Friday, 21 November 2008

SCHOOLS COSTS SET TO SPIRAL AS COUNCIL DISCLOSE MISTAKES OVER PUPIL NUMBERS


This is a story concerning secondary education in the whole of Stoke-on-Trent, not specifically Trentham. Although it is brought to you by Stuart, a valued TAG member.

The sentinel story can be viewed
here.

The city council has recently had their initial BSF proposal, Strategy for Change Part 1 (SfC Part 1), approved by central government, the first step in securing the desperately needed funding to regenerate our schools. And it’s only taken council around 7 years to get to the stage they should have been at within 6 months of starting the process. So, after 7 years of plans going to and fro between council and the government, where exactly are we now? Before this question can be answered, it is necessary to consider some basic facts;

1. There are currently around 15,700 under fives in this city. These children will be in secondary school by 2018.

2. The council’s original BSF proposal, submitted in February 2008 and subsequently ratified by the O&S Committee, estimated that 12,200 of these children would be in Stoke-on-Trent secondary schools.

3. To allow for some surplus, the council allowed for 13,000 secondary school places in their reorganisation plans.

Basically, the council’s proposal was based on the fact that in 2018, 3,500 children would have to find a secondary school outside of Stoke-on-Trent. By comparison, in 2014, only 1,375 children were expected to find a secondary school outside of the city. So why were council predicting a 150% increase in the number of children leaving the city’s educational system and why have they made no attempt to explain this expect increase in pupil migration?
On November 5th 2008, Jim Knight announced that he had approved the council’s proposal, SfC Part 1. This document states that by 2019 there will be 14,642 secondary school pupils in Stoke schools. After months of rejecting any suggestion that their pupil projections were wrong, all of a sudden council have found another 2,500 children to educate. If council are to maintain the recommended 10% surplus places in our secondary schools, they should be looking to provide over 16,000 pupil places by 2018, not 13,000. The only conclusion can be that the council had got their calculations wrong and that the proposed reorganisation will have to be reviewed.
So how many secondary school places do our councils proposals allow for? How many extra places have they added in now they admit their projections were inadequate? Despite knowing that by 2019 the city needs at least 14,642 pupil places in its secondary schools and despite knowing that the councils own population predictions show that this figure is likely to rise to in excess of 16,000 by 2025 (meaning we should have around 17,600 secondary school places), and despite all common sense, the council has managed to increase the number of places it plans to provide by 50.
By the time the BSF building programme is complete (around 2014 if it’s on time) there will be 13,050 secondary school places in Stoke-on-Trent. Will we have to build 2 new schools by 2019 and another 2 by 2025 to accommodate these children? Who will pay for these new schools? This would almost double the current investment required. Will the money come from government? Are they willing to guarantee another £250 million investment by 2025 or will the bill have to be picked up by local taxpayers? Or will council propose squeezing these children into the 9 existing non-faith schools or perhaps into the 5 new academies. Knowing our council they will have to go for the budget option and fit the additional 4,600 children into temporary classrooms. Just where will council put the 154 portakabins needed? This would certainly blow the councils promise to provide schools of their “optimum” number of places; between 900 and 1,200 pupils. If expansion is absorbed by the academies we will have schools with in excess of 2,000 pupils.

The intention of Building Schools for Future is supposed to be about investing in our schools for decades to come, so why are the council building schools that they know will not last the city 10 years? Serco, the mayor and the EMB have put forward a proposal they are trying to bulldoze through before anyone realises that they have made a mistake. They are trying to accelerate the rebuilding programme despite knowing it is fundamentally flawed. They are pushing these plans through knowing that by the time the “Jim Knight” hits the fan, they will all be long gone. All will have fled from or be rejected by this city and will claim that it is because they are no longer here that the educational reforms in Stoke have failed when it is blatantly obvious that it is their intransigence and short-sightedness that will be the further ruination of our already failing educational system.
They appear to have no interest in the long term future of the schools in this city and are only interested in gaining more stars from their party leaders, achieving their bonus targets and maintaining their control over a city they seem to care so little about.

Once again, we will be subjected to the mistakes made by idiots that we will have to live with.
It is councillors that must put a stop to this disastrous BSF programme. So councillors, what are you going to do? Sit back and let this city be a laughing stock or are you going to represent your wards and the people of this city and make decisions for our long term prosperity?

Thank you for that Stuart.

I would add that I am particularly infuriated by the statement made in the council’s strategy for change part 1:
http://www.stoke.gov.uk/ccm/cms-service/stream/asset/?asset_id=1656699
that support for parental preference is expected to diminish!

Whilst I still think that Jim Knight was crazy to sign this off, his subsequent letter to Ged Rowney:
http://www.savetrenthamhigh.co.uk/misc/Minister%20SfC1%20Approval%2003-11-08.pdf
is at least fairly damning. In particular, Jim Knight states that the council needs to resolve, with the Office of the Schools Commissioner, these issues regarding diversity, choice and fair access.
Well the numbers and diversity and choice issues are of course easy to resolve, just provide schools of the type that families want in the communities where they are needed – simple!

This would also avoid the council falling foul of section 2 of part 1 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006:
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2006/ukpga_20060040_en_1
regarding their duties in relation to diversity and choice and section 14 of the Education act 1996:
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1996/Ukpga_19960056_en_1
regarding their duties to provide sufficient schools. It would also avoid the possibility of the intervention by the Secretary of State under sections 496 and 497 of the same act, as he has the power under these sections to prevent unreasonable exercise of functions and failure to discharge their duty, of a local authority.

Come on council/SERCO – it is time to get your act together!
What do you all think about the latest in this saga of educational vandalism?

8 comments:

Former Town Clerk's Dept said...

I have heard on the grapevine that there are serious discussions taking place at Govt. level about the county of Staffordshire becoming wholly unitary and taking in Stoke-on-Trent within that unitary structure. It might therefore be worthwhile also keeping an eye on the County's BSF shenanigans.

As for the cllrs, I think rock and a hard place, devil and the deep blue sea all spring to mind. They need the courage to stand up and fight for what the people of the city want. BSF is the kind of decision that really should not be forced through under the current system of governance. The decision-makers no longer have an adequate mandate for change. BSF has to be a policy framework matter, technically outside of the budgetary framework (very technically), so it should be referred to Council and not left in the hands of "portfolio holders" or officer to determine.

Anonymous said...

The people ofthe City want them to go and the people of this City has got rid of them.

Only Joy,Mark,Tom,Roger and ross to go now.

Hope I haven't left anyone out.

nita said...

What is the title of the Governments project (BSF), is it, Building Schools for the Future? So, why are they not planning for the future, as the title suggests.

I actually don't blame our LA or Serco for this. If the Government is not letting them use figures beyond 10 years, how are they supposed to plan for the potential lack of spaces?

As Stuart points out, it has taken 7 years, to actually get to where we are now. Various plans have been put forward, but none have actually been passed, until now.

It does really concern me, at the potential lack of available schools for the pupils in the South of the City, once the plans come into place. It's a shame that the money wasn't available to perhaps refurb one extra school. The Government says No!!

nicky said...

I blame the council and serco. After all, as Stuart points out, they are two schools short on just the 10 year time scale. There is no excuse for it. And taking 7 years to get to where we don't even want to be is crazy.

Craig Pond Fan Club said...

Immigrants are to blame for this and evrything else.

Interested LHS Parent said...

Nicky, as you know, parents of Longton High have been saying for 3-4 years that the figures provided by the council just don't stack up. Stuart has done a great job of proving this, although we did lots of work ourselves which has been largely ignored by previous education officials.

It seems amazing that government are sanctioning the council moving forward with this proposal when we are 2 schools short. I believe this will come to light sooner rather than later.

Under the terms of the closure notice, Longton cannot admit any year 7 students in Sept 2009. I still believe there will be too many students for the school places available in the south of the city, and will be interested to see how this plays out over the next few months, when places for Sept 2009 are allocated (around March next year), and we see in the Sentinel when parents are appealing against admission refusals.

Longton High is doing really well, as their recent Ofsted inspection proved, and it's a shame there will be less students in the next few years benefitting from this.

nicky said...

Interested LHS parent, thanks very much for your comment. I can quite imagine your work being ignored by education officials. That is largely what we experience in the TAG too. Certainly Roger Ibbs ignores us. But he's a lost cause I think.

What is more positive is the TAG are continuing to communicate meaningfully with the council and others on the numbers issue. Stuart is a key player. We haven't had much luck with them listening but I can only hope they will now, I tend to get a bit cynical but at least they are willing to talk to us at present.

If nothing comes of it we will be taking the case to court once the Trentham High closure notice is issued. Any letters of objection to the council when that appears are welcome. Whilst we can only mount a court case in response to a specific school closure notice, we can at that stage question the validity of the entire BSF shambles as part of the argument.

Keeping Trentham High open will solve a lot of problems but will only partly help with the numbers issue. Personally I think it needs more than this and I'm in favour of Mitchell and Berry Hill having their wishes granted for a school on the Mitchell site and having a further school to serve the area currently served by Edensor and Longton.

Numbers are currently falling and will bottom out in 2014 then start to rise again. But you make an excellent point about the immediate numbers issue too, given the lack of the opportunity of places at LHS from September. I don't know if you observed the EMB which decided the LHS closure. If so you might recall Michael Coleman asked this question about where the extra places would be in the immediate future. The EMB of course didn't seem to be nearly as worried about this as they should, despite the fact that the answer seemed to me to show there was little room at Edensor for extra pupils and extra room at Sandon needed to be created by further building! Then there was the call in to look at the possibility to delay the LHS closure at least until there were other places for the pupils to go. But somehow this was never done either.

It is very frustrating because it does seem that there are councillors, quite a significant number of them in fact, who are taking notice and do see the issues but are being thwarted by the fools in charge. But I know there are some who are not going to let this drop.

Keep an eye on council meeting agendae on their web site over the next few months. I think more on these schools issues is going to come up and it would be interesting to go and observe. I struggle to get to meetings but am hoping to get to parts of some in so far as I can manage.

Ian Norris said...

Nicky: the Cllrs Forum on 1st Dec should be interesting they will be discussing The City Councils Constitution Review.