Council admits it did not consult parents

Parents who have “grave concerns” about the council’s plan to share headteachers in Galloway through their cluster schools policy had to use the Freedom of Information Act to force the Education Department to admit it never consult parents about the idea in the first place.

Last November the council’s education committee received a presentation which implied parental support on the concept of a non-teaching headteacher in schools. But through the Freedom of Information Act, parents asked Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Education Department what direct consultation regarding shared headships, and their implications, did it have with the sixteen clusters in Wigtownshire prior to the recommendations to the education committee?  The Department of Education’s reply was: “None”. They education department also admitted it had not contacted any of the schools in Dumfries and Galloway, that were not already part of a cluster group, to consult directly with them about the shared heads idea.

A consultation with parents did begin in January but parents say they were dismayed at the way this was run and the lack of information they received afterwards.

Yesterday, all elected members of Dumfries and Galloway Council agreed to cluster 32 schools in the region that have a roll of 150 or less, with a non teaching head in charge. But at Tuesday’s meeting of the education committee a new recommendation was added to “ensure the headteacher recruitment processes will now fully involve parents”.

James Barton, whose two children will go to Wigtown Primary School in August, said: “We have tried repeatedly to get answers from Anne Campbell (who headed the council’s cluster schools review) and her team about this process, about its financial implications and how it will work and effect our children, but to no avail.

“Surely a consultation is meant to be a two-way process – Ms Campbell’s presentation in Wigtown in January started with the announcement she wouldn’t be answering questions and when a group of parent councils asked for further information and input from Ms Campbell in March, they got superficial replies and a refusal to attend a meeting to address their concerns. But her department’s report is what councillors were voting on and as parents we want to be reassured that the comments we have passed were accurately represented.

“Having seen how the first consultation managed to come to a conclusion that no parent had ever been consulted on, I have grave concerns about what councillors had put in front of them this time.”

A spokesperson for Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Education Departments said: “In response to a number of issue and challenges faced within Dumfries and Galloway, our Council agreed to carry out a review of cluster working between our schools. This review focussed on dual zoning and catchment areas, sustaining small schools and transition from primary to secondary education.

“The main aim of the review was to ensure that the new Curriculum for Excellence can offer the best possible outcomes for all young people, consistently across each and every one our schools. We also need to make the best use of our resources and plan for the future sustainability of our small schools against a backdrop of declining rolls and difficulties around recruitment.

“In November 2012, the Education Committee agreed to change the future management arrangement for small schools in Dumfries and Galloway. The main points agreed were that:

• There will be a phasing in of partner headships and a phasing out of the role of class committed Headteachers within Dumfries and Galloway

• The details of how this change will be implemented and managed will be developed through a consultation process with key stakeholders which will include Parent Councils and parents

• The consultation process will take place from January to May 2013

• A further detailed report on the proposed implementation process and timeline was to be submitted to the Education Committee in May 2013 for consideration.

“A consultation process was devised to give all key stakeholders the opportunity to shape and inform the implementation process. As part of this process, a series of meetings were held across Dumfries and Galloway to allow parents to give their views and ideas on how this change will be implemented. Consultation also took place with all staff during this period.

“We absolutely appreciate and understand that there will be concerns about any proposed change, particularly when parents/carers are happy with their current school and HT. However, Education Services have a responsibility to plan for the future of all children and young people across Dumfries and Galloway to ensure that our provision is of high quality, equitable and creates stability for children, staff and families.

“We are working very closely with Headteachers to ensure that we minimise any disruption and maximise the benefits to all pupils and families through these proposals.”