School issues rumbling on

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OVER £6,500 of Council Tax payers’ money has been spent so far on mediation consultants to try and resolve differences between staff and the Parent Council at Berwickshire High School.

In September last year staff sent a letter to Scottish Borders Council’s education director Glenn Rodger indicating that they would boycott Parent Council meetings because of the actions of certain individuals on the council who “chose to attract negative publicity to the school on the basis of misinformation”.

The trigger for the letter was the response by some individuals on the Parent Council and other parents to an assembly held by school rector Rob Kelly. During the assembly he warned girls about wearing inappropriate clothing, and highlighted a TV advert by Rape Crisis Scotland as evidence of the effect skimpy clothing could have on men.

Some parents disagreed with Mr Kelly’s methods and the issue made the national press.

The chair of the Parent Council at the time, Karen Thomas, said the council had wanted uniform issues at the school addressed but some members did not agree on how it had been handled.

She added that she had seen the letter from the staff, adding: “I’m looking for a resolution to this and I’m sorry it’s got this far.”

However, the matter has rumbled on and at last week’s meeting of SBC, Borders Party councillor Nicholas Watson, asked: “How can paying over £6,500 to Edinburgh-based Core Solutions, to mediate between Berwickshire High School’s Parent Council and the school itself, be justified?”

Responding as executive member for education, Councillor George Turnbull replied: “The decision to move to formal mediation came as a result of a breakdown in relationships between the school and the Parent Council.

“Mediation was seen as a means of resolving these issues through the involvement of an independent body. This decision was taken in discussion with school managers and the Parent Council.

“Core Solutions are a national organisation who are very experienced in dealing with complex mediation situations. The costs paid to Core Solutions represent the ‘going rate’ for this kind of work.”

Unsatisfied by this reply, Councillor Watson continued: “Is it not true that recent progress made is not attributable to Core Solutions, but to members of SBC’s own education staff?”

Speaking to the ‘Berwickshire’ after the meeting, Councillor Watson said he hoped that Core Solutions would be “shown the door without delay”.

“Three things about this seem extraordinary; first, that senior school staff should not be able to work with the Parent Council; second, that such an expensive way out was chosen; and perhaps worst of all, that despite a complete lack of progress, SBC carried on using these consultants for over six months – how crazy is that?”

“The Borders Party places great importance on engaging with local people. Of course things can be testing sometimes, but we should never run shy of difficult conversations, that’s often how things are improved in the long term.”

Rector Rob Kelly could not give us an answer as to whether the two sides have resolved their differences and are now working together, saying: “It is being dealt with at the highest level so I don’t feel that I can comment.”

A statement from the council this week read: “Core Solutions and centrally based education managers have been working constructively together with parents and school staff to resolve a breakdown in communications.

“There has been significant progress through this team approach and the involvement of an independent and well respected mediation company was important in supporting the process.

“There has been a strong commitment to do all we could to resolve the situation and an extended timescale has been necessary to achieve this.”