Covid-19 Coronavirus

Statement by Dr Alex Allinson MHK, Minister for Education, Sport and Culture

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Mr Speaker,

Schools play a pivotal role within our modern society.  They are at the heart of our communities.  However, the key to their success is to recognise and fully support the needs of each individual that makes up that school.  This imperative makes schools complex organisations to manage and run.

It is therefore essential that there are policies and procedures in place to ensure a safe, supportive and an effective environment exists, in which our children and young people can learn.  A rounded curriculum must be available. There needs to be a vision about social inclusion, respect, tolerance and understanding, which is then acted upon and developed, while at the same time enabling individuals to have the space and opportunity to learn and develop.

We ask families to support their child’s progress, to make sure they receive a suitable education, whether at school or otherwise, and play an active role in encouraging them to learn. We respect a families’ right to want the best for their child.

That is why education legislation is a balance of rights and responsibilities; of policies and strategies to allow for effective learning to ensure every individual is allowed to achieve their true potential while at the same time providing checks and balances on those actions and behaviours which would negatively impact on individual development.

Head teachers should have the autonomy for their school to organise, plan and inspire. Schools should be supported by department staff and be provided with the necessary staffing, financing and resources to inspire and encourage our young people.  

Governing bodies should provide scrutiny and support for teachers and staff whilst being advocates for pupils and their futures. Schools are so important for our local communities, and this link, these connections between what goes on in a class and how it continues in a home is essential for developing lifelong learning.

We were sent to this honourable House by our constituents to represent all in our community. The questions we ask, the motions we agree and the legislation we pass, should not only reflect the needs and wishes of our neighbourhood, but of the whole island.

Education legislation needs updating to reflect not only how we develop as a society, but how our aspirations widen and our appreciation of the value of learning develops.

Legislation must support a clear vision and outlines all that we want to achieve.

The pursuit of excellence needs to be encouraged but at the same time balanced with the provision of opportunities for all. This is a complex task and relies of clear principles to address educational need whilst setting out expectations and assessments to make sure these are addressed.

Our existing 2001 Education Act was written for a different time but provided the backbone to enable articles, regulations and secondary legislation. These have been further refined over the last twenty years to allow schools to function and enable our teachers to practice their highly developed skills.

Over the past five years work has been ongoing to update this important piece of primary legislation to reflect our aspirations for education, to address the challenges it faces and to develop opportunities as they evolve.

I would like to thank all those people who have been involved in an extensive process of consultation, scrutiny and questioning which has now allowed us to accumulate a wealth of knowledge and ideas.

I appreciate the input from our drafters and departmental staff who have worked on several versions of a new bill. I am grateful for the school staff, teachers, union representatives, groups and organisations who have put forward their views and ideas. I sincerely respect those parents and students who have presented their own experiences and perspectives; our work will be better for this.

The Education Bill had its first reading in January last year. Shortly afterwards our world changed. The challenge of a global pandemic, the fear and anxiety it caused touched all of us as individuals but also as a community.

I am incredibly proud to be associated with an education service which adapted, accommodated and responded so well to an unprecedented challenge. The resilience and resourcefulness of our teachers, school staff, pupils and parents is humbling.

No one wanted this, no one deserved the harm it has caused, but if we are to recover as a society we must seize on the positives we have learnt and further develop the opportunities before us. We must truly look to the future and not resort to the past.

The last twelve months have brought us together even when we had to remain socially distant. The use of technology is now embedded in learning. Communication and understanding have advanced and cooperative working has broken down silos which should not have existed in the first place.

Last week I was able to meet with all our head teachers virtually to hear how their schools were getting back to normal and listen to their hopes for the future. We discussed the Education Bill and whether it now truly reflects our ambitions and experiences during the most challenging time our education service has ever had to go through.

I have also read the Committee report and the submissions from a wide range of people but particularly from parents and families.

I believe we can do better. I believe we must do better.

I would like to thank the Chief Minister for commissioning the Beamans Review and for everyone who contributed to their report. The education service has changed and will continue to change placing people, relationships and culture at the heart of everything we do.

I would like to thank the Council of Ministers for their support in drawing up an action plan to provide significant organisational change which will enable and embed a new culture of collaboration, communication and understanding.

But I would especially like to thank the staff who work for our education service for being bold enough to join together in a common purpose, move away from what has been done in the past and aspire to develop an environment for learning we can all be justly proud of.

It is my intention not to progress the Education Bill. I will not be proposing that we debate the clauses but that teachers, officers and our community regroup to reflect on the journey we have made together over the last twelve months and seize the opportunities it has presented.

We have already begun to look at how we assess educational progress. With continuing uncertainty over exams this summer now is the time to ensure all our students sit the right exams in the future.

We have started discussing policies, governance and methods of quality assurance so that the service we provide together supports educational attainment whilst being accountable to those it serves.

Whilst we develop educational opportunities, curriculums and the organisational structure of the department our attention will not be deflected from the key imperative to teach, inspire and enable those students who are our future.

The department will continue to visit schools to support, advice and monitor outcomes. We will embark on the planned review on quality assurance at the same time as assuring the existing quality of the educational service we provide.

The recent consultation on a code for additional educational needs is being analysed and will help develop a code to be used by schools as a policy document and supported by a review of the resourcing of extra support.

Through consultation the articles and model instruments of government that apply to schools will be developed to include agreed policies that will preserve, protect and enhance the learning environment in our classes and acknowledge the significant role our schools provide for wellbeing, culture, the arts and sport.

Honourable Members, we as an island still face significant challenges. We are still in the middle of a global pandemic, a worldwide economic recession and a climate of uncertainty and fear. But now is not the time to look backwards. It is the time to work together to move forwards. For that reason I hope you can appreciate why I believe we should now move away from debating clauses and instead support our education service to move forwards for the benefit of our young people, our community and our island’s future.

Thank you Mr Speaker.

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