John Cairney speaks out on the bungled handling of a school closure
Recent issues of TES Scotland have included articles on primary school closures, low teacher morale and the need to improve the management of the educational service. One Scottish school's experience of a school closure highlights the effect on teacher morale and the need for some local authorities to look to their own management.
Before the council in question decided on closure, the school had acquired a national reputation for its progressive, imaginative and effective work in a number of curricular areas, and its roll was healthy. The council, however, pressed on with the closure, and thus began a diary of despair.
All of the teachers affected are still employed by the same local authority. Morale is understandably low, but their main concern is "if it can happen to us, it can happen to anyone". They were motivated sufficiently to want to highlight their own experience in the hope that staff, as well as local authorities, will draw the following lessons from it: * How not to handle a schoolclosure; * How not to demoralise staff and parents; * How to highlight management incompetence.
DIARY OF A SCHOOL CLOSURE
Staff and parents are told that the school will re-open in August and that the closure will be "planned" in order to facilitate an "organised transfer" to other establishments.
Day one: The headteacher is phoned at home and told that the school will be emptied and boarded up the next day. Letters are sent to parents and staff informing them of the closure. The head rushes to the school to remove personal possessions of the staff and to ensure that confidential reports and files are secure.
Day two: The head watches as removal men empty the building. Resources amassed over many years are packed indiscriminately into boxes and, when these run out, into plastic bags: the lemon tree nurtured from a seed planted by a member of staff who died of cancer; the shamrock donated by a grandmother who had family members killed in a local drugs war; the little oak tree grown from an acorn planted by the children.
A council official approaches the head to "talk about your future" and is told that, important as it is, it will have to wait until the school's contents have been made secure.
The removal men say that the available accommodation is "inadequate" to store all the school's resources. After "a major panic", a classroom and the stalls in the boys' toiletsin one nearby primary school and the basement of another are identified as possible locations.
Day three: Two of the staff have not yet received letters about the closure, because the personnel section does not have their addresses, even though the school supplied them. One member of staff is still abroad - the headteacher leaves a message on her answering machine.
Staff contact personnel to find out which school they should now report to and are told, "we will get back to you". They do, and staff appear for work at their new schools.
Staff salary advice slips arrive at the boarded-up school - the authority's finance section has not been informed of the closure.
Local authority colleagues have still not been told of the closure - staff have to break the news. Discussions with the directorate on the possibility of early retirement offers for some staff reveal that the director does not know whether the authority's policy is for four or 10 years' enhancement. Clarification requested.
Director responds: it is four years.
The teachers' trade union is told there is no enhancement available.