Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Farewell Rod Bryans

Deputy Rod Bryans, the Education Minister, has said he is stepping down at the next election.

“To all of those people who serve within the education system thank you for what you have done, what you are doing and what you will do in the future; you have moved mountains over the last few years and your passion and dedication has not gone unnoticed. Long may it continue. I am sorry to disappoint friends, colleagues and the electorate, but thank you your help, support and advice it was invaluable. I hope the role I have played has made a difference for the better.”

Undoubtedly, although he was cleared, the furore of his stepping aside after a complaint and the stress on his family will have contributed to this. The JEP, in particular, ought to apologise for saying:

“THE Education Minister has 'stepped aside' from the role following a complaint of inappropriate behaviour made by a woman, the JEP understands”

Giving the bare bones like that gives rise to all kinds of imagined scenarios such as affairs etc. It was in my opinion mischievous, and Ben Shenton’s article in today’s paper is just as bad, suggesting that because Rod agreed to change his behaviour, there must have been something in the complaint. 

A different reading of the report would suggest that such actions – like patting someone on the shoulder, while not wrong in  themselves , could be subject to misinterpretation, and that was the reason for curtailing them.

The report by the Commissioner for Standards is savaged by Ben Shenton who seems to think that the Commissioner did a poor job. It seems to be that he did an extremely thorough job, exposing the fact that apparent witnesses were in fact not present and reporting hearsay, which seems to have got to Andrew Green rather like the old game of Chinese Whispers. It was the independent consultants employed by Andrew Green that seems to have produced a report that did not stand up to scrutiny once the Commissioner investigated the situation.

I’d hate to see a Ben Shenton version of “Darkest Hour”. It would probably have Neville Chamberlain begging Churchill not to do a deal with the Germans. He doesn’t seem to have been reading the same documents as me.

While I disagree with Rod on some issues (particular starting teachers pay), I think that he was one of the best Education Ministers we have had recently.

Going back to James Reed, we had massive cost cutting propositions regarding the private schools which caused parental uproar and managed to lose the support of his fellow Ministers. Both people and private schools need to budget, and sudden change does not allow that. Rod has in fact reduced the subsidy over time by small piecemeal increments, but was far too sensible to try for a massive change which could have disrupted and derailed education in Jersey. 

Then we had Patrick Ryan, whom I remember corresponding with right at the start of his tenure. I even have quotes from him for our Parish magazine on his plans for moving ahead with the replacement of Les Quennevais School.  Three years past, and he left, with no sight of any movement on that at all. Three years wasted.

Rod took up the challenge, began a consultation with the parents and Parishioners, held two public meetings to explain the three options, and also published every single comment as an addenda to the consultation summary, something rare for Ministers to do.
He then took the plans forward, but there was a first set back because Property Holdings, who were responsible, didn’t engage with Planning. That was part of the “silo problem” in that he had to delegate that to a different Department, but eventually it was passed. Any recent holdup is again down to Property Holdings and not Education.

Rod’s predecessors were also notable for bringing in (parachuting in!) outsiders to Jersey as head teachers over the heads of local talent. I remember in particular, the case of an acting Primary  School teacher, doing a good job, supported 100% by his fellow teachers and parents, who had a UK teacher appointed as head.

Instead, Rod rewarded local talent and made a clear indication that the best could often be the local teacher who knew the Island, and had demonstrated they could do a good job.

In 2017 four new head teachers were been appointed at Primary Schools in Jersey, taking over at  Samares, Grands Vaux, St Lawrence and St Martin's. The Education Department says all four are "home grown talents who've had extensive experience working in Jersey".

John Baudains, the current head of Mont Nicolle Primary School,  moved to La Moye School in September 2017. In 2018, Sue Morris, the current acting head of Grainville School, was been appointed on a permanent basis and takes up the role immediately, while Andy Adkin, the deputy head of Hautlieu School, was set to become Le Rocquier’s new head teacher in September.

Two areas I disagreed with Rod were Nursery Education in the initial means tested proposals, which I thought should have a higher limit and a sliding scale, and later, before being withdrawn, were submitted on those lines. Unfortunately he will not be able to revisit it, so his successors will have to decide if resources are better allocated to those in more need than the luxury boat owning fraternity because the means tested limit was extremely high.

The other was lowering entry level pay for school teachers in Jersey, where I suspect we may have to take stock as a recruitment crisis is hitting the UK and almost certainly will have an impact here.  I think changing demands will force a rise. Part of the problem, of course, is that while pay is the same for all teachers, only some areas face a recruitment crisis. Were it a business with different centres of work, pay would be structured to differentiate on need, but this cannot be done with teacher recruitment.

On recruitment, however, the Education departments’ training of home grown nurses was a major breakthrough and something to start providing for the future. It was much needed forward thinking.

Also the library services were not neglected. In 2016, the children’s area at Jersey Library had its first major face-lift since the building opened over 25 years ago. The States spent around £23,000 on the renovations to encourage a "lifelong love of reading" in Jersey's youngsters.

Rod said: “We want the Children’s Library to be a place where people relax, have fun and fall in love with reading. This work will give it a new lease of live and make it even more child-focused. Thank you to the library team for their vision and hard work.”

On the local front, Rod opposed the initial plans at Gas Place. In his 2014 manifesto he said:

“I want to play a central role in the urban planning and regeneration of St Helier. People need homes but the size and scale of the current plans being contemplated are just too large. Overbearing developments cannot compromise the town park. The buildings are too high and the numbers too great. Let people and planners work together effectively.”

And he kept his promise by supporting appeals against the plans.

Farewell, Rod, we shall miss your energy and enthusiasm.

No comments: