Shameful tick-box tactics (Jeremy Sansom)
Almost daily we hear of a politician, banker, chief executive or other prominent person railing against the accusation of some misdemeanour saying: “I have done nothing wrong … I haven’t broken the law …”
There is a disconcerting trend among those in authority of sailing as close to the wind as possible to stay just within the bounds of legality; the letter of the law trumping the spirit of the law.
Since the publishing of the Blueprint for Education in August 2012 and under the guise of legally constituted statutory consultations, our council has conducted a determined and callous campaign to close rural junior high schools, assiduously striving to remain within the legal framework.
Parents and communities have rallied to defend their schools as much out of anger and indignation at this cynical exploitation of the law and the trouncing of the democratic process as out of the attempts to tack the labels “educational merit” and “massive savings” onto their insidious campaign. And they are not finished yet despite the welcome breathing space afforded by the recent decisions of the full council.
Welcome then is the interjection by the respected Scottish Rural Schools Network (SRSN) and its assessment that the latest convolution of the council, to simply abandon its consultation process for Yell and Whalsay, has actually crossed the line into illegality.
This is a serious charge, but no surprise to the many people involved in this protracted campaign to keep these highly credible schools open.
We have witnessed the incredible contortions of school-slaying elements within the council: like the insatiable mythical Hydra, if the assailed victim manages to lop off one of the monster’s many heads, two more grow in its place!
As SRSN chairman Sandy Longmuir rightly points out, the spirit of the revised Scottish legislation on school closures is overwhelmingly intent on protecting rural communities. The flagrant flouting of the spirit of the legislation has been shameful and deeply distressing for our communities.
We have seen many examples of tick-box tactics to comply with the letter of the law, like the botched and totally inappropriate pupil consultations, hurriedly imposed on the schools when the education department realised that this requirement had not been met. Tick. Glee. One more nail in the junior high schools’ coffin.
Moray Council, when recently faced with a similar credible rejection of its school closure proposals, honourably abandoned them, saving money and a huge amount of grief and distress among its communities and submitting to the legal requirement of a five-year moratorium to lift the threat and shadow of closure.
I understand the cost of the many incarnations of the blueprint to be close on £750,000. If the “closure” process is now being stood down until a brand new assault can be mounted (in what could be less than two years’ time) who then is to be held accountable for this vast waste of the council’s (our) “finite” resources?
I would suggest after the glib and supercilious remarks of the chief executive last week (“Boden insists schools decision is lawful”), which reveal he has little appreciation of the gravity of the fiasco over which he has presided, that he must bear the brunt of the responsibility.
His statements are an incredible indictment of his ignorance of the impact his officials’ battering-ram policies have had on Shetland’s rural communities.
Well he did show up to at least one public consultation meeting. His unguarded irritation at the considered views of the consultees alarmed many of us.
This is not a man who listens and neither do his officers in the education department. Their undisguised closure agenda has been unwavering from the outset, despite every effort of parent councils and community groups to be meaningfully engaged in the dialogue.
If his desk is not buried under letters of protest, it is probably because the surfs from the remoter reaches of his fiefdom are utterly exhausted from two and a half years of remorselessly combating the feudal dictates of his cloistered henchmen.
“Dropping a line” to our sympathetic chief executive has little appeal – it will only generate more debilitating waffle. We are busy people without the handsome wages to sustain us that the upper echelon of the council’s decision makers enjoy – wages that will continue to be paid regardless of the eventual outcome.
A five-year reprieve that the required moratorium would bring is essential, but unless there is a change of leadership within the council, instead of a comprehensive and informed debate by all stakeholders to shape the future of secondary education in Shetland, there will simply be a tactical regrouping ready for a fresh onslaught by officials in 2020.
But of course the continuing “asset stripping” of the junior high schools may well have crushed the life out of them long before then …