Wednesday 26 April 2023
Sir, I start by referencing an event that will be a first for most of us: the Coronation of our monarch on 6th May. We have an exciting weekend of events for Islanders to mark the Coronation and to celebrate our identity as a Crown Dependency, including a parade to the end of Castle Pier and a live stream of the Coronation Service and Concert on a big screen at the KGV. We are also joining nationwide activities including the Big Lunch, Big Help Out, and Lighting up the Nation.
Coronation events will be followed by our Liberation celebrations on the 9th, taking place across the Island, with heartfelt thanks to the Parishes who are providing wonderful opportunities for their residents to celebrate with family, friends and neighbours. The 2023 cavalcade will enable Islanders to enjoy this established part of our celebrations. In response to community feedback, there will also be a static display of all vehicles from the cavalcade in St. Peter Port, a 1940s-themed concert on Crown Pier and the traditional fireworks display. With the annual parade and church service in the morning, and free music and entertainment at Castle Cornet, there is a full day of island-wide events to suit all age groups. Thanks to further sponsorship, the afternoon tea hamper initiative includes more islanders who were alive during the occupation.
Sir, we are counting down to the Island Games in July. We expect 3,500 visitors that week with 24 Islands competing in events ranging from Archery to Triathlon. Alongside the Games, there will be an extensive Youth Engagement Programme via Schools as well as the Youth Games.
An unprecedented response has seen 1,100 volunteers being trained to facilitate the Games. To the volunteers, to E&I for its free bus service, and for the flexibility of those living on the route of road events, I extend my personal thanks on behalf of the organisers and competitors.
Guernsey Arts Commission will lead a Cultural Programme during Island Games week to attract a wider audience for the Arts supporting some of the 'creative six' objectives of the Arts Strategy published in January.
Guernsey Language Commission is now recruiting Commissioners to progress the implementation of its vibrant, ambitious Language Plan. The Sports, Health Improvement and Youth Commissions continue to work with us, not least as we continue our COVID Recovery activity.
We have heard from leaders in the primary and pre-school phases that an over-reliance on digital devices to pacify young children, exacerbated during the pandemic, means many young children have less face-to-face interaction with their parents or caregivers and physically are less active.
Like many other jurisdictions we have also seen a post-COVID dip in mental health and wellbeing amongst teenage girls. We are grateful to the Commissions for their ongoing partnership as we seek to address these issues. Through you Sir, I call on all of us to reflect on whether we are giving the children and young people in our lives enough of our device-free attention.
I was delighted to publish our first Annual Education Strategy Report in January, showing progress against the Commitments under our Strategy's four Priorities. The annual report ensures the community is informed about education delivery in our islands.
Every States-maintained setting has an Education Strategy Champion, ensuring the Strategy informs and underpins decision-making right across the system. As part of our commitment to continuous improvement, these Champions work together to ensure good practice is shared across all schools and all phases of education.
Sir, we will publish proposals for the new Education Law next week in preparation for debate in June - the culmination of almost two year's work for the Committee and its officers, taking into account consultation feedback, for which we are very grateful. Our proposals seek to replace outdated and inadequate legislation with a new law that better supports the high-quality learning experience we aspire to for all learners.
I have spoken previously of the Committee's role as Interim Governors in preparation for a new system of governance proposed as part of the new Education Law. I have been disappointed by the level of engagement thus far as we have tried to share our thinking about our governance model with political colleagues, particularly given the pivotal role of governance in driving improvement right across the education system. Sir, through you I urge members to join us and learn about the Committee's proposals for the new Law and to support us in our efforts to make further improvements to the education system. We are, as ever, keen to increase Members' understanding of our work and give the facts rather than risk Members' picking up misinformation from other sources.
Alongside governance, other tools in the education improvement toolbox include honest and informed self-evaluation; external inspection; and support and challenge from the Education Office under our School Improvement Policy. I have been so impressed by our settings leaders who, with their teams, work hard to make improvements for the benefit of every learner. These dedicated professionals deserve our recognition, support and gratitude.
Sir, the Committee values and welcomes external scrutiny to quality-assure the standard of our education settings and to validate the quality assurance work undertaken by Education Officers.
I am acutely aware of the calls for changes to the English Inspection Framework following the tragic death of Ruth Perry in the UK in January. But there are key differences between the English and local frameworks, with ours already more aligned to the position being lobbied for, in that there is no overall judgement attached to our schools and a shorter timeframe between inspection and report publication.
Our quality assurance framework is bespoke and intentionally aspirational: our learners deserve nothing less. So far, six of our 20 settings have been inspected under the framework. For some, external inspection has highlighted areas for sharp focus and our Education Improvement Team is working with school leaders to help and support change. For others, inspection outcomes demonstrate their practice is amongst the best if we compare with their English counterparts, and our aim is to replicate that good practice right across the system.
Prolonged under-investment means the IT provision in schools is an impediment to - rather than an enabler of - high quality education that prepares learners for the modern world of work. We have worked with P&RC to address this via investment leading to: network improvements currently being rolled out across all sites; improved Wi-Fi coverage in all schools due to be completed this year; improved web-filtering to help learners stay safe online; and broader investment in the IT infrastructure being used in education.
Some key components to this investment are still to be funded, notably updated devices for teachers and students, and training on digital education for educators. Given the current context of constrained capital spend, we are working to identify the most cost-effective way to target investment in end user devices.
Sir, the issues that forced us to terminate RG Falla's involvement in construction works at our Les Ozouets Campus have been a source of major frustration; however, recent news that the contractor has gone into liquidation confirmed our decision was the right one, notwithstanding its inevitable impact on the timeline and likely cost of this essential investment in the education estate.
But an issue with a contractor should not be misinterpreted as an issue with the scheme itself. We have a sound design at the advanced RIBA 4 stage, and planning permission is in place.
I know our interim plans for housing the Sixth Form Centre have been contentious, and it is for this reason we sought independent advice over the options available to us. This confirmed that La Mare De Carteret High School building is the best available interim home for the Sixth Form Centre, from both financial and educational perspectives. But it must only be an interim home. Our interim solution means that construction delays due to RG Falla's demise do not stop us from implementing the States-approved secondary education model. Extensive work has taken place with union colleagues, and the new staffing structure for the Secondary School Partnership, adapted in light of feedback, was finalised last December. The new structure maximises educational support for students and removes administrative tasks from teachers, allowing them to prioritise improving the quality of education.
Sir, in a few weeks the States will have a very difficult decision to make in respect of its Capital Portfolio. It does not serve our community well for us to turn this into a divisive issue by trying to play education and health off against each other. Of course we want the very best health and education facilities for islanders, but we are told we cannot run both construction programmes at the same time: one has to go first, and we have the unenviable task of deciding which.
I met recently with Deputy Brouard to learn more about Phase 2 of the Hospital Modernisation Programme, so that I could better understand how our programmes might dovetail and want that collaborative work to continue. I do not intend to get into a tit-for-tat political argument. Instead, my focus will be on the benefits the Transforming Education Programme brings to our community, and the genuine risks associated with further delay. I have every confidence that Deputy Brouard and his Committee will take the same approach when promoting HSC's Programme.
Sir, through you I call on States Members and the media to take their respective roles in this difficult process seriously. To look at the bigger picture and to remember that we are one government, here to serve all the people of Guernsey: including the children, staff and service users of both education and health and they deserve better than an unedifying head-to-head.
Some colleagues seem determined to undermine the Transforming Education Programme. Sir, through you, I ask Members to stick to facts and not denigrate the well-considered States-approved plans that invest in our children, young people and our adult learners. Let's drop the nonsense that this programme merely and needlessly moves the sixth form a few metres down the road at some gargantuan cost.
The truth is that this is a multi-faceted programme, including: the bringing together three further and higher education bodies; the construction of a learning campus which necessarily co-locates all post-16 students regardless of their course of study; digital infrastructure and roadmap implementation as we move into an era of digital learning; a new Education Law including an education governance model; staffing restructures and a school merger.
In February, over 260 staff were advised of the roles they had been ring-fenced for in these new structures. Phased matching to designate roles is now underway and the new Secondary model and staffing structures will be live from September 2025. We must remember that, for many staff, this is the second time they have faced this process, albeit we are now at a more advanced stage than previously and have actively begun formal HR processes. The stability these processes will bring to secondary education after 10+ years of uncertainty cannot be underestimated, particularly during a global recruitment and retention crisis across Education.
It is absolutely essential we keep in mind that there are people at the centre of these processes. People with a vocational calling that we have sorely tested in recent years. People with families and financial responsibilities. People keen to be matched to future roles so they can embrace the future and focus their attention and efforts on educating our children and young people.
TGI's students and lecturers vacated the old building at Les Ozouets last summer in anticipation of the construction work beginning a few months later. Many lessons are now taking place from temporary accommodation elsewhere.
Guernsey's education system needs to move forwards for the future success of the island. It is neither fair nor reasonable to reintroduce new uncertainty and instability and expect people to carry on regardless.
And what of the Education estate? We are operating from patched up buildings described by an external expert quite some time ago as amongst the worst in the UK for the delivery of post-16 education.
And they are now worse than that: we are covering up machinery and equipment, so it stays dry when the rain comes in. Learners have been wearing coats in lectures in the middle of winter due to heating issues. Are we really prepared to say that these are suitable learning environments to inspire the next generation of engineers, electricians, child-care providers, public sector workers?
Simply put, we are running out of viable buildings from which to deliver post-16 education.
Let me remind Members of the ambitious and aspirational plans they approved in 2021, Sir:
We are creating a mature, adult learning environment which prepares all post-16 students for their next steps into education or the world of work, with countless new educational opportunities, and where there is true fairness and parity of esteem for different educational pathways.
Sir, our plans - our States-approved plans - are well-considered:
They reduce revenue expenditure; provide much-needed bases for services linked to education; release us from long-term rental commitments; allow the Institute of Health & Social Care Studies to vacate the PEH so space can be repurposed as part of HSC's redevelopment plans; they provide modern fit-for purpose learning environments via which we will educate, train and develop today's and tomorrow's workforce, including for health, social care, education and the wider public sector, that will ensure our island's future prosperity. They plan for a future where the lines between various post-16 learning routes are increasingly blurred and blended; and they release land zoned for housing at Les Coutanchez for its intended future purpose.
These plans Sir represent joined-up strategic thinking of the highest order.