Marina Mauger, representative of the NASUWT, was reacting to stinging criticism of the government from governors from Haute Vallée School, who on Monday handed a ‘putting children first’ poster to politicians during a Scrutiny hearing in protest at ‘gross underfunding’ that they said was adversely affecting the school’s ability to deliver education. The governors said that the funding shortfall left them with no option but to sanction budget-breaking levels of spending.
The government has defended its position and stressed that it remains committed to putting children first and that further discussions with schools would ‘continue’ as to how best to approach that aim.
Mrs Mauger, a representative of the NASUWT, said it was ‘scandalous’ that an island as wealthy as Jersey should be in such a position.
She said: ‘I can perfectly understand how these children feel [in giving the poster back]. I can’t say I’ve seen anything that’s putting children first.
‘It’s quite a shocking thing that this has happened. For a head teacher to be left with a shortfall like this shows there is a funding crisis. A school can’t help but overspend in a situation like this. They’re spending money on necessities, not luxuries.’
Mrs Mauger said the government could improve the situation by releasing additional funds, but also needed to consider relocation packages that would help solve challenges in recruitment.
Children’s commissioner Deborah McMillan said ministers were failing to deliver on putting children first, having made the pledge as part of the response to the report by the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry in 2017.
She said the government had fallen short on many of the strategic policies that formed part of the response to the inquiry. She said she ‘totally understood’ the frustration of the Haute Vallée governors and that their reaction reflected what she was hearing from head teachers at other schools.
Ahead of a new government being formed next summer after the general election, scheduled for 22 June, Mrs McMillan said she did not want to see the ‘putting children first’ priority disappear, but that it needed to be significantly bolstered.
‘We need to focus on putting children’s rights first, and have a strategy that clearly sets out a political commitment to this area, addresses resourcing and recognises children as citizens,’ she said.
Mrs McMillan plans to publish a children’s rights manifesto before the end of March next year as part of a bid to obtain a commitment from election candidates to work to improve the situation if elected.
As part of its responsibility, Mrs McMillan said the government needed to provide a solution to the recruitment and retention problem that was affecting education and children’s services. She added that she remained concerned that, by having a single minister responsible for children, Jersey had created a situation where other ministers felt children were someone else’s responsibility.
Budget deficits for the majority of Jersey schools were identified in the answer to a written question by Deputy Mike Higgins earlier this year.
Among the non-fee-paying secondary schools, all of which had annual budgets of between £4.8 million and £5.8m, Haute Vallée had a deficit of £601,000 in 2020. Le Rocquier’s deficit last year was £589,000, while the comparable figures for Grainville and Les Quennevais were £310,000 and £300,000 respectively.
A government spokesperson said: ‘The government is committed to putting children first. Since 2019, the States Assembly has voted an additional £35 million per year for the range of services that support the Island’s children and families.
‘The Education Reform Programme, underpinned by an independent funding review in 2019, is providing £11.6 million of additional, recurrent funding by 2024. This is designed to tackle the structural deficit in some school budgets and to release new investment across the school system to address identified gaps in provision.
‘A new funding model will ensure a transparent approach to funding schools from September 2022. Head teachers will continue to be engaged in this work and the new model will be kept under review.’
The spokesperson said there would also be a focus on projects for special educational needs and disabilities, and concluded that: ‘When schools resume after half-term, the Chief Minister and Children’s and Education Minister will continue their dialogue with Haute Vallée, and other schools, about how best to put children first.’