Fife education convener 'disappointed' by rhetoric over contentious East Neuk headteacher plans

Fife’s education convener says he has found some of the rhetoric from some councillors during the course of discussions on the Waid Academy cluster leadership proposals to be “disappointing.”

By Craig Smith, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Thursday, 24th February 2022, 9:56 am

Councillor Craig Walker, who chairs the region’s education and children’s services sub committee, confirmed on Wednesday that proposals for a new leadership model affecting Waid and eight primary schools in the East Neuk had been put on hold, with the local authority taking more time to work through options which will be put out for consultation during the 2022/23 session.

The move came after a backlash from affected communities and opposition councillors, while an online petition started by Independent councillor Linda Holt gained more than 1800 signatures.

But while Mr Walker believes the decision to delay is the right one in the circumstances, he has hit out at the narrative being pedalled in some areas.

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“The outcome was never prejudged, the consultation was never a sham, budget savings were never proposed for any of the proposals, yet communities in the East Neuk were told by some that this was the case,” he explained.

“We have had joint headteachers working very successfully in a number of Fife schools for several years.

“I believe it is important that the parents are aware that as the overall leadership strategy for Fife had been approved at the Education and Children's Services Committee last year, backed by all political parties unanimously incidentally, there was no requirement for the education service to consult at all.

Parents protesting against the plans took their case to the national media (Pic: Richard Murphy)

“However, as officers brought forward the specific proposals for the East Neuk, it was obvious that implementing this strategy operationally would result in significant change and to consult with parents and school communities was the right thing to do.

“This was done in an open and transparent matter not driven by a prejudged outcome or by budget savings as has been suggested. The outcome demonstrates that.

“In a similar vein I was surprised to read in Fife Today late on Tuesday afternoon the co-leader of the council Councillor Ross calling for the proposals to be withdrawn when he would already have been made aware that this was what the education service would be proposing after discussions between myself and education officers. People will make of that what they will.

“In Fife, we are blessed to have dedicated, talented and hard working education officers and I know their only objective was and is to improve the learning journey for all our children and young people.

“That will always be the focus of the service, but we must acknowledge that we did not properly communicate to parents the reasoning behind the proposals nor the educational benefits they could have brought.

“We will improve on this when further discussions take place in the future.

“The strength of feeling of some of the communities in the East Neuk is such that halting these proposals, rethinking and reengaging with parents and school communities is the correct decision and I really hope this reassures them that children and young people's school experience is at the heart of everything we do.”

Conservative education spokesperson Kathleen Leslie said she was “delighted” that the proposals have been delayed but stressed the need for much more engagement with parents and local communities.

“There is an absolute need for further information to be provided to elected representatives as to the fullness of these proposals in the future,” she said.

“We need to see the rationale as to why this is being considered; all the perceived positives and all the negatives, with evidence.

“We need to know how headteachers, teachers, parents and the trade unions view all of this.

"Consultation must be thorough and for a model that potentially could affect all of Fife, the public need to be informed and no decision is made until the full implications going forward are debated and understood.

"Transparency and accountability must always prevail in such matters.

North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie also described the delay as good news but urged people to submit their views to the council as soon as possible.

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