Sark is racing against time to find families in Guernsey to host secondary school students who hope to study in the larger island from September this year.
The students' parents yesterday met with the Education Committee yesterday to share their concerns about the uncertainty which remains less than four months before their children are due to start at schools in Guernsey.
The Committee is currently without a chair after the recent resignation of Conseiller Nicola McHugh. The member strongly tipped to replace her, Conseiller Joe Donovan, told Express on Monday night that he was determined to help find a solution for parents and their children.
"In all the years that Guernsey has provided host families for Sark children, this is the first year that has presented a challenge," said Conseiller Donovan. "This is likely in part due to our larger than normal cohort and the impacts of a global pandemic.
"As a parent myself, I fully understand and empathise with their concerns and worries. We will not rest until we have found a workable solution - hopefully in the term time host scheme - that allows their children to be educated to the highest standard and with as little impact to their lives as possible."
Pictured: Officials in Sark would like to here from anyone in Guernsey who is prepared to consider hosting one or more students during term time.
Paul Armorgie, who chairs the Board of Education, which monitors, supports and challenges the education authorities in Sark, said that parents were increasingly concerned having expected for some time to send their children to host families only to find out that there may not be any.
"I know that, among this cohort of parents, they have come to terms with their children having to go across to Guernsey. Of course, the uncertainty has caused angst among parents and pupils. They don't know where they are going to be living. It is unsettling for families," said Mr Armorgie, who is also the Deputy Speaker of Sark's parliament, Chief Pleas.
Mr Armorgie's daughter has a 12-year-old stepson, who hopes to study in Guernsey from next academic year.
"Families are meeting this afternoon [Monday]. They are speaking with one voice. They are talking about how to present their case to the Education Committee firmly but fairly.
"The parents find that Joe [Conseiller Donovan] is very empathetic of their situation. The Board of Education is very supportive of the parents. I'm cautiously optimistic. It's a challenge. We think it's achievable, but the clock is ticking."
Pictured: In recent years, Sark has decided that secondary education on the island should focus on years seven and eight, after which students should move elsewhere to complete their studies.
A review carried out in 2017 recommended that Sark should provide only the first two years of secondary education on the island - years seven and eight. Subsequently, a deal was struck with the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture for children from Sark to be offered places at Les Beaucamps High School, pictured top, in years nine, 10 and 11.
It is understood that three schools in Guernsey are expecting to welcome six or seven new students from Sark: Les Beaucamps High School, Blanchelande College and Elizabeth College.
The Committee for Education, Sport and Culture in Guernsey said: "Students from Sark are able to attend Les Beaucamps High School in years nine, 10 and 11 as per an agreement we have in place with Sark.
"In terms of Sark's current effort to find host families in Guernsey, we wish it every success as being a host is a fantastic way to enable children in Sark to access education and to enable them to be part of the community."
Conseiller Donovan appealed for help from families in Guernsey to allow the students to study in the larger island.
"We will be continuing with our drive to recruit more term time host families in Guernsey and I would encourage anyone who may be even remotely interested to contact us via our website for more information," he said.
"We remain flexible and understanding of personal circumstances and look forward to working with potential host families to make things as simple and easy as possible."
Pictured: It is understood that Elizabeth College has offered places to two of the students from Sark who are waiting to find out whether accommodation will be available for them in Guernsey from September.
But officials in Sark, aware of the time constraints they are now operating under, are considering alternatives to host families, including a previous suggestion of the island having its own property in Guernsey where students could be accommodated.
"That is very much back on the table as a result of this impasse," said Mr Armorgie.
"There are two options there. Outright purchase of a property or short-term rental of a property. Of course, we know the way the Guernsey property market is at the moment, but if Sark is serious about securing high quality education then perhaps making a capital investment in property is the right decision.
"We have sourced a couple of properties which we think would work out well. Whether we can get them over the line by September is doubtful, I should think. It may be that we need to look at a 12-month lease initially and then purchasing long term.
"We have a house parent lined up. A Sark resident who is prepared to do it. She would be a very good candidate. She is known to and trusted by the parents.
"There are a number of pieces of this jigsaw puzzle – the preferred option is still host families – but we have the options of rental or purchase as well."
Pictured: Sark may have to consider a model used by Herm, which has accommodated students in its own property in Guernsey.
Conseiller Donovan said that finding host families in Guernsey remains his main focus.
"All options for providing a continuous and excellent education for our children remain on the cards, although it is too early to say which route Sark will take to do this," he said.
"We remain committed to plan A, which is to find suitable host families that we hope will become part of our community, by caring for our children as they continue their education in Guernsey.
"If we are unable to recruit sufficient families to look after our children, then Chief Pleas will move quickly to enact any change required to afford a continuity of education for our children. Several options to do so are being considered."
Pictured: The Seigneur of Sark told Express that it was important to get across the importance of finding accommodation for Sark students in Guernsey and the potential consequences of failing.
The Seigneur of Sark, Major Christopher Beaumont, said he was deeply concerned at the prospect of students from Sark not being able to find host families in Guernsey.
"Education is just one of those things that is very hard to manage when you are as small as we are," said Major Beaumont.
"There is a clear case for secondary education to be provided away from Sark. From an educational point of view, it could perhaps be made to work with online offers, but the social aspect is as important."
Major Beaumont is also concerned that at the possibility of Sark reconsidering its decision not to provide the final years of secondary education on the island.
"It may come to that. But it doesn't mean it would be anymore satisfactory now than when it was decided a few years ago that it wasn't satisfactory.
"My worry is that a child could be imprisoned by the limitations placed on their education. I don't want to see that for Sark children. It's important to get this message across."
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