An educator’s view…

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.

– MAx

~*~

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.

Yours sincerely,

Kate

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9 thoughts on “An educator’s view…

  1. This ain’t no rant, Kate, it is the best expose I’ve read yet on the increasing farce that is the site of where the new OLSP is to be built has become. I am also an educator, a teacher of Modern Languages and a geographer. In my latter role, and within the modern Geography curriculum, it is a given that brownfield sites are always preferable for building new developments on than attractive, iconic parks within close proximity to national monuments and tourist attractions. So why don’t the so-called professionals at WDC, who are paid a lot more than teachers and many others, come up with a site which meets their own criteria?
    Our Director and his disjointed council should now take a serious look at the vacant land on the other side of the River Leven. It is a brownfield site, has easier access to public services and the nearby town centre and retail park, as well as the roads network, and is up for sale from a company that is in liquidation.

  2. When I read through some of the comments made by the people who support this sham of a campaign I have to laugh. These people will no doubt be crying out at the same time for more investment in the town centre for regeneration yet they violently mock the proposals for nigh on £30million worth of regeneration projects. When this was put to the “save posties park” people at the recent consultation meeting they were apoplectic with rage that such an idea may be aired – nobody knows what effect it would have but can we not at least try something to put this town back on the map?

    I would also like to point out to these people that Levengrove park is a separate entity from Posties – yes Posties is the sports field area not the country park! And guess what; brand new, yes BRAND NEW SPORTS FACILITIES, will be put in its place – all open for use to the public and, by the way, I think Barlinnie would be proud of a 12ft high metal fence!! . Now if that is something you are against then you should be ashamed of trying to destroy the prospect of future generations of Dumbartonians enjoying the use of this public facility.

    The last point I will make is probably the most important – these kind of “campaigns” are potentially very damaging to the future of this town. I would say that the publicity that is given to these kind of NIMBY protests could extend to potential external investors who may wish to set up businesses here or invest in building projects here. Indeed I read recently that your figurehead Mrs Harvie was “proud” of campaigning against and destroying a building project proposed for the Common area. What kind of image of this town do you want to project? – Dumbarton is closed for business? We don’t want regeneration to happen? We are afraid of change? We accept substandard educational facilities? We accept the status quo?

    Don’t think of yourselves and your own interests, think of the future and that thousands of young Dumbarton people will be able to enjoy their educational surroundings rather than detest them.

    P.S I am not Perry Flanagan

    • Dear Perry,

      I’m thrilled to bits that you’ve found your way over to my blog and taken the time to write. I’m just tickled pink that you went to all the trouble to set yourself up an anonymous email account as well. There really was no need, though.

      I support free speech, and have given you free reign to post comments to my blog without pre-moderation from now on. Do feel free to keep on posting – it’s really helpful to the Save Posties Park campaign to have comments from both sides of the debate.

      I must say that I think it’s just darling that you’ve done so much research on Dumbarton from over there in Uddingston. Thanks so much for keeping us all right on matters relating to our town, and particularly for filling us in on the difference between Levengrove and Posties Parks. I often think, where would we be if we didn’t have the oversight of important people from outside the area? It just doesn’t bear thinking about.

      Anyway, on to the points you raised…

      You’re absolutely correct to say that at the recent consultation meeting the majority of the audience were very angry at the suggestion that our park should be destroyed. You might not know this, but we’re extremely lucky to have a very motivated citizenship here in Dumbarton, and community spirit runs high. And you’re also right to say that we will demand that our local authority invests wisely in our town for maximum benefit of the entire community. With respect, though – I have to take issue with your suggestion that a new school will put the town ‘back on the map’. OLSP is a great school, a record-breaking school, and it is well recognised as such. It does certainly feature in local press often, and sometimes in national press, and that is a fantastic asset for the town. The school though is not ever going to be the first thing you think of when you mention Dumbarton. Our castle, our ship-building heritage, our annual pipe bands event and our public park – these are the things that put us on the map. And these are the very things which are most likely to be negatively impacted by any development of Posties Park.

      I know you’ve probably looked at the area on a Google map and think that you understand what it’s like. However, you need to put your feet on Posties Park and make a 360 degree turn, and you’ll see some of the most beautiful scenery all around, unspoilt by development. At the moment, it’s one of the few things that this town has to be proud of, and I say that with a heavy heart, as a daughter of the Rock.

      That our campaign is trying to save this area from the huge environmental impact of a school development is to be lauded, rather than criticized. And that is why so many townspeople are supporting the campaign. I consider you to be wrong on your assertion that a town with a strong community spirit is the enemy of progress. Quite the contrary. If I was a developer and was looking at two potential towns – one where people care deeply for the town and want the best, and one where no-one gives a rat’s ass and allows all types of unrestricted development – I would choose the former, as it has a better long-term prospect. Unless, of course, I was an unscrupulous developer looking for a fast and dirty way to turn a buck.

      Rose Harvie should indeed be proud that she was a key part of the campaign to save Dumbarton Common from development. I think it’s good that you did some research here to make this point, but you’ve done yourself a disservice by learning only the outline facts. The Common campaign did not ‘destroy a building project’. The new court-house was built on another site, and the Common was preserved. Dumbarton did not suffer through this; it benefited considerably. The green space was retained and the development went ahead elsewhere. The unfortunate bit was that the LA was so recalcitrant and forced such a prolonged battle. Let’s hope a lesson was learned there.

      As to the matter of BRAND NEW SPORTS FACILITIES for use by all. Well, that will happen regardless of where the school is built, so I’m not sure what your point is here. The only point worth making on this part of the debate is that Posties Park currently provides free, unhindered outdoor sports and recreation facilities for everybody 24 hours a day, regardless of their financial status. If it is developed, this will be lost. Instead, one section of our community will have controlled access to BRAND NEW SPORTS FACILITIES during school hours, and everyone else will have access to BRAND NEW SPORTS FACILITIES for four hours a day maximum. Providing they can afford to pay, of course. Nobody in the Save Posties Park campaign is suggesting for a minute that there shouldn’t be a new school in Dumbarton with BRAND NEW SPORTS FACILITIES. We want this, plus our amazing park. Why on earth is this so hard to understand?

      The final point I want to make addresses your closing paragraph. There is an irony in you, an anonymous individual, demanding that a community campaign be less individualistic and more community spirited, and perhaps you should think a while on that. As for young people enjoying/detesting their educational surroundings – well I think it’s terribly sad that a teacher should feel that a building is the primary deciding factor on that matter. I went to OLSP. It was a fantastic school. I remember nearly all of my teachers, and remember vividly certain lessons and events at the school. Would it surprise you to know that I remember barely anything about the building? It had a swimming pool and a geography class on the top floor. That’s about all I remember. Please stop selling teachers short by suggesting that the built environment is so much more important than the human resource. In any case, there WILL be a fabulous new school for future generations of young people. Just, hopefully, not on Posties Park.

      Look forward to hearing from you again, Perry.

      All the best,
      MAx

      • You really are quite naive MAx because I really am not Mr Flanagan. I too went to OLSP and have lived in the town all my life – I just believe in progression and that is what this new project on Posties provides.

        I wonder MAx what your key motivation is behind this blog. I think that you are imagining that your front garden will be covered in litter when all the devil children, in your eyes, start to be educated down there.

        And by the way – I really am impressed at your long drawn out retort on my original comment – you must have a lot of time on your hands.

        Sometimes people need to stand up to the likes of you – otherwise we will be staying in a stagnant, unambitious town forever.

  3. Oh I do find these anonymous people terribly dull. I like someone with a bit of gumption! Someone who has the courage of their own convictions, who is not afraid to put their head above the parapet and shout “THIS IS WHAT I THINK!! TO HELL WITH YOU IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT”!! C’mon Mr Anon, climb out from behind your mammy’s apron and show your face to the world.

    • Thanks for your input, Gail. I agree completely that anyone who can’t stand behind their own argument must be particularly unsure of the basis of their claims (and no wonder, in this case).

      I gave up playing ‘ring and run’ when I was at primary school, and I’m sure you did the same. And, while we’re talking about primary school days, do you remember the phrase ‘cowardy cowardy custard’? Popped into my head today, for some reason…

      – MAx

  4. Couple of points I’d like to make to the anonymous contributor. Trying to save a public park does not equate to being anti progress. There are plenty of scabby brownfield sites in West Dunbartonshire which good development projects could transform and remove a scar at the same time. Secondly, if you do a tenth of the community work which Rose Harvey does, then you’d be a welcome addition to any group. The vast majority of work Rose undertakes is done quietly, not spread all over the local papers. I know we’re lucky to have someone like Rose who is utterly unselfish and I wish I was more like her. Our communities would be strengthened and closer if there were more Rose Harveys willing to help those most in need of it. Wonder if you’ve ever given a weekly commitment to do free gardening work for elderly residents, or the local hospice? Just one example of Rose’s quiet work. So disagree with her by all means, but please don’t disrespect her.

  5. Sorry Mr Anonymous but I forgot to make one last point. There WILL be a very high metal fence around the whole site as confirmed by our Director of a Education. In the interests of fairness let’s say 10 feet. But your analogy is correct. It will look like a prison!

  6. Dear Perry,

    Welcome back to the blog. I’m really pleased that you posted from a work computer this time. It’s one of the only ways I can garner information about you, seeing as you continue to hide behind anonymity.

    Anyway, let me put your mind at rest from all that wondering. I can assure you that if my motivation for this blog was to avoid my front garden being covered in litter, I would have put that in writing and published it. You’re late to the party with your passive/aggressive NIMBY accusation, I covered this discussion ages ago – https://savepostiespark.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/the-nimby-conundrum/.

    And “devil children”? Really? That’s what you’re going with? I’m literally depressed by the complete absence of any creative effort in your message. Please try a bit harder.

    And I literally snorted at the irony of your assertion that people should stand up to ‘the likes of me’. Do it then! Stand up to me! Stand behind your arguments and accusations, and don’t hide behind snide, anonymous hate-mail. This isn’t the 18th Century; we’re not going to duel about it; there won’t be retribution. We’re so fortunate to live in a Western democracy where freedom of speech is not just allowed, it’s encouraged. I’ve made my standpoint very, very clear – my arguments are printed in black and white, along with my name and address for everyone to see. I’m happy to stand behind every single statement that I’ve made. Can you say the same, Perry?

    Your failure to properly identify yourself also gives me the right to say this : I don’t believe that you went to the same school as me. They didn’t turn out cowards from NDHS. And if you’re all that impressed by an 1100 word response, and think that it must have taken hours to scribe, well maybe you should be thinking about going back to school.

    I really wish your messages (can’t bring myself to call them arguments) were less offensive in tone, Perry, and then we wouldn’t have to have this unpleasant exchange. Even as I write, I’m aware that you’re dragging me down to your level, and perhaps that’s the real purpose of your messages. However, I did promise you that I would publish your messages and I will stick to that. I will even go as far as to say that if you write me a measured and logical message, without any slurs about sham campaigns or personal attacks, and if you put your name to it, I would welcome a rapprochement and we could start again, and have a proper debate.

    What do you say?

    – MAx

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