Editorial: Spark of a sensible policy move showing at the Moray Council

Sunday Supplement
The editor voices his views on the most topical events of the past week…..

Laurence Findlay - education plan
Laurence Findlay – education plan

IT WOULD BE easy to drum up headlines questioning another radical Moray Council education policy as being just plain bonkers.

After all, few have forgotten the carnage that was the Sustainable Education Review (SER) last year – a ‘review’ that was suspected by many communities to be little more than a smoke-screen over school closures and, ultimately, wholesale dismantling of an education system that just needed fixing, not the reading of last rites.

The fit of pique demonstrated by the then leader of the council and his independent colleagues when it became apparent they would not get their own way was a catastrophe for local governance in Moray.  His resignation at that time was a mistake, the reaction of his independent administration colleagues in exacting vengeance rather than acceptance was an even bigger one.

Yes, some months later it would be easy to write up damning headlines of what could be described as education review part 2. Except, this time, it does just appear that the message has finally got through to the council, they might just have got something right.

For sure it is not by any means the end of the public versus council battles – future clashes over Elgin’s west link road and the use of two Lossiemouth cul-de-sacs as main access to a new housing estate will likely see further claims of officialdom blasting through public opinion in a “couldn’t care less” manner.

Yet there are signs – in the last few weeks we have seen council officials actually apologising, actually admitting that mistakes were being made.

Now a meeting on Wednesday will discuss Education Review 2 (ER2 – our title) – a system devoid of even a hint of schools closures, a far less radical scheme to reorganise Moray’s primary education system.

The difference? Well, perhaps the fact that this plan has not come from a team of highly paid (some would say over paid) consultants but rather from within the Council’s own education and social care department is the key.

Laurence Findlay was above all else an educationalist. His arrival as corporate director of education and social care was not via the local government factory, he was a teacher brought up in the north east – and for nine years before entering local government taught at Keith Grammar School before being head teacher at Forres Academy.

His entry into local government administration only came three years ago when he was placed in charge of schools and curriculum development. He is, then, someone in whom parents are much more willing to place their trust in.

So when Mr Findlay puts forward plans from his department, as he will do in a key council meeting on Wednesday, it is far more likely that not only councillors will sit up and take notice but so will the general public.

ER2 will see most of Moray’s head teachers being stripped of their education duties. On the face of it that appears to be a daft idea – but not when you consider that it is being promoted to us by a former and highly respected head teacher. Mr Findlay is saying that to solve Moray’s teacher recruitment crisis needs a radical overhaul of the system, it needs to provide teachers with a clear career path.

Unlike many complex ideas put forward by Moray Council, to this commentator it all actually makes sense. By releasing head teachers to look after only the vital administrative tasks, as Mr Findlay says, the local authority can employ fewer of them. Crucially, the ER2 would see a greater number of Principal and Deputy Head teachers being created as a result.

The challenge of ‘selling’ this idea to the teachers and the public is not ignored by Mr Findlay either, as in his proposals he makes clear the need for extensive consultation to ensure that all parents are aware of what the changes are about and the benefits that will come from it for their children and those who will be educating them.

Mr Findlay and his colleagues have laid out a clear pathway to the future that at first read (it can be seen here) contains none of the complicated root-to-tip reconstruction of Moray’s education system that the SER had.

Perhaps that is because this one is designed to address a single but very important issue – teacher recruitment and organisation of our primary schools. Or perhaps it is a sign that, at last, some in the Moray Council administration group are taking notice of their mistakes and looking to work with the public rather than against them.

Time will tell.