The original post of 6th August 2023 has been updated 13th August 2023 in light of a formal complaint being made to IW Council. This complaint is now in process and confidentiality rules have to be followed. The post has been amended appropriately.
St. Mary’s School is open for business as usual and parents and staff should be reassured they are not at threat in any way at this time. I have reassurance that the school place plan report is not going to Cabinet for some time and when it does schools will not be named as before.
It has been a busy day but I wanted to reassure all parents and teachers of St. Mary’s School that although the School Place Plan is on the IW Forward Plan which states for information only/update, the report naming schools has been removed again. Parents and staff attended my August monthly ward meeting and they were extremely angry with IW Council’s action. It was agreed I write to the Leader of IW Council, Lora Peacey-Wilcox and the letter is below:
I have been asked by parents and staff of St. Mary’s School and residents of my ward, Ryde Appley and Elmfield to urgently write to you and start the process of a formal complaint at the behaviour of the Cabinet Member of Children Services and Education and officers of Hampshire County Council that currently manage IWC’s Children Services and Education. They strongly feel that unnecessary distress during their summer holidays has been caused due to unprofessional, insensitive and inappropriate action which I totally support.
Firstly I wish to thank you for amending the Forward Plan in regard the School Place Plan to “Update on school place planning” and confirm that the School Place Plan report will not be going to Cabinet on the 14th September 2023.
However, the fact and reality is that in a matter of 24 hours, children, parents, staff, and school governors of 3 Island Schools had their holidays absolutely disturbed and for many simply ruined. The simple act of putting the School Place Plan on the Forward Plan (a public document) and announcing the report will be going back to Cabinet on the 14th September 2023 and contacting the schools created anxiety, distress, worry, and depression. As the IW Council’s Mental Health Champion and the Chair of Policy and Scrutiny for Health and Social Care, who has a responsibility and concern about the community’s well-being, such a thoughtless and insensitive act in my view was unnecessary and downright cruel.
I had a meeting with parents and staff of St. Mary’s School last evening (4th August 2023) and they were really angry about the way the School Place Plan had been handled. The first time it was announced that St. Mary’s was a targeted school for closure was enacted on the Friday before half-term which in parents/staff eyes ruined their much needed half-term break. They had hoped lessons had been learnt by the Cabinet Member for Children Services and Education and Hampshire Officers. The Cabinet member apologised to them at the Medina meeting and at a visit to the school although they felt patronised and talked at during those meetings and not listened too. They learnt nothing from the two meetings on how the formula to choose schools for closure actually worked. This made the feel confused and that they were doing something wrong when clearly the local authority is at fault in the way it has handled the whole affair. As a retired mental health professional it is what I call “transference” and targeted blame on others when you yourself are at fault.
So when the same thing happens a second time during the heart of the Summer holidays, when yet again they find out that St. Mary’s School is still targeted for closure, they are shocked. In their view, no lessons have been learnt, they have not been listened to in any way, and their lives have been devastated yet again.
They feel humiliated and feel their school which they love and work hard within has been publicly shamed and unfairly and unjustly targeted. No one has explained or given any justification why their school has been chosen. Many went to the Medina meeting and came away no the wiser when the purpose of the meeting was for the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Education to explain how the IW Council came to the decision to choose the schools they did. Even though, everyone understands there is a need to tackle the issue of School Place Planning and the urgency of the issue, they feel the way officers and the Cabinet Member have gone about tackling this important issue has been badly planned and implemented. In their view, which I concur, it seems by naming and shaming schools, you simply destroy them as everyone panics and staff start looking for other jobs and parents start searching for other schools.
In the case of St. Mary’s the school is robust and strong and withstood the first tsunami announcement at half-term and only lost two children. I believe other named schools were less fortunate. They now have to weather a second tsunami caused again in 24 hours and the continuation of the Sword of Damocles over them. The first mistake was bad enough but to do it a second time is totally incompetent and not forgivable in any way. This is a very caring school that is within the catchment area of the poorest and most deprived wards on the Isle of Wight really suffering post-covid and cost-of-living crisis.
St Mary Parents and Staff want and request the following:
- A formal complaint be made regarding the actions of the Cabinet Member of Children Services and Education . Note: this complaint has now been formally made (11.08.2023) and in the interests of fairness and confidentiality, the complaint cannot be discussed in public until conclusion of the complaint’s procedure.
- A full investigation and explanation why this action before and during school holidays happened.
- A consultative and inclusivity-led approach to the School Place Planning issue that is holistic and does not name schools until a final decision is made and fully involves those schools in the decision process and solution.
- A public apology from IW Council and recognition the distress they have caused. If needed provide support such as counselling for teachers and parents affected by this unnecessary action.
- There is a public and transparent meeting where parents and staff can openly express and tell Councillors and Officers how they feel and how this action by them (Councillors and Officers) has affected their well-being during recovery of Covid19 pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.
- The issue of discrimination especially those within the Catholic faith who strongly feel their rights of choice and human rights have been unjustly targeted by naming a Catholic school, is addressed.
- IW Council provides assurance that this kind of incompetency does not happen again.
- IW Council focuses on establishing an efficient and openly transparent/listening IW Council managed Children’s Services and Education Department now Hampshire County Council has withdrawn. The School Place Plan is only addressed when a new department is established. They would like to see no continued involvement of Hampshire officers in the School Place Planning issue. It should now be purely an Island issue.
- They wish to know why their building has not been invested in by the Education Authority as the school urgently needs its buildings to be renovated and repair. Some parents feel this has been a tactic by the Education Authority to try and close the school.
- They wish to retain their right to seek legal advice on how their human rights and health has been affected by IW Council’s action in regard this issue.
I have tried to capture everything from the meeting last night as parents and staff of St. Mary’s as they requested I immediately communicate their distress and anger to you. It was agreed that parents and staff would compose personal testimonies and send them to me to collate and send onto to you in the next two weeks (Note: these testimonies have now been received and sent to IW Council as promised -13th August 2023). They want their voices and stories heard! They also feel their hurt and misery created in their view by IW Council/Hampshire Education Department, be within the press and public domain. They do not want their voices repressed.
My duty is, as an elected Councillor, is to advocate the voices of my residents and those using facilities and working in my Ward and give them a voice. They need to be listened to and I hope you as Leader of the Council take a future opportunity to come and meet and listen to them.”
I will keep everyone posted on a response when I receive it. The feedback from parents and staff is that the letter captured their views.
“I feel that you have communicated the depth of feeling very clearly. Thank you for advocating on our behalf.“
“This is the best response I have read so far to the situation. I thank you and all staff and parents thank you. This has obviously taken a large amount of effort.”