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Review concludes that ESC governance 'satisfactory'

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Friday 31 July 2020

An independent report on the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture has concluded that many aspects of the Committee's governance are satisfactory, many challenges remain and the Committee has improved its effectiveness in recent months.

The report by Professor Catherine Staite is based on a review of Committee papers and interviews with Committee members and several current and former staff.

The report states that Committee members work hard, are driven by strong moral principles and have recorded significant achievements.  The author found consistent evidence that the Committee strives to be open and transparent and has a good understanding of its complex accountabilities.  The report states that the Committee avoids taking a populist approach and makes real efforts to engage with many other States' committees.  It notes that there is a high level of trust between Committee members who are able to challenge each other while maintaining good working relationships.  Some interviewees felt the Committee tries not to rush to judgement and keeps decisions open for as long as is practicable.

Professor Staite found that interviewees' views about the Committee varied widely, which created a mixed picture of perceptions about current performance.  Trust between the Committee and civil servants was found to be varied but stronger among staff who have worked with the Committee throughout its two-and-a-half years in office or who joined after the Committee was elected.  Some interviewees' negative experiences of working with the Committee were historic - dating back to 2018.  Concerns were raised about the number of civil servants who moved on around the time the Committee was elected.  However, it was also noted that some civil servants had difficult relationships with the previous Committee and therefore difficulties were not necessarily of the current Committee's making. 

The report raises concerns about some aspects of policy development in relation to reform of secondary education, but also notes that the Committee was not provided with sufficient senior, experienced education policy professionals to provide advice, support and challenge.  Some organisational difficulties are felt to have affected the Committee's performance, including a lack of capacity in strategic HR advice and internal and external engagement.  Engagement with external stakeholders is identified as having been a consistent problem.

Some interviewees felt the Committee was too independent of mind and did not always listen to the views of others, but some interviewees felt the Committee was open to advice about how to manage complex change and transformation.  Several interviewees felt that relationships were now settling down and improving and some commended the Committee's efforts for trying to give school leaders a more prominent leadership role. 

Although the civil service rather than committees are responsible for staff appointments, some interviewees felt the Committee preferred to work with staff who generally supported the Committee's approach and this had led to a perception of some staff having their advice valued above other staff, which could be bad for team relationships.  The Committee was commended for having a clear vision and driving its policy agenda, but has not always found time for reflection and constructive challenge.    

The report states that the Committee's achievements include the development of The Guernsey Institute, renewed focus on the curriculum and literacy in schools and additional investment in physical education in schools.

In their interviews with Professor Staite, Committee members acknowledged that they had made some mistakes, but she found they had learned from them.

The report by Professor Catherine Staite is the fourth governance review she has carried out into States of Guernsey Committees. Previous reviews into the Committee for Health & Social Care, Committee for Home Affairs and the Policy & Resources Committee were also published.

The report concludes with Professor Staite making six recommendations.  All of the recommendations are for the States of Guernsey as a whole rather than for the Committee alone. 

Deputy Gavin St. Pier, President of the Policy & Resources Committee, said:

'This is the fourth report our committee has commissioned to explore the extent to which good governance principles are being followed. This has been a transparent process with each report published and the review into the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture has followed that same process. The report contains some useful recommendations that also pick up on themes from previous governance reviews too. It will be for the next States to take those forward.'

Deputy Matt Fallaize, President of the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture, said:

'Our Committee welcomes this report.  It highlights strengths and weaknesses in governance and it is useful to know where we have performed well and where we could have improved.  The overall conclusion seems to be that in many aspects governance is satisfactory with many remaining challenges and that effectiveness has improved over time and we feel this is a fair and balanced assessment. 

'Our Committee is particularly pleased that the report states that we strive to be open and transparent, that we are driven by strong moral principles and that we try to make evidence-based decisions rather than operating in a populist way. 

'Given the mix of interviewees between current and former staff, there was always likely to be a divergence of views.  We note the concerns raised by some of the interviewees about staff turnover in early 2018 following our election.  When forming the Committee we were very open in saying that the Education Office was in need of reform - this was something that many people inside and outside the States had argued for over a long period of time.  At that time, the Education Office was not well equipped to provide the advice and support needed by the Committee to carry out the ambitious policy agenda on which it was elected.  While the Committee had no involvement in any of the specific staff departures or movements at this time, it is fair to say we were supportive of the need for reform and fully backed the senior civil servants who were equally determined to make it happen.

'We note the six recommendations and feel it is important they are taken seriously, but we also note that they are for the States as a whole and not for the Committee alone.'

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The Committee for Education, Sport & Culture: Governance Review

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