Cluster school consultation ‘missed a trick’

Every primary school in the Machars bar one is to be involved in clustering, it has been claimed.

With the exception of Penninghame Primary in Newton Stewart, all schools will be subject to being under the auspices of a non-teaching head.

The claim was made by Mid Galloway councillor Alistair Geddes, who said every primary school in his constituency, bar Penninghame, would be affected by the cluster schools proposal.

And the consultation process on cluster schools has “missed a trick” by not addressing the concerns of parent councils sooner, said Councillor Geddes at the most recent meeting of the Wigtown Area Committee.

Dumfries and Galloway Council quality improvement manager Anne Campbell gave councillors an update on the cluster working review, which started in January, ahead of a year-end performance report next month.

Ms Campbell said there had been 50 hours of consultation with interested parties throughout the Wigtownshire area and various concerns had been noted. She added that the idea to have a non-teaching head overseeing a group or “cluster” of schools had been forced on the council as 40 per cent of headteachers in the area were due for retirement in the next four years.

The council’s “inability to recruit headteacher posts” was resulting in “chronic instability” in schools and this problem was compounded, said Ms Campbell, by a five per cent decline in school rolls. The cluster schools idea was not about closing schools or losing headteachers but ensuring a consistency of learning, bringing stability, maximising resources and schools keeping their identity. She added that all schools of 150 pupils or fewer where there was a teaching head was where the issues were.

Ninety-four per cent of staff concerned had said that teaching, directing the curriculum and managing staff was becoming “untenable”.

Cluster schools will also benefit P7 children who have peer groups of five or fewer as they can engage and work with their peers in larger group ahead of going up to secondary school.

Mid Galloway councillor Alistair Geddes said every primary school in his constituency, bar Penninghame, would be affected by the cluster schools proposal.

He said to Ms Campbell: “Parent councils still have apprehensions and concerns and you have missed a trick by not consulting with them at the first possible opportunity to address these concerns.”

Stranraer and North Rhins Councillor Willie Scobie added: “A lot of people out there are still confused and every effort must be made to go that bit further so that the consultation process gets to the lowest common denominator as well as keeping members informed.”

The councillors also heard that parent councils may not be involved in the headteacher selection process. Ms Campbell explained that if a headteacher post came up involving three schools with one teacher of retirement age, the job would be offered to the other two teachers. If both wanted the post it would go to the longest serving teacher.

Hearing this news, the members wanted their concerns about the lack of consultation with parent councils noted ahead of a report on the cluster schools working review going to the full council.

Wigtown West councillor Grahame Forster warned the education officer, saying: “You need to take parent councils with you on this and, as far as I can see, you have a hell of a lot of work to do.”