I’m giving my blog over to a guest writer today – Kate, who spent her working life as a teacher in West Dunbartonshire schools and who, consequently, has a key perspective on the current Our Lady and St Patrick’s school consultation process.
I wrote this letter to Bill Heaney at the Lennox Herald, both to express my gratitude to him for his support of the Save Posties Park campaign, and also to elucidate my own feelings around what passes for a ‘consultation’ here in West Dunbartonshire. I know that Bill won’t be able to publish my letter in full, so I’ve decided to use this blog as a means of sharing my message with campaigners. I hope that others will follow suit and, bit by bit, we can try and open the eyes of those who have been taken in by Terry Lanagan’s propaganda campaign…
Dear Mr Heaney,
I have chosen to write to you as I have been following your articles in the Lennox Herald with interest, and I very much appreciate your support for those of us who want to save our beautiful park. My reason in writing at this time is that I have been experiencing growing concern about the conduct of the Education Department in the handling of this sensitive issue, and the fact that the Director of Education appears to be wielding a disproportionate amount of power and influence on matters which affect a whole community. I have some insight into educational matters as I only retired last year from a lifetime as a teacher and Depute Head Teacher working for West Dunbartonshire Council.
I suppose my initial concern was born when I attended (as a member of the public) the Education Committee in September when the dreadful decision was made to have only two options for the new build of OLSP High School. To many of us it was quite unbelievable that Posties was even on the list in the first place. However, my dismay was deepened when I heard the disparaging way in which Mr Lanagan described Posties Park. ‘Not used’, ‘derelict’. ‘hardly a woodland idyll’. These were some of the terms he used and I literally wanted to scream in frustration. He is not a credible witness to the community use of Posties, and the esteem in which it is held. I am an excellent witness. I am on Posties almost every day and I know inside and out just how many groups, families and individuals use the whole of the park. I have been asking our councillors to give my testimony on the use of Posties more credence than that of the Director of Education. He does not live here, knows nothing about our park and does not share the feeling of community ownership of our local green spaces.
In one of your articles you outlined the concerns expressed by the whole tone of the consultation meeting in OLSP, when Mr Lanagan basically used the platform for his ‘build on Posties’ agenda. Not even the most committed campaigner would have had any issue with the Director of Education outlining his educational concerns about building on the current site. In fact many of us share these concerns, but having no credible alternative to consider thanks to our unimaginative/lazy Councillors, we are unable to support the destruction of our park as the solution. That meeting was an advertising bonanza for the Posties building plot with absolutely no recognition that the feelings of the community were to be considered in any way. All objections were batted away with insensitive disdain, with no neutral party there to maintain a sense of balance. In my naivety, I thought a public consultation was a time for the Council to present the bald, objective facts to the public. How quickly I learned otherwise.
At that same meeting, a letter from the school’s Head Teacher was read out, once again selling shares on the Posties plot. On reflection, I had to concede that the Head Teacher was as entitled to his opinion as the rest of us. That was until I heard that the same letter had been read out to the children at an assembly the day before the meeting. I then started to question further this lack of balance so evident in all I had seen and heard. When questioned about this letter, there were some quiet mumblings about the issues having been discussed in Social Studies classes. I have several family members and friends with children at the school and have tried to establish the facts of this assertion. Please note that I have not asked any child directly and would not consider doing so. These parents have had plenty of feedback from their children about the fact that the school is going on Posties, and not much else. I do not want to infer that this is a large sample of people, but I once again return to this issue of balance, which is an absolute bedrock of a modern educational system in a democracy. Within the Social Studies area of Curriculum for Excellence, the following Experiences and Outcomes are part of the framework for all children’s work in this area –
- develop my understanding of the principles of democracy and citizenship through experience of critical and independent thinking
- explore and evaluate different types of sources and evidence
I hope these educational aims have been applied with some rigour at OLSP. I am not thus far convinced. By all means allow the children and young people to reach their own conclusions, and if their preferred site is Posties Park then so be it. But as a former educator, I would be horrified if their opinions were formed through ‘brainwashing’ and not fair and balanced educational means.
I have a copy of a letter given out to all the children at the school from the chair of the Parent Council. This letter was given out to try and encourage the parents to take part in the consultation process, a perfectly legitimate action and of itself should not have presented any issues. However, the following was contained in the letter –
‘Should a decision be made to build on our existing campus, there may be an impact on the education of those young people attending OLSP because of the requirement to demolish the assembly hall, the cafeteria facilities and the music department to allow building to commence. It is anticipated that the building work will take a period of 123 weeks, spread over 3 academic years.’
Once again, I ask about balance and fairness. Where is the proof of ‘impact’ when the Director himself said that he was confident that the build would not disrupt the education of the pupils, and went to some lengths to repeat this statement because he has such confidence in the contractors? I have seen a letter to parents in a similar vein from the Head Teacher but I do not have a copy so I cannot give any accurate quotes. Then there was the Head Teacher’s article in the Lennox Herald, which must have been sanctioned by Mr Lanagan. I know from experience that school managers do not speak publically on sensitive or controversial issues without the express permission of the education press office. This was followed up by Mr Lanagan’s own letter in the paper, which I have to tell you has been met with open hostility. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that the contributors to the ‘SAVE POSTIES PARK’ Facebook page jumped significantly following publication. One post stated that Mr Lanagan’s letter was ‘dismissive’ and ‘threatening’, and prompted the poster to make a last minute submission to the consultation process.
Just this week, I was given information about a Parent Council meeting for one of OLSP’s feeder primaries. Attending this meeting was a Mr Raymond Walsh, who is apparently from the Roads Department at WDC. I do not know why he was there, but during the meeting there was ‘lively’ discussion about the location of the new school. This apparently resulted in a vote being taken (again, I don’t know why or who prompted the vote) but the Parent Council voted 7/5 against building on Posties Park. All the teachers voted in favour, and the parents against. Apparently they sent a copy of the minutes to WDC in order to record their objections. I am mystified why this discussion occurred so I cannot really draw any conclusions, but is it possible that Parent Councils are being ‘groomed’ to ensure support for the Posties build? I admit this may be over dramatic, but my distrust of what’s emanating from the Education Department in Garshake is growing by the day.
Another question I have been trying to find answers to is the whole issue of conflict of interest amongst crucial people who will have a vote if the Posties option ends up in front of the whole Council. Councillor Michelle McGinty, Convenor of the Education and Learning Committee (a key player I’m sure you will agree) has already declared publicly that she wants the school on Posties Park because she has children at the school, does not drive and thinks it would be easier to get to than the current site by public transport. Indeed she has said this to me personally at a meeting I had with her. So where does this leave her assertion that ‘no decision has been made’, something else she said to me, when she has already made her decision so publically? I don’t know if there are other councillors with children or grandchildren at the school, but am I once again being naive in thinking that those with a vested interest here should declare that interest and be excused from the vote if it comes to that?
You will see here that Councillor McGinty has excused herself from OLSP matters in the past. I have so far been unable to establish whether this process will be applied to any vote on the outcome of Posties Park, but, rest assured, I am taking steps to do so.
In general, the tone of consultation documents originating from WDC and the Education Department has been shockingly and blatantly biased in favour of building on Posties Park. The current site has been described as ‘vastly inferior’ and Posties as ‘iconic’. These are just two examples of many, many subjective, and in my opinion, morally flawed language usages within a process which is supposed to be fair and transparent. Well, it’s certainly transparent. None of us are in any doubt where the Council want to put the school.
In addition, those of us who have been visiting Councillors to talk to them face to face have been stunned by the lack of knowledge evident on the hazards and potential cost implications of building on Posties Park. Several Councillors did not even know who ‘Ramboll’ are. Nor were they au fait with the 8 major risk factors outlined by their survey on Posties. We were quite at a loss to explain how these Councillors were able to even consider Posties without such vital knowledge at their fingertips. One of our campaigners has written a blog on this subject here.
I could probably keep writing for hours on this topic, but if you’ve stuck with me this far, then I think you’ve suffered enough! My last thought is one which haunts me more than any other, and is the reason I became involved in this campaign in the first place. I will always feel like an educator (I hope my years of service prove this), and my grandchildren will be going to OLSP in a few years time. So I want the children of OLSP to have the very best education possible, in the best school possible. Few of us think that building on the current site is the right solution either. But for me the one deciding factor in supporting the Save Posties Park campaign is the certain, destructive impact on Levengrove Park. Those of us who were born and bred within shouting distance of the park are possibly those who are shouting the loudest. And that’s because Levengrove is in our DNA. It is an intolerable thought that anything should disturb our magic park. It won’t make one jot of difference if this is the best school, with the best staff and the best pupils in Scotland. There will be a massive, concrete institution with 1000+ pupils, hundreds of teachers, traffic, noise, pollution and infrastructure disturbance in the middle of our park. Who in God’s name thought this was just what Dumbarton needed? Oh, that’s right! A man who will sail off into the sunset to a happy, wealthy retirement, and never again set foot on Posties Park. And neither will those of us who love Posties and Levengrove. Because there will be a bloody big school there, with a 12 foot metal fence around it.
Thank you for reading my rant, and I look forward to your future contributions.