WHEN Clydeview Academy came up for discussion at Inverclyde Council’s education committee today, you would have been forgiven for thinking one of the main issues was not the school’s overcrowding but whether many of the 162 comments about it on Inverclyde Now’s messageboard had been written by the same person, writes editor Jeremy Burrows.
Councillor Chris Osborne started the debate, welcoming the efforts of staff and the head teacher, but stating his disappointment that temporary accommodation was not being considered. He said he had been surprised that there had been 160 comments about the situation on Inverclyde Now’s messageboard, but education convener Councillor Terry Loughran quickly pointed out that many of them were anonymous. He added that no child was without access to a classroom at any time.
Councillor Loughran said there had been no one at any of his surgeries raising the subject of Clydeview. He added that the response to the school at an evening for First Year parents had been “virtually exultational.”
Councillor David Wilson felt the education department had fared badly in handling Clydeview Academy in comparison with how it had dealt with the coming together of St Stephen’s High and Port Glasgow High at a temporary shared campus. He said: “I believe issues could have been handled beforehand; we have had to do a lot of ‘fire-fighting’.”
Tom Tracey of the EIS (Educational Institute of Scotland), the teachers’ representative on the committee, told how he had gone to Clydeview several times after reading comments about the school. He found nothing of concern. For example, he recalled how he had taught at St Columba’s High, Gourock, when it had 2,000 pupils and thus could tell when dining staff were struggling. There was no “steam coming out of the ears” of the caterers at Clydeview, he reported. He added that every single pupil behaved appropriately.
Fair enough and very nice to hear, if only he had left it at that. But then followed an extraordinary tirade. Mr Tracey stormed: “If we based every decision on what appears on a WEBSITE, I would be going on every Inverclyde website saying we need this and we need that and need the next thing.
“I have to say I have studied many of the comments on Inverclyde Now and they are very similar. I don’t think they are from 160 individuals. I think a lot are by the same people.”
Members of the press and public aren’t allowed to say anything at council meetings so I couldn’t defend Inverclyde Now’s good name in the face of a classic ‘shoot-the-messenger’ reaction -– it’s time to do that now.
The on-line furore over Clydeview Academy has died down. People vented their feelings, made their points. The authorities reacted, obviously not to everyone’s satisfaction, but there have been improvements. Those meaures may or may not have happened without the on-line outcry and subsequent newspaper coverage. There is a big question remaining about how the council will ensure the school’s roll will fall from 1,200 to something approaching its official capacity of 990.
The report considered by the committee at the meeting states: “Education Services are working closely with Legal Services to consider the steps to be taken to ensure the school roll falls to the capacity level by 2014. It is anticipated that a paper on roll projection and capping for Clydeview Academy will be prepared for the next meeting of the Education and Lifelong Learning Committee in January 2012.”
The issue of comments being provided anonymously to Inverclyde Now seems to be a big deal with some people in high places. Mr Tracey has studied the comments and thinks the same person may be writing lots of them. Maybe he thinks I had the time to write them all; maybe I was fooled by a cunning e-mailler with multiple aliases. Hold on though, has Mr Tracey read the report which went before the committee? It states that the Watch Commander from Strathclyde Fire and Rescue visited the school on three occasions to check fire safety in response to letters from parents. Maybe Mr Tracey thinks I wrote those letters or the mystery e-mailler did.
It’s worth considering the anonymity question further as it is being used to undermine the legitimate expression of views by many of the school’s parents. Many on-line forums allow comments from readers using assumed names. For a number of years, Inverclyde’s evening newspaper has allowed letters to the editor with the option of not publishing a name and address. Indeed, even if Inverclyde Now and the Greenock Telegraph and every other forum, printed or electronic, insisted on a person’s name, how can you check it is real? There has to be trust – fortunately Inverclyde Now is established as a credible and useful source of information; Albert Henderson, Inverclyde’s Corporate Director for Education and Communities, and Inverclyde Council leader Councillor Stephen McCabe respected the statements being made on the website and took the time to issue their own which we published word for word.
The nature of the discussion about Clydeview also made it unsurprising that people didn’t want their names published. Most of the contributors were parents who didn’t want to be identified as that would have meant their children being drawn into the situation.
The contempt with which Mr Tracey spat out the word ‘website’ was quite incredible. It looks as if he prefers his information to come on paper. Unfortunately for him this WEBSITE’S editor was the only member of the ‘press’ at the meeting so he’ll just have to make do with the internet.
He and, perhaps more disturbingly, Councillor Loughran seem out of touch with how many people now put their views across. Councillor Loughran said no one had raised the matter at his surgery. Perhaps he should try a blog or a Facebook page and see what happens then.
PS For readers familar with the Talkback page, I'm afraid we’ll never know if ‘Concerned Teacher’ was real; I’m kinda hoping not.
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