Published: 31/05/2014 09:00 - Updated: 30/05/2014 12:11

Teachers given clearance to speak in schools debate

GAGGING concerns surrounding staff at Moray Council have been quashed.

An emergency motion was raised at a full meeting of the local authority this week due to fears some educational staff felt they couldn’t speak out.

It comes amid the local authority’s ongoing Sustainable Education Review and follows a meeting by the Save Milne’s High School group.

Councillor Douglas Ross, who raised the motion, said the local authority was praised at the meeting for its openness over the review, as well as the wealth of information available.

The only concern was over any "potential perception" by members of council staff – including teachers – that their voices weren’t being heard.

The motion was seconded by Councillor Margo Howe, who referenced a group of parents gathering names for a petition.

Among responses received were, ‘I can’t sign because I work for Moray Council’, ‘I shouldn’t even be speaking to you, I work for Moray Council’, and ‘I’m a teacher, I’ve been asked not to comment’.

"When questioned, those who worked for Moray Council remarked that staff had been told not to discuss the Sustainable Education Review by senior management," said Councillor Howe.

She added: "I don’t believe in gagging, I want to hear what they want to say."

Councillor Sean Morton, the third representative for the Fochabers Lhanbryde ward, added his support for the motion, which stated: "The Moray Council agrees that staff who wish to, including teachers, can fully engage with the Sustainable Education Review.

"This includes supporting petitions, contacting their local councillors and attending and contributing to public meetings. This is to ensure that all parents and carers can have an equitable input to this important review regardless of their job or employers."

The chief executive of the local authority, Roddy Burns, said he was concerned that staff members felt they couldn’t express their views.

He said: "I think it is important that the principle is established, because every member of staff should, and has, a right to be heard. I think that is an important and fundamental principle."

The committee unanimously backed the motion, subject to the limitation of non-disclosure of any confidential information. Council staff must also remain within the code of conduct.

The local association secretary for teaching union EIS, Susan Slater, said the decision would give clarification to those unsure about what they can, and can’t, say.

"I think people have been unsure about where they stand," she said "I’ve had a number of queries and, in fact, I just put something out to all schools yesterday, clarifying the situation."

Teaching staff have to follow the local authority’s code of conduct, as well as that of their professional body.

"Our advice to members is that, yes, you can comment, but you can’t criticise your employer in public, and nor should you be disclosing confidential information that you are aware of because of the position that you hold.

"But, in terms of if you are a parent of a child at a school that’s affected, if you have concerns around the educational rationale, then quite clearly you can comment on that as a parent, as long as you are not criticising your employer," she said.

The Sustainable Education Review was launched last year after it emerged Moray’s school estate is in need of £70 million investment to bring it up to suitable standards.

A long list of possibilities impacting on schools across the area – including 3 to 18 campuses, closures, mergers and new builds – was published in February and has since been subject to consultation.

The council has said that no decisions have been taken and that the status quo remains an option, but should elected members opt to take forward any of the proposals, further consultation will take place.

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