Homework list, by Peter Roffey
Monday 19th August 2013, 5:00PM BST.
IT IS strange how you can agree with almost everything in a document and yet find it faintly irritating.
That was my reaction to the Education Department’s wide-ranging policy letter presented at the last States meeting.
What niggled? Well, for a start it was yet another blasted ‘vision document’. I’m certainly not advocating blindness, but all this vision nonsense is starting to wear thin.
Then there’s the language used. The document was titled ‘Today’s Learners, Tomorrow’s World’, which evoked memories of an old television programme hosted by Raymond Baxter and featuring a bloke in a jet-suit in the opening sequence.
Add to that the Education minister’s statement that ‘our destiny is in our hands and the destiny will be shaped by the education of future generations’ and I felt I’d fallen through a worm hole into a parallel universe ruled by a troika of PR professionals, advertising agencies and management consultants.
Sorry to be a grumpy old Guernseyman, but it seemed only a short step before someone suggested bringing in a ghastly motivational speaker or holding a team-building exercise.
If what the department meant was that top-class education is vital to Guernsey’s future success, then why didn’t they just say so? Of course it is – few would disagree – but that’s no excuse for pretentious twaddle.
As for Deputy Luxton trying to draw parallels between the report and the UK’s Olympic legacy he has to win the gold medal for disappearing up his own oratory.
Okay, having bristled at the presentation style, let’s get onto the content.
Here I agree with most of what Education had to say, even though the concrete proposals are yet to come forward and I’m not sure this rather abstract curtain-raiser was necessary.
* Later this year they will bring firm proposals for every local three- to four-year-old to have 15 hours’ nursery education a week. This is really welcome and long overdue, but it will be fascinating to see how it can be afforded.
* Also this year the department will bring forward proposals on primary provision. This is likely to be an emotional process leading to the closure of two or three primary/infants schools. If so, it will be very sad indeed for the communities concerned, but it’s hard to argue in favour of keeping more primary places than we really need when there’s not enough money to provide all of Guernsey’s essential services. It will be very interesting to see how Deputy Sillars reconciles what he knows is the right way forward with his election promises.
* Then there’ll be long overdue proposals on post-16 education. Hopefully this will sweep away the absurd and artificial divide between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ education.
* Then finally, next year will come perhaps the most controversial review of them all – how we should deliver secondary education. While this should be about far more than just the 11-plus, there’s no doubt that sharp battle lines will be drawn over this issue. There’s already been one skirmish between deputies Brehaut and Perrot.
Actually, talking about that skirmish, at the risk of being accused of fence-sitting I agreed totally with both protagonists.
Deputy Brehaut is certainly right that the current 11-plus system is outdated and harmful and has to go. But Deputy Perrot is also right that the colleges do have a future, which may include some sort of bursary system. I wonder if there’s a role for me in mediation?
The other group of deputies who are undeniably right are those saying plans to redevelop La Mare de Carteret schools simply must wait until the future shape of both primary and secondary provision has been determined.
That’s very sad, as the project is long overdue, but it would be madness to press ahead until those key decisions have been taken. Indeed, it would be the height of irony for a department obsessed with ‘vision’ to press on while they are still in the dark over what sort of new school[s] might be required.
So that means the detailed planning can’t really start until the last project in Education’s strategy document has been completed. Probably not for a couple of years. With cash desperately tight that must call into question the continued employment of a dedicated redevelopment team under the former director of education.
I quite like the deputy minister of Education’s description of this vague policy letter as ‘a job list’.
The list has been noted, now get to work and good luck.