ANGRY parents have claimed that pupils of Madras College, St Andrews, were “encouraged” by rector Ian Jones to support Fife Council’s controversial proposals for a remodelling of the present Kilrymont school.
They plan to raise their concerns with the local authority’s chief executive Ronnie Hinds, amid concerns that the rector’s actions may have “compromised” its newly-launched consultation process.
However, Mr Jones has defended his actions and pointed out that Madras pupils are formal consultees on the plan to create a single-site campus.
Worried parents contacted the Citizen claiming Mr Jones actively encouraged pupils to vote ‘yes’ for the proposal, maintaining it flies in the face of published guidance on consulting young people and children.
The consultation exercise opened on December 1.
According to the parents, pupils were “consulted” during a series of assemblies led by the rector when he allegedly encouraged pupils to vote ‘yes’ for the proposal, as it would be good for the future pupils of Madras.
It is claimed Mr Jones spoke about the benefits of a refurbishment of Kilrymont, but did not mention any of the drawbacks.
It is understood that pupils were subsequently given a consultation document to complete - the same one provided to the wider public - with staff agreeing to give them time to fill them in if they wanted to, and offering to collect them.
Such consultations are governed by the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 and there is accompanying guidance for the Act.
It states, among other things, that those with a vested interest in the outcomes of the consultation (parents/carers, school and local authority staff) should be involved as little as possible in the actual consultation with affected children.
One concerned parent said: ”The rector held several assemblies, involving all year groups of the school, and presented only his perceived advantages of the proposal. He then encouraged the children to vote ‘yes.’
“I am extremely alarmed that Mr Jones would consider it acceptable to use his position to influence the outcome of the pupil vote, and I will be raising my concerns with the chief executive as to whether this act will necessitate invalidating that vote.
“My understanding is his approach contravenes the guidelines set by the Scottish Commissioner for Children and Young People, who advises that teaching staff should distance themselves from the process.”
Another parent added: ”For democracy to work, you require a full presentation and discussion of all options.
“While Mr Jones appears to have attempted to educate Madras pupils on the perceived benefits of a refurbished Kilrymont, he forgot to mention any negative points, or any other options, and the pupils were presented with a biased account.”
In response, Mr Jones said: ”Following the distribution of consultation forms to parents, I held a series of assemblies for the whole school where pupils were shown the same images and information from the story boards which have been on display to the public since the start of the consultation.
“I explained fully to the pupils what we are consulting on and what the proposals are for a remodelled and extended Kilrymont.”
He explained that councillors had decided to consult on a proposal to remodel and extend Kilrymont, the consultation was a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question and it was, therefore, not appropriate to discuss the pros and cons of other sites.
He concluded: ”Pupils were informed that consultation forms would be given out at registration the next day and I said that if they wanted to see a new single site Madras by 2015 I hoped that they would vote yes.
“Pupils are always encouraged to take part fully in any major issues concerning the school and we have an active Pupil Council which promotes democratic participation.
‘‘We support our children throughout their learning and teaching in the school to be confident, independent individuals and I have confidence in their ability to look at the current proposals and make up their own minds.”