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Statement by the President, Committee for Education, Sport & Culture

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Wednesday 26 May 2021

General Update

Sir, much has happened since I gave my first update statement last November, not least the progress of our plans for the reorganisation of secondary and post-16 education.  The Policy Letter setting out our plans will be published this Friday for debate in July.  We were pleased to welcome many colleagues to our Policy Letter presentation yesterday evening, ahead of public presentations this evening and tomorrow evening.

Alongside this, we have navigated a second lockdown; delivered a very different Liberation Day, and of course all of us have had to adjust our thinking and re-focus our attention to only the most urgent of workstreams, in the face of the reality of the island's financial pressures.

Sir, in November I confirmed we would be looking to elect a non-voting member.  We are delighted to have appointed Advocate Jason Green and I would like to publicly thank Advocate Green for the valuable contribution he is already making.

Sir, with so much of the focus on the parts of our mandate related to Education, it might be easy to lose sight of the work that is taking place in other areas of our mandate.

This year, Liberation Day took on much more of a local community feel.  We've had lots of positive feedback confirming the success of this necessarily different approach.  We are currently reviewing how we can develop the very best parts of this year's commemorations and celebrations for future years, ensuring that as many Islanders as possible are able to enjoy this most special of days with their family and friends.

We recently received a very timely update from the Guernsey Sports Commission, which continues to go from strength to strength in pursuit of the objectives of the States-approved Plan for Sport.  We will continue to work with the Commission to support our sporting community back into a full and successful year of activity, after two years of COVID-related disruption.

The work commenced by the previous Committee to develop an Arts Strategy continues, and we have begun discussions with the Guernsey Arts Commission to determine how we might make that Strategy a reality in the context of the priorities described within the forthcoming Government Work Plan.

We recognise the physical and mental health benefits, as well as societal benefits, that can be derived from participation and engagement in sports and the arts.  We want to build upon the fresh appreciation we have all gained for what is on offer right here on our doorstep.

The previous Assembly resolved to allocate funding to support the preservation of Guernésiais and we are excited by the prospect of supporting the progress of this workstream in partnership with the Guernsey Language Commission.

Sir, I've already given a nod to the fiscal challenges that face us.  The future prosperity of our islands is the responsibility of this Assembly.  The decisions we make in this chamber are crucial at this pivotal moment in our islands' history.  I make no apology for reminding us that today's learners are tomorrow's workforce.  It is today's young people who will be tomorrow's wealth generators, they will be our caregivers, electricians, doctors, plumbers and creatives, they will service our cars, some of them will teach our children and grandchildren, and some will have careers in roles and industries that we can't even begin to imagine.

With this firmly in mind our thinking is aligned with the emerging human capital agenda to ensure we make that vital investment in the people who will secure our future prosperity.  We understand the value of life-long learning and recognise the spotlight is shining on skills and knowledge acquisition, not only locally, but as part of a much wider realisation that we need to be constantly evolving our workforce so that we can make the most of our most valuable asset - our people. 

I struggle to recall a time when ensuring that our education system is truly fit for purpose has been more important than it is right now.  Despite some difference in the generations represented within this Chamber we will have all shared similar educational experiences, but times are changing and we need to respond - to keep pace with those changes.

Sir, when we took up office we inherited much good work from the predecessor Committee, and we have sought to build on that solid foundation.  For example, although not without some teething troubles, we now have an on-island Initial Teacher Training programme and by early 2022 we will have six teachers in our schools who have gained a nationally recognised teaching qualification locally, which was not possible previously.  We will build on that success with further trainees in 2022.  This is a win-win for Guernsey: we have new teachers who understand the local context and are passionate about their new careers; and we save on recruitment and relocation expenses.

Despite not being able to visit the island due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, nasen has completed its review of special educational needs and disabilities which we published at Easter.  We accepted all 18 of nasen's recommendations.  Our political colleagues in Policy & Resources, Health & Social Care, and Employment & Social Security have agreed to work with us to implement those recommendations that span committee mandates.

I'm thrilled that in September, all of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Co-ordinators working in our schools will obtain the National Award for SENCOs through Winchester University.  This will ensure they continue to play a pivotal role in embedding inclusive practice as the norm in all of our school settings.  And, following a successful pilot, we have agreed to expand the support we offer to a small number of students who, because of their social, emotional or mental health needs, would not otherwise be accessing meaningful education.

Travel restrictions have frustrated plans to complete pilot Ofsted's inspections to road-test our bespoke Education Inspection Framework; however, with the news that restrictions will be eased in the weeks ahead, we are confident pilot inspections will be completed this autumn, with formal inspections commencing in November.

This work is vital and informative for us as school governors.  We have taken time to understand the governance system in place today, and to understand what we need to do to govern our schools effectively.  I have previously confirmed that we will look at options to vary and improve governance arrangements for our education settings, and by actively looking at the way we fund our schools and exploring ways to address some funding inequities that have existed for a long time, we've started to pave the way for a different governance structure.

Only once we have solid, consistent and fair principles can we begin to build towards devolved governance that gives school leaders greater autonomy.  Linked to this, although given the other competing demands on our limited resources we considered it inappropriate to progress the education law review as part of the first round of Government Workplan Priorities, we remain committed to progressing this vital and overdue workstream.

We are part-way through a series of webinars whereby all States Members and non-voting members are learning more about the education eco-system.  We introduced these never-done-before sessions not only to enhance understanding of the various component parts of a functional education system, hence the use of the term eco-system, but also to provide access to - and confidence in - the professionals who are responsible for the operation of our education system.

Sir, I make no apologies for saying very clearly today something I will be saying time and time again in the days and weeks ahead: it is for this Assembly to make strategic policy decisions and then to empower our public servants to deliver those policies at an operational level.  Alongside the strategic policy decisions we will be asking this Assembly to make with regard to secondary and post-16 education, we have introduced an Education Strategy that supports continual improvement in our education settings.  Our vision for education is that it should foster and build self-esteem, creativity and confidence so that all learners can flourish and thrive.  It should equip learners with knowledge and skills to help them achieve their aspirations.  It should instil a commitment to participate within the community as a responsible citizen; and it should be enjoyed so that we build a lifelong passion for learning.  Our education leaders have been empowered to further develop our Strategy to ensure it is deliverable in an operational context.

Staying with our staff - our public servants - I want to thank staff working across all aspects of our mandate for the way they responded to the island's second lockdown.  We continued to deliver education during a time when our settings were closed to the majority of learners.  Of course our response was not without challenges but it moved forwards our digital inclusion agenda, and follow-up surveys conducted with parents, carers and students told us that for about three quarters of our learners, the content and volume of our distance learning offering was at about the right level.  Staff have completed a lessons learnt exercise and our distance learning policy has been improved should we need to rely on it again.  Staff in our settings continue to work hard to ensure students are making the right progress and to consolidate learning; and I also want to recognise their ongoing work to produce Teacher Assessed Grades as we face a second year when final exams are not taking place.

In closing Sir, I will just mention the Island Games.  The pandemic thwarted plans for Guernsey to host the Games this year, but we will instead host the 2023 Games.  We will support the organising committee in its preparations for what I know will be a truly memorable event.


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