Billet Blog: 30 November 2016

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Billet Blog: 30 November 2016

This meeting is the third and final States’ debate in a very long November! The dominant issue will be secondary education – specifically, the question of whether to retain the 11+ or move to a non-selective system. This, and the other items of business, are discussed further below.

Billet d’Etat XXIX – 30 November 2016 (read it online here)

Part One: Legislation Laid Before the States

The items in this section are statutory instruments (orders and regulations) which are agreed and put into action by individual Committees of the States, in line with their powers and duties. The States do not have to approve these (they are in force from the moment the relevant Committee decides) but we do have the power to annul a statutory instrument if we don’t agree with it. This would be quite an unusual move. There won’t be any debate about these items unless there is a motion to annul one of them.

There are four statutory instruments. One introduces a “hazard perception” test to the theory part of the driving test. Two cover temporary flying restrictions in relation to air displays in Guernsey and Alderney earlier this year. The final one relates to the Financial Services Ombudsman, and requires Guernsey and Jersey to split the costs of this office equally until the end of 2018 – after which, the funding formula will reflect the levels of work done in each island.

Part Two: Legislation for Approval

Items 1-6 – Benefit Legislation – Responsible Committee: Employment and Social Security

At the start of November, the States approved the Committee’s policy letter on Benefit and Contribution Rates for 2017. These six ordinances make changes to the laws which prescribe how benefits should be paid and to whom. Specifically:

Part Three: Other Business

Item 7 – The Future Structure of Secondary Education in the Bailiwick (link) Responsible Committee: Education, Sport and Culture

This is the item which is likely to dominate debate. In March 2016, the States agreed to remove the 11+ (or any other form of selection into separate schools at 11) and develop a more inclusive secondary education system. The debate was closely fought, and the future of secondary education became a hot topic in the April 2016 General Election. In my experience, the people I spoke to, going door-to-door, were pretty evenly split on whether selection should stay or go – and it was the only subject that earned me both hugs and doors being slammed in my face!

Because this question so deeply divides the Assembly, the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture are, in effect, asking us to make a ruling on whether to keep last term’s decision (and throw out the 11+) or overturn it. The Committee has placed an amendment to its own report, which makes that proposition clearer. Hopefully all Members will vote for the amendment, which essentially just changes the wording of the question we’re being asked; and then Members who support the 11+ will vote “pour” the final proposition, and Members who do not will vote “contre”. It is bound to be another very close vote.

I should be clear that, if we vote “contre”, we are rejecting the Committee’s proposal to overturn the March decisions. The main focus of this week’s debate is “should the 11+ (or any form of selection) stay or go?” But the March proposals also include a decision to move to three secondary schools, from the current four. I am still not persuaded that this is the right course of action – but the time to challenge that (if need be) will be next year, when the Committee reports back with its plans for the future of the education estate.

The actual policy letter from the new Committee is very short: it is only the first ten pages of the report. The detailed policy letter submitted by the former Education Department is appended for information, and the final four pages are a discussion of alternative forms of selection considered by the Committee.

I blogged on education during the election period and, although the depth of my knowledge has increased since then, the general shape of my argument has not. The most striking bit of evidence, for me, has always been the fact that the academic outcomes of a cohort of students are approximately the same in selective and non-selective areas in the UK – in other words, the 11+ doesn’t add value, academically, to the achievement of the whole year group. Bearing that in mind, I can’t make the case for retaining it here.

It is clear that the removal of the 11+ has the overwhelming support of the majority of education professionals on the island. Despite comments over the weekend, the vast majority of correspondence we’ve had has been respectful, mature, well-informed and sincere in the desire to do the right thing for the island’s children. I’m a firm believer in the importance of professionals advocating for those they are there to serve (whether that’s teachers advocating for their children, health professionals advocating for their patients and service users, or so forth) – even when that involves challenging government policy. As a government, we’ll take that advice into consideration, and weigh it up against everything else we need to consider – but, to me, it’s the essence of professional ethics and democratic engagement, and I’m so glad that education professionals (on every side of the debate, by the way) have felt confident enough to speak out.

Much of what there is to say about education has already been said – although it’ll be said again, at length, during this week’s debate. For many people, because this is a decision of such significance, it will be important to have put their views on public record. The selection debate is a hurdle we need to clear before moving ahead with defining the shape of the education system for the next generation – but I think the really interesting stuff will come then, when we are focused on what it takes to build an internationally-competitive education system, which prepares all our children as well as possible for the future.

Item 8 – The Population Management (Guernsey) Law, 2016 – Proposals to Regulate the Residential Status of Individuals in Specific Circumstances (link) Responsible Committee: Home Affairs

Under the new Population Management regime, people will need to live in Guernsey for a certain number of years (a “qualifying period”) before being entitled to live here permanently. This policy letter deals with certain situations which may or may not count towards that qualifying period.

For children in fostering and pre-adoption placements, the time spent in such a placement will count towards their qualifying period. This includes children placed off-island, so long as they’re placed under Guernsey’s Children Law. Foster carers will not be required to obtain a permit in order to cover the child’s residence with them.

The time spent in Guernsey by Alderney and Sark students, who live here during term-time to access education, will not be counted towards their qualifying period. Their hosts also won’t need to obtain a permit to cover the student’s residence with them.

People who have to receive healthcare off-island will be able to count the time spent receiving treatment or care as part of their qualifying period.

For people who are imprisoned, the time spent in prison will be treated as if it doesn’t exist. That is, it won’t count towards a person’s qualifying period, and it also won’t count as time away from the island. There are situations in which either of these options could give a prisoner an undue advantage compared to a person in similar situations who hadn’t been imprisoned, so the Committee is recommending an approach which avoids those pitfalls.

For people who are detained but subsequently not convicted, they will be offered the choice of whether they would prefer their time spent in detention to be counted towards their qualifying period or not.

The policy letter reminds us that these provisions will only apply to a small number of people (people who are still part-way through their qualifying period) in rare circumstances. But, as these are difficult and emotionally-charged situations, the Committee wanted to have clear rules for how they would be dealt with, which seems entirely appropriate.

Item 9 – The Population Management (Guernsey) Law, 2016 – Amendments to Transitional Provisions (link) Responsible Committee: Home Affairs

The new Population Management regime will come into force on 3 April 2017. Before that happens, the Committee for Home Affairs has recommended some minor changes to the Population Management law, so that it works in the way agreed by the States in earlier debates on this regime. There are four changes proposed here:

  1. Under the new regime, most people have to live here for a certain number of years before gaining permanent residency rights. The qualification periods are generally shorter under the new regime than the old one. This amendment will make sure that the new qualification period applies equally to all children and young people, even those who started living here before April 2017.
  2. The law is being tightened up to make it absolutely clear who is exempt from the requirement to hold a certificate or permit, in order to live here.
  3. The requirement to take a “recognised break in residence” (a period of absence from the island at least equal to the number of years spent here) is clearly applied to people who have had certain kinds of housing license under the old system, as well as to people who have employment permits under the new system.
  4. The law is clarified to make sure that, when a person is living abroad because their spouse is serving in the Armed Forces, that period of time is treated as if the person is still resident in Guernsey.

None of these changes appear to introduce new policies or materially alter the way in which the Population Management regime will work. They are simply about redrafting the Law so that it properly reflects the decisions that the States has already made.

Part Four: Appendix Reports

Item 1 – Channel Islands Lottery – 2015 Report and Accounts (link)

I have written before about my mixed feelings and general discomfort with gambling. This annual report shows that, every year, the amount of tickets sold and money raised through the Channel Islands Lottery has increased, especially in Guernsey. On the face of it, this is great news for Beau Sejour (which has its budget topped up by lottery funding if needed) and local charities (which receive all the proceeds of the Christmas lottery, distributed via the Association of Guernsey Charities – as set out on p8-10 of the report). But what, if anything, does this tell us about the growth of gambling behaviour in Guernsey?

I’m learning more and more about the extent of problem debt on the island, through my work on the Committee for Employment & Social Security. At the same time, local media have been raising the profile of gambling addiction and its associated challenges. Lottery ticket sales were £7.7m in the Bailiwick in 2015 – that’s £120 spent for every man, woman and child on these islands. The reality is that some people will have been spending far more than that: in some cases, perhaps beyond what they can reasonably afford. We can’t diagnose a problem on the basis of the CI Lottery annual report, but it certainly flags this as an issue that should be looked into more closely.

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