Speech to the Education Committee

Laurie Bidwell, Labour spokesperson on Education in Dundee

 

23 November 2015

Convener, I have listened carefully to the answers that have been given to Members of the Education Committee tonight and at the briefing on Thursday afternoon past and I remain unconvinced that we have a full enough picture at this point to make a decision whether to approve or not the proposal that is in front of us.

In our Motion, I have tried to set out, the crucial details that I think are a pre-condition for approving the beginning of a consultation on what amounts to a school closure, a school merger and the re-location of thee two remaining Secondary Education Centres.

My starting point, is that the young people who currently attend and receive their secondary education at Balerno, Connect 5 and Castlepark Education Centres are amongst some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in our City. If we are to make important changes to their schools we need a convincing case.

First off, what is the Educational rationale for the re-focused services. Which services have been visited or have inspired our Education Directorate to come forward with this proposal and precisely how will this be better and not just cheaper than what we have at the moment?

Secondly, we need to know the staff structure for the new off-site education centre including the staff to be deployed in the outreach services.

I think we should also expect some plans and drawings for the proposed relocated centre at Rockwell. When the Council went out to consultation on the Menzieshill closure last year, it was clear what kind of alternative school and its facilities that the new Harris Academy would offer. Members of the Education Committee were already involved in the detailed planning of this building through the Project Board.

Thirdly, it’s clear that Councillors who are members of the Education Committee have an important role as corporate parents for many of the off-site pupils who are in the care of Dundee City Council. How is that role to be secured within the proposed forthcoming consultation?

Fourthly, learning from the experience of the public consultation on the closure of Menzieshill High School, I think it is important that the draft proposal paper to be issued for consultation is written in Plain English. The Menzieshill proposal was criticised by the Plain English Campaign when they found that the reading level for that document required someone at Doctorate level – we must do better on this occasion.

In relation to consultation with the off-site pupils we are proposing that our approach should be consistent with the good practice advice from the Children’s Commissioner, Tam Baillie. His guidance urges Councils undertaking consultation on school closures to engage facilitators from independent organisations to undertake the direct consultation rather than staff from the department that is advocating the changes.

Finally, before we make a decision about the proposal, I think there may be members of our Committee who would wish to visit one or all of our off-site education centres and the proposed area at Rockwell which has been suggested for the amalgamated Centre.

If Convener, as you have publicly said, this not about the £0.5 million savings then what is the rush to begin this consultation?

I urge you to support our amendment and come back at a further point with a fleshed out and more convincing proposal."

Text of Councillor Laurie Bidwell's Motion

It is recommended that the Committee defers a decision on this school closure, school merger and relocation proposal pending more comprehensive details being brought forward to the Committee including the following elements:

1. educational rationale for the refocused services drawing on best practice;

2. draft proposal paper to be issued for consultation to be written in Plain English;

3. details of consultation approach with off-site pupils consistent with best practice advice from the Children's Commissioner;

4. clarification of Council's role as corporate parent for off-site pupils;

5. staff structure for the new Off-Site Education service including the the Outreach services;

6. draft plans/drawings for the proposed relocated 'centre' at Rockwell;

7. details of alternative school based services that will be put in place for S1-2 pupils and how the funding that is proposed will be invested and

8. opportunity for members of the Committee to visit the existing three off-site Education Centres and the proposed area at Rockwell which has been proposed.

After the Meeting Laurie said:

"I think the Education Committee made the wrong decision tonight by not following the path that Labour had proposed. Unfortunately, current and future pupils in our three Education centres will pay the price for this decision based on a 'dodgy dossier'."

I am not persuaded by the Director of Family and Children's Service when he comments unfavourably on the high staff - pupil ratio and the high comparative cost of a place at the Castlepark Education Centre.

My reservation is because the numbers of young people transferred to the centre have been run down by his senior colleague, the Head of Secondary Education.

It is, in my opinion, misleading to pretend that the Castlepark Centre is in poor condition and is unsuitable accommodation for a small education centre.

Why does it remain unsuitable when the Council has spent close to £100,000 on various improvements and upgrades over the last five years?

It is, I believe, misguided to assume that the Council can reduce the staff budget for the new combined centre by 40%, double or more the size of classes and simultaneously improve the outcomes for these pupils.

How can this proposal realistically support 'Getting it Right for Every Child'?

I fear, it will contribute negatively and it will get it wrong for some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people in our city."