ICC Statement on Council's schools proposal

Isle of Iona: island rejects Council’s proposed ‘Collective Leadership Model’ across Argyll & Bute schools

Iona Community Council (ICC) has consulted its island community regarding Argyll & Bute Council’s proposal to remove all Head Teacher posts, reduce decision-making power in all schools, and put schools under the control of ‘Executive Heads’ across the local authority area.

The conclusions of Iona’s consideration of this proposal are:

1. Iona entirely rejects this proposal in principle. Contrary to the Council’s bald claims about ‘empowerment’ and ‘equity’, it proposes to remove power, autonomy and ownership from the frontline of our schools and communities. It plans to place authority and resources instead in the hands of a newly created remote layer of management, a distant multi-school ‘Executive Head’, for which officers have made a multitude of claims but failed to prove any genuine need or benefit.

The Council proposes to eliminate Head Teacher posts across Argyll & Bute. It wants to impose on each school instead a ‘white elephant’ post of ‘Head of School’, whose role is severely diminished, as the Education Institute of Scotland [EIS] affirms in its comprehensive criticisms of this proposal: on the one hand, the Head of School is no longer permitted to teach, and on the other hand, can no longer make crucial decisions for his or her school. The Council claims – but has been unable to prove – that it faces major challenges of recruitment and retention of Head Teachers; but despite being asked consistently for months, it has failed to show any consideration whatsoever of risks, including the likelihood that its untested model will actually worsen recruitment, retention and the overall sustainability of schools, and damage our children’s education and life chances, as well as the wellbeing of our communities.

This model – with its non-teaching disempowered ‘Heads of School’ and decisions made remotely (off-island) by an ‘Executive Head’ – is actively detrimental and discriminatory to small remote schools, and the Council has not made the case for this model in any schools.

2. This proposal is NOT fit for consultation. Consultation with the Council’s main stakeholders – its communities – should have taken place BEFORE any such radical proposal was brought to a Council committee for decision. When forced to by elected members, officers have attempted to ‘consult’ on a proposal that is based on shifting claims and assertions. Despite months of persistent requests from Iona Community Council and countless other parties, the Council has failed to fulfil its obligations to provide a responsible case to support this proposal – including a strong defensible rationale (versus a set of vague claims), any supportive evidence, any assessment of risks and harmful impacts, or any consideration of alternatives including the status quo.

The Council’s process continues to be colossally wasteful of valuable public and voluntary community resources. It has created debilitating demands and uncertainty, and has done so in the midst of an all-encompassing pandemic.

3. The Council has NOT been accountable or transparent in its handling of this process. Just one example is officers’ bizarre refusal to share the Terms of Reference document and contract value for the consultancy company engaged to carry out this extraordinary process. The Council has been very widely criticised for running an unbalanced promotional campaign, not a genuine consultation. Refusal to share the Terms of Reference does nothing to counter this criticism.

4. We share the widespread and growing concern that this process is reputationally damaging to the Council, weakens public trust, and further damages relationships between the Council and its communities. The Council cannot deliver its services in a vacuum: services need to meet communities’ needs and expectations; we expect the Council to operate through good leadership, underpinned by professional support and guidance from officers, accountable to elected members.

Instead, we are experiencing a deficit of leadership in the Council, which: fails to recognise the obligation and necessity of engaging with communities early enough for them to influence proposals meaningfully, rather than ‘consulting’ after decisions are set in train; and which fails to recognise our legitimate right to seek and obtain the basic information to support such radical change, rather than persistent refusal to provide this information and ignoring our requests when challenged.

We are ever more concerned that the Council is determined to implement its proposal regardless of the views of its communities, and the strength and validity of reasoned opposition to it.

In conclusion, Iona Community Council has made enormous efforts since June last year to secure the most basic information to demonstrate that the Education Service is taking forward a sufficiently justified, tested, proven, risk sensitive model. The conclusion of all these efforts, and of our island discussions, is that the Council does not have the case to support its radical proposed changes to our education system, and that it is subjecting us, our children and our valued education professionals to a massive, high-risk and potentially harmful experiment.

Over many months, and at significant cost to all of us, the Council has failed to make the case for this radical change. The Council needs to be honest and humble. It needs to HALT this proposal and the damage it is causing.

Iona Community Council, 4 March 2022

Contact: iona-community-council@googlegroups.com