Saturday, 25 October 2008


Mark Meredith has today stated that he intends to stick around until next May and will be anything but a lame duck! What will worry many of the cities population is that he intends to push some of the policies that I think were his un-doing, like the very controversial BSF programme.
I have said many times on this blog that we connected with Longton High School accept that it has to close based on the projected pupil numbers in the coming years. But what of the other schools facing closure? What will the campaigners of Trentham, Berryhill & Mitchell High Schools expect the prospective candidates for Council Leader to do now?
Unlike many of the TAG and other pressure groups from the vulnerable schools, I have no personal issue with the outgoing Elected Mayor, and at the risk of being a tad controversial (unlike me!) I think that Mark Meredith came in for some nasty personal attacks and comments from some factions.
Do I think the Mayor's/SERCO's plans are wrong? You bet your life I do!
I think that because it got so personal between some of the TAG and Mark Meredith, it came down to some kind of "Mexican stand off" and yet the solution to the schools fiasco is just a couple of small changes in the proposal.
I have said that to make the whole process work, what we need is to be prepared to make Two small but potentially unpopular decisions. One is to close Edensor High and not select it to be a predecessor school, and to move the location of the proposed Parkhall Academy.
So if the BSF proposals were altered to include a) a refurbishment for Trentham High School. b) A new Academy on the Blurton High site for the catchment areas for Blurton & Edensor. c) Edensor High to close ( their site is unsuitable for a new building) d) A new academy to be built on the Mitchell High site for the catchment areas of Mitchell, Berryhill & Longton areas.
Now the question is, will any of the likely candidates for Council Leader, pick up on the need to make these relatively small changes that would attract huge support from the parents and teaching staff of the closure faced schools.
Mark Meredith is hell bent on seeing the BSF process through. He knows better than anyone that this policy was the most unpopular of his time in office.
In the next few weeks the Mayor will try and prove through actions, that he is not a "lame duck", the different groups on the council should make sure that the schools issue is the first policy to be reversed, and it has to be a real priority for any wouldbe Leader, to seek urgent talks and consultation with the campaigners and interested parties.
The electorate in this city will, now the decision has been made to ditch the Mayoral system, expect the main players in the council to come out and state their intentions for both their parties, and to inform us of their policies, because we are the stake holders! Nothing less will be acceptable.
Parents and Pupils, the young and the old, have felt for to long that their opinions have not been listened to.
The time as come for the prospective leaders to engage with the city and prove to us that we did make the right decision and that there will be a positive change, what better place to start than with the School reorganisation?
Read The Sentinel article about the mayor by clicking here


nicky said...

This is a good blog Tony.

Yes your solution, which we discussed in a previous blog, makes good sense. It is essentially the same or similar to a proposal made by the MPs some while ago.

Now the tricky bit is getting Mark Meredith to see this. He does communicate on this but it is always the same answer and whilst we can give him any number of good reasons he does not tend to come back with any. As for Roger Ibbs, well he simply just does not communicate at all, which is not useful in that portfolio.

Although we can always live in hope that the yes vote will change things I do not know whether it will or not, at least initially. What will be of most importance is whether we will get to hear any real views from the current labour/tory/libdem alliance. I know the other councillors are pretty much in touch with what is needed and what people want and have suggested similar solutions. But the alliance have been very quiet. The question is, is that because they really agree with Mark Meredith or is it because they have not dared speak out? Now somewhat optimistically (not really like me) I think that at least for a fair few of them it is the latter. But will they and can they speak out now and will Mark Meredith listen if he can see a majority of councillors wanting a better solution. If he did, this would actually give him a better outgoing legacy on this particular schools issue.

We know there is still time to change the plans although we get conflicting stories from local and central government. From what Mark Meredith says the impression you get is the strategy for change has already been scrutinised by Partnerships for Schools and is on Jim Knight's desk waiting to be signed off. However a recent parliamentary question raised by Rob Flello revealed from Jim Knight that the strategy for change has not been formally submitted. I'm sort of guessing that might mean it's in draft form and they are iterating the details, so it could be changed.
SERCO would not be that happy about this but in the end if Mark Meredith were bold enough to come on board and insist then they would simply do their job and implement what is required. Also we have heard locally that Ormiston is definitely the sponsor for the 'Blurton(inc Trentham)' academy and yet central government says that the sponsors for the academies have not yet been decided. This is an odd one. Are sponsors making plans in good faith then with nothing signed off?

In terms of what a prospective council leader should do, it would really be to put their weight behind such modified proposals but get the changes underway straight away, by being persuasive with Mark Meredith, if such a thing is possible. If that could work it would be better than having to wait until he has gone.

There are a few other significant details to be thought about. One is academies and do we want them or need them. (I'm personally not in favour of academies but my family would not be affected on the time scale.) It really is for the various communities' parents with young children to say. Partnerships for Schools say that whilst they are in charge of the academies program and also of BSF, it does not mean that a BSF plan has to include academies. But we also seem to hear that we must have academies. I do not understand but wonder if this is linked with differing amounts of money allowed depending whether academies are included or not.

The biggest issue that I feel most angry about in this schools reorganisation is the lack of attention given to the transition phase. A continuity must be given to pupils and staff to ensure job security and good education throughout. It is no good Ged Rowney saying he takes this very seriously then not seeming to come up with much. I really do believe the "every child matters" slogan in its literal sense and that some children should not be sacrificed in some schools in the hope that at least a majority will benefit. Consequently I think in your solution staff from Mitchell and Berryhill should all be given transfer rights to the new Mitchell school and staff in Blurton and Edensor should all be given transfer rights to the new Blurton school. OK there would still be competition for management posts but this should ensure proper staffing on the various school sites during the transition phase. What I don’t know, but I’m sure you will Tony, is what would work best for Longton staffing, should that be secured at Sandon because of timescales?

A final detail is pupil numbers. SERCO have not got these right. When you look at the details, secondary pupil numbers fall until 2014 then rise again. So thinking long term, rebuilt schools will need to be built big enough and refurbished schools could need an extra build, in order to provide places for the city’s current preschool children.


Now over to our councillors to take action.

Ian Norris said...

Nicky: as with the primary school re-oraganistion, the Governement will provide money for demolition if its provide they are too big, The will then provide money agian to build new school. Is this good value? Its Investment and investment is good. repeat investment is good. and you'll begin to understand. companies make money from demoltion and rebuilding and keeps jobs and money for the boys

nita said...

Serco were brought into sort education out, as it was in a right mess. No one can dispute, this needed to be addressed. They put together the proposals, using various data. They recommended what schools should close, and where the new Academies should be built. It was, however, the Mayor's decision, on whether what they recommended was right for the City. He decided that it was. Now, my question is, if Councillor's have raised some concerns about parts of the proposal, why has he not taken on board what they say? Yes, you may have the power to do what you want, but why not sometimes, listen and see if you can make some changes, if they are workable.

I do believe the Proposals were not that far off, and we still do not know why the alternatives were turned down. Surely the better option would have been to put Blurton and Edensor together, then this school would at least serve its community? Why move Edensor, to Park Hall, when it will be nowhere near its community. The Park Hall Academy should serve Berryhill/Mitchell/Longton. Why not put Berryhill/Mitchell together on the Mitchell site?
Why not leave Trentham where it is, giving it a refub. After all, Trentham is performing well, and we should surely not be losing these schools. There are many other options, which I am sure the public would have accepted, but we have always been told, No, it won't work. Why won't it work, we still do not know? Sadly, I have a feeling all the closing schools, are on land, that is worth money, and that is what it is about. From a business point of view, it is good, as money will be made, but surely, we need to do what is best for the pupils and staff.

Now, I was under the impression that Councillor's were allowed a vote on whether or not, they thought these proposals were fine for the City, but I have since been corrected. It turns out that they can only pass recommendations to the various Scrutiny Committee's, and then its onto the EMB, but the Mayor still has the final say. It was at the EMB Meeting, on the closure of Longton High, I was surprised that no one on the EMB, really raised any concerns, of what affect this closure would have on pupils remaining on site. No it was left to Councillors, to try and raise these concerns, but they were not really listened to. We did not expect them to change the Longton closure, but at least raise some questions, on the impact of this closure.

Now, for those that have voted YES, in the referendum, the Leader may well come from one of these EMB Councillors, who you feel has not done enough to question why performing schools are closing, and not tried to get the Mayor to revisit the proposals. So, maybe a vote for YES, has got rid of the Mayor, you may well end up with someone, who you feel has done little for your community.

I repeat again, I would still have preferred to choose a person, to lead the City, and still think that the Mayoral system could have worked. That is my opinion, and not one shared by many others.

My concern is, how this group of Councillors are going to choose the Leader. After all, in the Sentinel, it was revealed that some thought, they could not pick a Leader from any of the Councillors. The Labour Party are so fragmented, and I feel do not at the moment, stand as one group. Will the Ind join together with the BNP? Where do the Con stand?
Will they ever be able to agree? I do hope so.

Under the Leader system, I am told that the Councillor's will have more say in the running of the City, so let's hope that the people have made the right decision.

Alison said...

Tony, Tony, you are talking far too much sense on this blog for either the Council or Serco to understand....

You are putting forward proposals that the people of the City would possibly be HAPPY with - the council and serco won't want that surely?

Let's see what happens in the next few months, but I aren't holding my breath for any common sense approach to this.

Perhaps those councillors vying for Council Leadership, and all those others, who should now become accountable to their electorate, might wish to prove me wrong?

Ian Norris said...

Sadly, the leader is likely to come from the EMB and thus continue to ignore the Cllrs as they claimed the Mayor was before them.

Anonymous said...

Norris Way - the road to nowhere

brooneyes said...

The way forward isn't through these bloody academies anywhere.
The educational system should be one of community schools, smaller, not bigger, and more of them!
There's no reason why two or three schools that are fairly close together, can't pool the teachers!
Someone always says that small schools limit the subjects taught, but it won't if you pool your teaching resources. And this is by far the best way of schooling. I was looking at feasability documents from this council, and in one of those it states that smaller schools perform best! If they know this, why try and foist these horrible academies on our kids?
Once again it comes down to money, as it always does with Meredith. How about we list what we need in order of importance, and not financially expedient?

no such thing as society said...

Mr. Norris why do you assume that the new leader will come from Labour? The Independents have only one councillor less than Labour and could get support from other groups. Maybe the Independents don't want to accept any responsibility for the running of the city and are happy to just criticise others?

nicky said...

Ian Norris, Yes this build it, knock it down, build it again attitude seems to go on all over the place, not just with schools. And not just with physical buildings either, just look at the perpetual changes in government departments for example. On the other hand there are some schools that do actually need new building.

Nita, You have got it so right. Why does Meredith not listen? It is a perpetual frustration, I had hoped for better from him. Over the past year I've oscillated between thinking surely he's got to see the logic in this and writing to him, then giving up, then trying again. But then you never know if he even reads it. He might just have his staff with a table of stock phrases that they pick from to reply to you with. And yes I'm convinced it is about land and not about education, which is appalling. I agree that Longton closure EMB was a disgrace. I suppose I wasn't especially surprised about a lot of it, but then I tend to be a bit of a cynic. Ged Rowney was typically himself, all words and not a lot of substance. What did shock me though was Pervez doing everything that Ibbs told him to and Garner appearing so gleeful about it all.

Craig, I agree with absolutley every word you said in that comment. So very well put!

Anonymous said...

Now Mr Meredith can go and sign on with Councillor Batkin and his chum Branch Secretary Pond.