schools;
- That we must provide equality of opportunity for all young people irrespective of where in the island they live;
- That we must provide every young person [rather than only some as at present] with facilities of high quality;
- That we must deliver as soon as possible the integration of further and on-island higher education in purpose-built facilities; and
- That we must do these things at a cost the island is willing to pay.