Johnstonebridge Primary School Needs You!

Letter to Education Department

Here is a copy of the letter that was sent to Acting Director of Education Gillian Brydson & Schools Manager John Thin on 7th March 2018.

Gillian Brydson has failed to respond at all, and John Thin refused to attend the meeting or send anyone in his place. John Thin advised he would respond to the letter, it is now the 31 March and there has been no response.

 

Copy of Letter

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am writing regarding Dumfries and Galloway Council’s recent budget setting process held on 28 February 2019.  I am currently the Chair of the Parent Council at Johnstonebridge Primary School, my oldest son currently attends this school and I have my youngest son enrolled to attend from August 2019.  I am sending this letter as Chair of the Parent Council to register our objection and complaint to the proposals to change primary class composition, specifically in regard to the changes proposed at Johnstonebridge Primary School.

I note the budget papers were not released for public consumption until the afternoon of 27 February 2019 thereby not providing any opportunity for members of the public to raise any concerns/issues. I would be interested to know if there are any statutory requirements on the required timeframe for the release of these papers?

I am writing with reference to page 107 of the budget templates titled:

  • Theme 1 – Sustained Focus of our Resources on Council Plan Priorities
  • Proposition Title: Primary Class Composition to match national guidance
  • Proposition Number: 1.17

The Council Plan outlines the main principles to include listening to our communities and people; be open and honest; and deliver locally. The Council states its commitment to be an inclusive Council by ensuring that local people and communities are at the heart of our decision making and that communities will be empowered to make the most of their assets. I am disheartened and concerned that the only element in the process that could be called a ‘consultation’ was the Council’s full corporate ‘budget consultation’ which took the form of what can only be described as a ‘game’ where players attempted to balance the Council budgets.  There was insufficient information in this process for any member of the public to make any informed decisions on how to balance the budget in any detail. It was not possible to understand the full implications of any of the changes and I fail to understand how the Council can refer to a game as consultation. The staff, parents, and the community of Johnstonebridge Primary School have not been consulted on a proposal that will make fundamental changes to the way education is delivered to children in the school. In this instance the Council has failed to deliver on its own principles and commitments as outlined above. The school is at the heart of Johnstonebridge community and the new community centre paid for by the community working together to obtain lottery funding is located next to the primary school. The school can make full use of the facilities and support events throughout the year at the centre such as attending lunch events for carol singing. The community in Johnstonebridge has worked to build itself and create a thriving community in the face of the continued Council cuts. Yet the Council fail to recognise this or to adhere to their own key commitment of being an inclusive Council.

The Council currently has a draft Parental Involvement and Engagement Strategy published on the council website which talks clearly about seeing ‘Parents as Partners’ and that ‘decisions taken with the active involvement of parents will be based on an important shared understanding of the local situation’. It also states that Education Support Services has made the commitment as part of the Education Authority Annual Plan to ‘strengthen links with parents and partners in the wider community to enhance outcomes for all learners; engagement plan and impact measure.  Finally, the draft strategy states that the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act 2006 ‘schools should be open to the involvement of parents in the work they do, and they should consider ways of providing information that helps parents engage with the school and their child’s education’. Johnstonebridge Primary School is excellent at involving and supporting parents, the point and concern is that there has been no attempt by the wider Education Authority in a decision that will have such a significant impact on the delivery of appropriate education to the children in the school. I would also refer you back to the principles both in this draft strategy and the referenced draft framework which are: integrity; visibility; accessibility; transparency; disclosure; fair interpretation; and publication – I will leave it to you to consider if these have been considered in this process.

There are currently 25 pupils at Johnstonebridge Primary School with the expectation of the school roll being 23 in the 2019/2020 school year.  Currently the school has a class of 12 of P1-P3, and a class of 13 of P4-P7.  The budget template will mean from August 2019 Johnstonebridge Primary school may lose a class teacher and reduce to 1 composite class.  This composite class will be made up of 23 pupils in the age range P1-P7 with only one teacher.

I have the following concerns regarding this:

  1. How can 23 pupils in such a wide age range be effectively taught in one class room. The school already has 2 composite classes with P1-P3 and P4-P7 being grouped.  Therefore, the children in this school already do not get the focus in class that single stage classes in a larger school do. However due to the number of pupils in the classes there does not appear to be any detriment to the education of the pupils.

 

This budget will see the school move to a single composite class of P1-P7 with 23 pupils at the extreme limit of composite classes both in terms of stages and size. Can you please advise on your evidence of where this has previously worked in any local authority area? I would like to know given the different needs of pupils at each primary stage how you propose to ensure that each pupil receives an appropriate level of education? In addition, how do you propose to ensure that these children receive exactly the same level of education as pupils in single stage classes?

 

We are all aware that as children progress from P1 through to P7 the teaching model changes to match the needs of pupils at different stages. A composite class of 23 pupils of P1 – P7 will have the younger children (P1-P3) requiring a play centred teaching model with the older children (P4-P7) requiring a different style of teaching. 

 

  • How do you intend to meet the individual learning needs of each pupil?
  • How do you prevent the older children being distracted and prevented from learning by the younger children who have a play centred teaching model? If the answer is to have the children split across separate rooms at times, I can only assume your intention is to have one of the rooms not actually being taught or supported by a qualified teacher – please confirm if this will be the case? Please also confirm any legal requirements regarding qualified teachers and the use of non-qualified teaching staff?
  • How do you prevent a lack of confidence building in the younger children when they are placed in a class of children significantly older and more able than they are? How do you propose to ensure that P1 pupils are not impacted by being in class with P7 pupils for example?
  • Please advise on the initial teacher training that covers teaching in ‘extreme’ composite classes. Realistically, in this situation we are not talking about routine composite classes by creating a single composite class of 23 you are taking this to the extreme in terms of both primary stages and class size. How are teachers initially taught to teach and personally cope in this type of class? What continuing professional development do you offer teachers in relation to teaching in extreme composite classes? What teaching strategies are available to teachers in this situation?

 

  1. I have enquired about the other options for parents who do not want their children in a composite class model of P1-P7. I understand that all parents have the option to request to move to a different school, however the Council will not consider covering the cost of school transport as the parent has chosen to move their child to a school out with the catchment area. There are several parents whose children attend Johnstonebridge Primary School that would not be able to afford to pay to send their children to school in this instance.  Therefore, you are advising those parents they do not have a choice in the schooling of their children, and they will just have to accept your approach, an approach which will very likely be to the detriment of the education of their children. I note in the Council Plan you state that a key commitment is to ‘provide the best start in life for all our children’. The Council outlines that an element of this is to ‘raise ambition and attainment, in particular to address inequalities’. However, with this very approach you will be creating inequalities as parents who can afford to move their children to a different school have a choice, those who cannot have no choice. This also goes against the commitment in the Council Plan to tackle the causes and effects of inequality and poverty, as with this very approach you will be creating inequality. Please explain how does this fit with the previously mentioned Council key commitment?

It is stated as an outcome for the Education Authority Annual Plan to

  • Improvement in attainment, particularly in literacy and numeracy;
  • Closing the attainment gap between the most and least disadvantaged children;
  • Improvement in children and young people’s health and wellbeing;

How do you attend to deliver these to the pupil’s at Johnstonebridge Primary school if this decision is implemented?

 

  1. I recognise that in a school the size of Johnstonebridge there will be composite classes, and these can work where the age ranges have a similar teaching model. These can work where the age range included is limited to 3-4 primary stages rather than the full 7, and the composite class sizes are smaller. I would like confirmation that this review has started with larger schools where there are single stage classes that are not up to the maximum of 25. I appreciate that 25 is national guidance, however this is guidance and there is no statutory requirement to adhere to this should a local authority have their composite classes at a maximum of less than 25. I recognise the Council has savings to make and realise we must do more with less. However surely there has been consideration to the ‘blanket approach’ of increasing the maximum from 19-25 and the unequal impact of this across schools. For example, the impact in a larger school of combining two P1 classes or creating a composite class of 2 stages from previous single classes will have less of an impact on the education of those children than the impact of combining P1-P7 in a class of 23. Every child across Dumfries and Galloway has the right to the same level of education as any other child in the region.  The model you are proposing will remove this and create an inequal education system.
  • Please confirm all approaches that have been considered prior to implementing a blanket approach that does not consider the needs of individual schools?
  • Please confirm that larger schools where there will be less of an impact will be reviewed prior to schools like Johnstonebridge?

It was disappointing to read the impact assessment of the business case which stated there was no impact at any point, given my point outlined above at the very least. I am calling into question the accuracy in this assessment and it raises concerns about the validity of the Council’s impact assessment process as a whole in the budget.  I can only assume you will be completing an impact assessment for the changes made to each individual school. It cannot be expected that a blanket region wide impact assessment will cover the needs of each school and the pupils and the local community that school serves.

In conclusion the Council claims to have a vision dedicated to creating opportunity for all with the principles of being open and honest; listening to the communities and people; and delivering locally. This process has not been open and honest, and communities and people cannot be listened to when they are not asked in the first place. The budget consultation did not allow people to understand this level of detail and you have not consulted the community, parents or school on this. The Council states it wants to deliver locally yet this approach will drive parents (only those who can afford transport though) to move away from their local school as it will no longer be able to meet the needs of its pupils. This approach will damage the community and remove a community focus rather than deliver locally as the Council vision states.

The Council states its commitment to support children to be healthy and active; and to raise ambition and attainment, in particular to address inequalities. This approach will create inequality in education provision as Johnstonebridge is taken to the extreme limit of the composition of primary classes.  It is difficult to see the benefits to the children and how the school will be able to sustain its high standard when all children are combined in a single class of 23 across P1-P7. This approach has a significant risk of leading to less healthy and active children, with a reduction in ambition and attainment, and will lead to an increase in inequality of education provision.

Finally, the Council states its commitment to investing in creating schools fit for the 21st Century, which are at the heart of our communities; ensure that local people and communities are the heart of our decision making; and to empower our communities to make the most of their assets. I would like to know how you explain the context of the approach being proposed against these commitments?

The Parent Council have arranged an urgent meeting on Wednesday 13 March at 6pm at Johnstonebridge Primary School. We have confirmation from the Headteacher that she will be in attendance. However, I am looking for a representative of senior management in the Education Department who was responsible for writing this budget proposal to attend and explain to the Parent Council, parents, and Community how this proposal will be implemented and why this decision was taken without any consultation with the parents and community.  Please confirm either your attendance or provide the name of someone who will be attending.  In this instance it is not appropriate for the Headteacher to be left to defend a decision she did not make, and when she cannot answer our detailed questions.

I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely

William Weir

Chair Parent Council

Johnstonebridge Primary School

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