Empowering our Educators (5)

With the permission of Iona Community Council, I am posting this which has been sent today, 22 June, to all councillors and copied to most if not all of the community councils in Argyll & Bute:

Dear Councillors, 

We are writing as Iona Community Council to urge you, as the Council’s democratic decision makers, to read, digest and ACT URGENTLY on the following information about the Collective Leadership Model from documents finally released by the Council through FOI.

These documents clearly demonstrate corporate failure within the Council which needs to be addressed by its current elected members.

We make this request to you given your constitutional responsibilities to ensure that “Local Government serves the people” (as “A policy maker; An executive decision taker as part of the Council or a Committee of the Council; A scrutiniser of the effectiveness of the Council in achieving its desired outcomes and delivering services”), and that “Local Government represents the people” (A&BC Constitution).

You will be well aware that Iona Community Council and others have tried for over six months to secure the procurement documentation for the appointment of Stand and the Council’s PRINCE2 project documents. There are important omissions amongst the documents finally released (e.g., the Project Initiation Document was requested but not included; and given an apparently very selective adherence to the PRINCE2 methodology, many of the documents that would underpin and confirm any robust methodology do not seem to exist). The documents that have been released, though, DO confirm the very serious failings that we and many other community and professional bodies have tried so hard to bring to the attention of the Council’s leadership.

We urge you immediately to do all that is in your power to halt this proposal along with the waste of money and severe damage it is inflicting. As the documents confirm, the Collective Leadership Model starts from and continues on a false premise, is an ill-thought out ‘solution’ in desperate search of a justification, is blinkered, non-corporate, astoundingly wasteful of Council officer and communities’ time, and has inflicted considerable, unnecessary grief on communities. We ask you to fulfil your constitutional role as our elected representatives, and not to support (as the documents confirm) embarrassing, inappropriate treatment of communities, and making our schools hollowed-out husks of their present selves.

The documents confirm:

1. The Council has NOT run a ‘consultation’ – officers have conducted a “marketing” and “branding” campaign on a sole option that, regardless of anyone’s response – elected members, professionals, communities – is a foregone conclusion: “our concept and the associated benefits with it does not change” (Invitation to Tender). The “goal” of this marketing campaign is “to drive acceptance of the school clusters concept” (as expressed in Stand’s successful bid).

Please see below the Invitation to Tender and Stand’s successful response to the tender for details. We note this was an officer-initiated process, without councillor input or apparent knowledge, which – as below – pre-empted a committee decision. As in point 3 below, we continue to question the probity and appropriateness of committing public money to a campaign prior to any elected members’ committee decision – or to a campaign that has pretended to be a consultation.

2. This marketing campaign in itself, and the way officers have conducted it, cannot allow any confidence or trust in the methods or outputs: in research terms, it has no integrity.

For example:

  • Over the past year, officers claimed that their proposal was driven by (constantly shifting, unproven) educational benefits. Yet the Project Brief document (October 2019) and subsequent “Highlight Reports” (up to and including April 2022) confirm that the drive is cost saving, to be achieved primarily “through the reduction in promoted posts within schools” but also e.g. through elimination of “clerical support in small schools” – which, in language that is subsequently sanitised, will be reduced to “remote classrooms”. Yet despite initial claims of £675K savings, throughout 2.5 years of project ‘Highlight Reports’ to April 2022 seeking confirmation of cost savings, officers have been unable to demonstrate that (or how) cost savings will be achieved.
  • The reports continually reconfirm the lack of any proven rationale, whether in terms of costs or educational benefits. The ‘cost-saving’ Project Brief was approved by the anonymous “Education Transformation Board” then supplemented in November 2019 with a further brief that attempts to add a veneer of “educational benefits” – but throughout 2.5 years of “Highlight Reports” and a full year of requests for the rationale from Iona Community Council to the Council leadership, officers have only managed to produce unsupported claims, without any proven educational benefits. The “Highlight Reports” show that claimed educational benefits consist of assertions made in generic workshop sessions.
  • The reports demonstrate again that there is no evidence at any point that the proposed structure would actually be affordable (let alone cost saving), attractive to recruits, beneficial to children, and not cause harm. Throughout this process, officers have tried to retro-fit information in response to questions seeking validation of their statements and to challenges. Even at CEO level, our continuing requests for evidence have been met with no more than a list of documents that have something to do with education and which refer to generic benefits such as collaboration, but do not address (or have an accompanying analysis that addresses) the Executive Headships model.
  • The reports show that officers understand risks solely in terms of whether or not they secure their aim – i.e., implement their proposal – with no concept of (or demonstrable interest in) risk or harm to children, communities etc.
  • A marketing company, Stand, was appointed to collate and analyse responses to “ensure the integrity of collected raw data” (TP Highlight Report No. 13) – yet, as the marketing agency whose stated goal is “to drive acceptance of the school clusters concept”, Stand cannot possibly carry out this role with any objectivity or integrity; nor have we seen anything which shows that they are qualified or were properly procured for this task (how can the expansion of Stand’s role be within the spirit of the procurement process?).
  • The attitude to communities is quite simply an embarrassment to the Council’s officers. The Council’s Invitation to Tender stresses: “an element of resistance from the communities being consulted. We need to segment our stakeholders, there are a percentage that mistrust and will never support. The silent majority are our target audience …”. Officers sought (spent public resources on) a “Strategy for dealing with negative/unsupportive stakeholders”; officers would “adapt our messaging and approach throughout the consultation process to ensure maximum acceptance and buy in of our concept”. 
  • In response, Stand states that communities will be driven by “misinformation and rumour” (Stand tender document) and communities’ concerns will be “emotional” (vs educators’ concerns will be practical, and policymakers’ reputational – Stand Engagement Strategy p16). Stand believes it will “give communities a voice and take them on a journey from information through understanding and on to advocacy” via unsupported marketing messages.
  • Meanwhile, according to Highlight Report No. 10, officers are to determine whether and how communities may use their voice: Iona Community Council is traduced for (accurately) questioning officers’ claims that they are carrying out a “consultation”, and for requesting the supportive case for the unsupported claims they are making. Perhaps, had officers actually carried out an objective, evidence-based process and fulfilled their legal obligations to consult communities, and been genuinely informed by proper consultation, they wouldn’t resort to characterising and handling the Council’s communities in this embarrassing fashion.
  • Officers have claimed incorrectly that their proposal is driven by current and impending Scottish Government legislation and changing policy, but the reports demonstrate that this is not the case (e.g., Highlight Report No 3: “The project team and Education colleagues are keeping a watchful eye on the emerging national position and any impact it will have on the implementation of the proposals”).

3. We cannot see how it was legitimate for officers to contract Stand pre-emptively in May 2021 – i.e., the contract commenced on the presumption that elected members on the Community Services Committee would endorse officers’ proposal in June 2021.

The committee was being recommended by officers to change the policy of the local education authority from each school having its own headteacher: on what and whose authority did officers commit public money, develop, advertise and award a contract to an external party BEFORE those charged with deciding policy and strategy made a decision? While officers carrying budget responsibilities can contract work, we believe in this instance they overstepped their authority. Had the committee rejected the proposals, how could officers have voided the contract, and at what cost to the Council and ultimately the communities it serves? 

4. Officers have assumed that, in effect, they have the ability to determine policy and strategy.

The project timeline demonstrates officers’ failure to brief the Administration or recognise the need to do so. There is no milestone identified for a report to committee OR any role for elected members – there should be a key target date and a key stage in the project but the project timeline is silent. Instead, we have the bizarre situation in April 2022 of the Council Leader declaring, “I don’t know where the proposals originated from, that is the truth, but it does not mean I’ve been misled in any way by officers” (Oban Times, 28 April), despite Council officers having committed significant time and resources since 2019. Surely the elected Administration of the Council should have been sighted on what is a major shift in policy?

The released documents also clearly reinforce that the report submitted to the Community Services Committee in June 2021 did not provide evidence to support the contentions made and enable the Committee to reach a conclusion. When subsequently requested to show how the primary sources evidenced the proposal, officers ignored the request or were unable to provide evidence: contentions do not make a robust, reasoned case however often they are repeated. The CEO confirmed (directly declined five times to deny) that elected members were actually being recommended in June 2021 to agree the principle of all schools being reorganised under Executive Headships – despite the lack of a case for such a decision or clarity on what the decision was, and only implementation issues would have been reported to them subsequently

i.e., the results of the pilots would be reported with a view to fine-tuning only HOW, not WHETHER, implementation would proceed.

The Highlight reports confirm that there was no intention to consult/ engage with those affected by delivery before the presumed decision was made – and afterwards, we and all other communities would be subjected to marketing, not consultation. We believe that this is very obviously an unacceptable way to treat elected members or the communities they represent.

In the meantime, the model is being implemented by stealth: the revised central education structure is already in place as a result of committee decision and recent head teacher post recruitment decisions by officers appear to assume its acceptance.

5. The Collective Leadership Model would undoubtedly change schools’ identities

For example, Highlight Report No 6 Appendix 1 regarding School leadership structures: “The cluster should be thought of as a virtual school with each of the schools it contains as separate buildings not separate schools.” 

Likewise:

  • “The smaller schools would be treated as a remote classrooms and the complete management would be devolved to the Head Teacher of the larger school. There will still be a requirement for pupil support staff, both statutory and non-statutory in the smaller school, however, there will be no clerical support required as all administrative work will be undertaken within the larger school**. This would enable schools to be managed in a more cost effective way” [**(Do officers understand what this means in reality for daily school life?]. “Resource should be combined to include all of the individual school budgets and all staffing under one single combined budget and resource pool. The Executive Head would have overall responsibility for staffing and school budgets and then allocate and target resource accordingly dependent on an analysis and understanding of the attainment data.”
  • “Educational Resources would be purchased and shared amongst all of the schools in the cluster, providing best value and equity. Better targeting of resource will allow smaller schools to benefit from more and better access to Educational resources to support learning and teaching.” There is no evidence this will be the reality.
  • “Improvement plans should / could be prepared for the cluster, not for individual schools, if regulatory and inspection bodies permit this.”
  • “Schools with very small rolls will benefit from increased resources” – but how could this claim be enforced given Executive Heads, not the school, have control over resources?
  • The Head of School is defined as someone “responsible for a school building” – i.e., a superannuated caretaker/ keyholder with limited control over teaching and learning (Highlight Report No 7).
  • Administrative work would be undertaken in the “large school”, which would require clerical staff to either travel to the hub or be made redundant, with costs (unspecified). What would be day-to-day impact on smaller schools? Who deals with the day-to-day practical issues as they arise? What impact will this have on local employment opportunities? What will be the additional travel costs? How does this proposal fit with the Council’s policy to reduce its carbon footprint?

You will be aware of the overwhelming, extraordinarily consistent, articulate, well-reasoned arguments against this proposal and against the pretence of “consultation”. You will also be aware, incredibly, that the Council CEO has claimed: “The Council are fully committed to developing a culture of engaging and consulting with our communities in a positive manner while recognising the recent exercise undertaken in respect of the Education Change Programme is a good example of this” (email to Mull Community Council, 27.04.22).  

We need elected members to ensure the Council owns up to mistakes, and to halt the wastage and damage of this disastrous proposal and its handling. We are not against change. We ARE against uninformed, un-evidenced, ill-considered, silo-based decision-making, which is devoid of any consideration of risks (beyond the risk of officers not securing what they want) or coherent justification, and which – as these documents unquestionably prove – was never meant to be informed by any genuine consultation with the communities the Council exists to serve.

We attach below for info Iona Community Council’s correspondence with the CEO and Council Leader, as these have been requested.

Please respond to ICC at Iona-community-council@googlegroups.com rather than to an individual. 

Regards – Iona Community Council

By breslin_admin

I am a retired college principal and, for 5 years, a retired former councillor with Argyll & Bute Council. A member of South Cowal Community Council.

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