Parents urged to make their voices heard in school cluster consultations

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Parents and carers are being urged to make their voices heard as education chiefs reveal a timeline for community engagement on shaking up school leadership across Argyll.

Argyll and Bute’s community services committee decided in June this year there would be a consultation process to help shape the future of education services.

The pledge was to listen to all stakeholders from parents, pupils and communities to education professionals, trade unions and policymakers.

If the changes go ahead, it could see schools covering from ages three to 18 working together in clusters.

Instead of each school having its own headteacher, there would be an executive headship for each cluster.

The proposal could see Campbeltown Grammar School and six Kintyre primaries clustered together, with a combined roll of 885 pupils, under one headteacher.

Resources would be bought and shared out in each cluster and teachers would work for a cluster rather than one particular school so they too could be shared, for example to give cover.

Potentially the numbers of headteachers across Argyll and Bute could be cut from 80 to around 14, warns Scotland’s largest teaching union, The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), which says it has major concerns.

More than 800 people have already signed an online petition to stop plans for a cluster schools programme in Cowal at www.change.org/p/stop-the-dunoon-cluster-schools-project-stip

In 2004, plans for joint school campuses in Campbeltown, Dunoon and Helensburgh were abandoned after protest marches and petitions persuaded councillors to reject the super-campus idea.

Information from the new cluster consultations will be used to inform the proposals before they go back to the community services committee.

Tracy Mayo, from Mull, one of a group of parents in the process of setting up an Argyll-wide forum to provide information on all things education, got in touch with the Courier regarding the school cluster plans.

‘Some people think they should just sit back and let it happen but my fear is that if this is pushed through, it could have serious repercussions for the whole of Argyll and Bute but, for islands, it could have an even greater impact,’ said the former Mull community councillor and parent council member.

‘I don’t see how schools are going to benefit from remote managers.

‘If they remove this route to promotion and the chance of career progression – because it would mean a reduction in the number of headteachers – it could be the next Highland Clearances. The consequences of this decision could be huge.’

Tracy explained that the forum, which will hopefully be launched in early November, will have the primary aim of keeping parents and carers updated on all educational matters affecting Argyll and Bute.

The forum’s members hope to help parents make their own informed decisions by summarising and bullet-pointing council reports and removing jargon to make it easier for parents to process.

‘If parents don’t have the information, it’s hard for them to be focused on the issue,’ Tracy said.

‘My concern is not that everyone must think the same way as I do, but that they have the correct information to make up their own minds properly and they don’t agree to something they might later regret.

‘Parents have got power so they need to make their voices heard.’

Argyll and Bute Council’s policy lead for education Councillor Yvonne McNeilly said: ‘The best outcomes for our young people are at the heart of all our work.

‘We are a council that listens to our communities and this proactive engagement programme will be at the core of our decision-making.

‘We very much welcome the views and ideas of our communities and look forward to seeing what their vision is for the future of education services in Argyll and Bute.

‘To provide the very best for our children and young people we must take positive action to deliver a sustainable education service. This expanded engagement programme is one such positive action.’

Councillor Yvonne McNeilly says the conference will be an inspiring and motivational event.
Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, policy lead for education.

An overview of how the engagement would work was due to be shared with the council’s policymakers last month when headteacher focus groups were due to start.

Union representatives and headteachers were to be consulted on proposals this month with school staff being consulted next by their own headteachers.

Between now and March on the consultation calendar, all staff will be able to attend one-to-one engagement sessions.

Then will come consultations with higher education and further education partners at Argyll College and The Scottish Association for Marine Science before it is the turn of communities, parents and pupils.

Over two weeks sometime between next month or January, still to be confirmed, there will be an open consultation followed by a direct email campaign reaching businesses, the diocese and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, the principal public body in Scotland responsible for promoting Gaelic development.

In April, there will be a findings and analysis review of all the consultations and in May there will be a presentation of findings and refined proposals to headteachers, unions and policymakers.