School IEB responds to off-island concerns
The Five Islands School IEB has responded to the open letter from parents on St Martin's about the future of the off-island bases.
All the parents on St Martin's recently wrote to members of the Isles of Scilly Council, as well as the IEB and Diocese of Truro, expressing their concern that the off-island schools be protected when Five Islands converts to an Academy.
The IEB (Interim Executive Board) has now responded, saying that it "cannot countenance any eventuality that is within our control that would allow us to entertain the notion of closing... [any of the] off-island bases". However, it added that "there is not a school in the land that can have a cast iron guarantee of existence into eternity, and no MAT or local authority is able to promise that".
The St Martin's parents then responded again, agreeing to the IEB's suggestion of a meeting. Both letters are shown in full below:
Read the reply from the IEB to the parents below:
Dear Parents of St Martin’s,
Thank you for your letter. Firstly, please let us reassure you that we all fully appreciate and understand your concerns. We write to you in the slightly unusual position of sitting on both boards. We constitute the present membership of the IEB and we are also three of the trustees of the MAT board. This is a position we fought hard to establish as we wanted to ensure that the MAT board had trustees who truly understood the Five Islands and the complexities of island life. This dual position also allows us to speak with some authority from the perspectives of both present and future governance arrangements, and so we pen this reply with both hats on.
We too value the island bases as integral and significant parts of community life. Thank you for recognising that the MAT genuinely has no intention of closing any island bases. We will continue work to secure the best possible educational provision for the islands, considering carefully the educational needs of each individual child alongside the educational needs of the wider community, within the limitations of finance, tides, weather, population, staffing and so on. Any decisions made, will be made after discussions with the LA, local communities, parents and children.
We agree that the study undertaken in by Indigo Children’s services presents a clear, strong case for educational provision on each island. We are acutely aware of the lost learning hours that the Bryher children cope with, and have been actively exploring ways of reducing these. This has served to increase our understanding of the complications of educating children away from their own island home.
Regarding the MAT board in the future, you are perfectly correct to recognise that over time the trustees will change, and different trustees may make decisions that are not aligned with our current thinking. The only reassurances we can offer against this is that the IEB have already gained board representation and that we will do our utmost to ensure that the MAT is established with strong communication and accountability pathways. We will also have a voice in the recruitment of new trustees and will be seeking to appoint trustees who hold similar values.
We’re not sure if you’ve seen the Community sustainability agreement that we’ve attached but this has been agreed between the IEB, the MAT legal team and the LA. We considered this very carefully and the wording is deliberately slightly different from the wording in the original federation agreement. The reason for this is not to enable the MAT to close the island bases in the future, but rather to present an honest, realistic commitment that will be able to be honoured in the future. It may not be ideal, but the reality is that there is not a school in the land that can have a cast iron guarantee of existence into eternity, and no MAT or local authority is able to promise that. There are simply too many variables that are outside of our control. We may be unable to house teachers, the children on the island may have educational needs that cannot be adequately met in a small school environment, the families may choose to home school and of course, and there is always the harsh reality that the government may cease to provide adequate funding to allow us to provide a one to one school. Our preference is to maintain the wording on this agreement as we believe it to be transparent and fair, and it has been agreed by our legal teams. To revisit it would also have cost implications for all parties.
We were disappointed to read that in your view the IEB have undertaken no meaningful consultation to help inform negotiations. There has been a permanent open invitation to meet with any member of the IEB, we have attended events, we have undertaken parental surveys, hosted termly open meetings, and met with parents, and every parent has the email address of the chair. Perhaps you could be more specific on what you would like to consult/negotiate on and how you would like to do this? We will genuinely be happy to accommodate your needs.
In order to aid communication and hopefully find a position that we are all content with, we would very much like to arrange a meeting, specifically for off island families, to discuss this issue in more detail. We could possibly look to develop together some guidelines/contingency plans, just in case we ever are in a position to have to consider a base closure, and a subsequent re-opening.
For your information, the conversion is unlikely to take place in 2018, so there is no immediate urgency over this. We have time to agree a date and venue that suits as many people as possible.
As a final point, please can we again reassure you that we cannot countenance any eventuality that is within our control that would allow us to entertain the notion of closing the St. Martin’s base, or either of the other off-island bases. Our prime commitment is to ensure that the essential ingredient, that of providing the best quality of education to your children on the island, is maintained at all costs.
Best wishes from the IEB.
Read the reply from St Martin's parents to the IEB's letter below:
Dear IEB Members
Thank you for your reply and it is certainly reassuring to read how highly you value the off-island bases. From reading your letter it would appear clear that we are all in agreement that education provision on each island is the only realistic workable solution. We also accept your position that at this moment you see no circumstances within your control where an off-island base closure would happen. It is however within your control to ensure the clause from the current Federation notice maintaining off-island bases remains in the new agreement with the MAT. For all the undoubted support from yourselves, without some tangible protection, either by retaining the clause as part of the new MAT agreement, or by removing the ability of the MAT to sell any school properties via restrictions in the property leases, the education of future generations of off-island children remains vulnerable.
Whilst we agree that there may be no schools in the land that have a cast iron guarantee of existence into eternity, there can also be very few school closures in the land that would have such a drastic impact to children’s education, welfare and safety as would happen if an off-island base were to close. Again we return to the findings of the Indigo Report, coupled with local experience & knowledge, and pure common sense, that the only realistic option is to maintain all the off-island bases. In light of such compelling facts, any agreement that falls short of protecting the off-island bases is surely questionable.
We agree with your comments that there are variables that you cannot control, but would argue that these can all be managed by simply “mothballing” the base until such time as it is required to re-open, but none should ever lead to a permanent closure of an off-island base. We accept that some families may choose to home-school and some children may have educational needs that cannot be met in a small community. If either or both of those circumstances led to a zero attendance for a period of time it is of course a prudent measure to temporarily close the school, but only with arrangements in place to re-open as soon as possible once it is required for one or more children. Whilst we note your concern as a management group of any potential lack of government funding, we however agree with the closing statement of your letter to us that your prime commitment is “to ensure that the essential ingredient, that of providing the best quality of education to your children on the island, is maintained at all costs”. We come back again to the findings of the Indigo Report and your own conclusions that it “presents a clear, strong case for educational provision on each island”.
Again we re-iterate that we can appreciate that there may be special circumstances where there is a need to temporarily mothball an off-island base, but what must be protected against is any permanent closure or sale of school properties. As has been highlighted on Bryher, once a school base has been lost it has been lost forever. Similarly on St Agnes, once a teacher’s house has been lost, it is also gone. Protecting these precious assets of the Five Island Schools must surely be a priority to any governing body involved in the hand over process. Concerns of not being able to house teachers should never materialise on St Martin’s where there is currently a dedicated school house, or on Tresco where a teacher house is provided by Tresco Estate.
We would very much welcome the opportunity of meet to discuss our ongoing concerns. Whilst we note that you state there is no immediate urgency, we would request that this meeting can be held as soon after Tues 12th September as possible in order for us to continue our discussions with the Council. We look forward to working towards a satisfactory solution for everyone. We would again like to state that this is in no way an anti-academy action and welcome the benefits the academy will bring to education throughout the islands.
We look forward to your response and thank you again for engaging with us in this matter.
St Martin’s parents of current pupils and pre-school children