Confusion and chaos at council meeting over sex education

Confusion has surfaced over what has been agreed by councillors on Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in a vote over the guidance the authority will give to local secondary schools.

Monday, 7th December 2020, 12:55 pm
Cllr Calum MacLean is angry that his motion is now in doubt.
Cllr Calum MacLean is angry that his motion is now in doubt.

This was over the teaching of lessons in relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP).

Loch a’Tuath ward councillor Calum Maclean had thought that an amendment he proposed, and which was backed by an overwhelming majority of councillors at last Monday’s (30 Nov) special meeting had committed the authority to ‘exclusively’ commend lesson materials produced by the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES) for use in Western Isles Schools.

But in a statement issued on Friday, a spokesperson for the Comhairle confirmed that the word ‘exclusively’ had not been formally added to the wording of Cllr Maclean’s original amendment.

The spokesperson added: “Had there been a proposal to add the word ‘exclusively’ to the amendment, advice would have been required as to competency.”

The Comhairle’s spokesperson stated that Cllr Maclean’s amendment, voted on by councillors, was: ‘That the Comhairle commends the use of the age and stage appropriate material as set out in the Scottish Catholic Education Services for the teaching of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood in Western Isles Schools noting that schools may adjust these materials as appropriate.’

During the meeting – which was riven with procedural confusion, interruption and disputes for which the Convenor apologised at the end of the meeting – the Chair of the Education, Sport and Children’s Services Committee, Cllr Angus McCormack had moved a motion recommending noting the RSHP guidance produced by the authority’s Director of Education, Skills and Children’s Services.

Cllr Maclean then moved his amendment, seconded by Cllr Gordon Murray, but confusion arose as to what councillors were voting to accept.

The Chief Executive said: “My understanding now is that the mover of the recommendation, Cllr McCormack, accepts the amendment, which would mean that the decision of the Comhairle would be the recommendation that the position is noted, that the Director’s report is noted, and that the amendment, as set out by Cllr Calum Maclean, as seconded by Cllr Gordon Murray, forms an additional decision of the Comhairle. Is that the position as is understood by the proposer and seconder?”

To which Cllr McCormack replied: “it is.”

But toward the end of the debate, the Leader Cllr Roddie MacKay, intervened to try and clarify the intention of Cllr Maclean’s amendment.

He said: “I had a similar question…a point of information about what we are voting for and I think it is really important that there is no ambiguity around that.

“My take on it is that Calum Maclean is wanting us to use exclusively for RSHP the SCES’s [materials] as suggested. Cllr McCormack wants us to use guidance from the Scottish government and the SCES and a range of others in terms of delivering RHSP. So one is broader than the other.

“Can Calum Maclean confirm that at this minute he is wishing that we use exclusively and only the SCES RSHP materials – is that what we are voting for?”

Cllr Maclean replied: “Yes, if we are having that put in there, exclusively, noting that schools may adjust these materials as appropriate, yes.”

The Convenor moved to a vote with councillors supporting Cllr Maclean’s amendment 23-4.

In a statement issued on Friday, Cllr Maclean said: “Towards the end of the debate the Leader intervened as to what we were actually voting on, as the whole debate had reached a point of utter confusion.

“He [the Leader], clarified the situation by stating that the difference between the two motions was that my amendment was that the Scottish Catholic Education Services resources should be used exclusively in Western Isles Schools and that Cllr McCormack’s motion was that the rshp.scot materials be used along with material from the Scottish Catholic Education Services and other sources.

“I was asked by the Convener if I agreed to this to which I replied that I was, as long as schools could adjust as appropriate was still included.

“The Convener asked Mr McCormack if he was also in agreement, to which he gave his assent. Both Seconders, Cllrs Murray and MacDonald also assented.

“The Convener then gave permission to start the vote. At no time did the Chief Executive or an official declare the procedure or revised wording, which was initiated by the Leader and carried out by the Convener, invalid or incompetent.

“…I wrote to Democratic Services immediately after the vote on Monday with the amendment of the meeting: “That the Comhairle commends the use of the age and stage appropriate material as set out in the Scottish Catholic Education Services exclusively for the teaching of Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood in Western Isles Schools noting that Schools may adjust these materials as appropriate.”

Cllr Maclean concluded: “I did not receive a reply to suggest it was not the amendment that was successful. I have not been informed that there was a question of the word “exclusively” being invalid or incompetent!”

The Comhairle’s full council meets on December 9 too late for our next edition, when the minutes of the meeting of 30 November will be on the agenda for agreement.