A report to the Swindon Education Partnership Board on 30 June based on the outcome of the pre-statutory consultation on the closure of Salt Way Primary School recommends that another consultation begins on new proposals to expand Shaw Ridge Primary School to become a two form of entry primary school with effect from 1 September 2006, and that Salt Way Primary School should close in July 2006 – not January as originally put forward by the council.
The council wants to remove empty spaces in West Swindon primary schools – predicted to be around 680 in January 2009, the equivalent of two primary schools – consolidate places and develop the idea of extended schools serving their communities.
However the way the council has gone about convincing parents that this is a desirable move from a taxpayers point of view has been cackhanded and divisive to the community. Many would say the council has been completely incompetent.
The key recommendations to the EPB also include:
o retaining the Salt Way Nursery on the existing site to serve the local community and neighbouring schools;
o carrying out a feasibility study with a view to establishing a wider provision for children and families on the site, which could include special educational provision on the Salt Way site, from September 2006.
Commenting on the report, Councillor Garry Perkins, Cabinet member for Children’s Services – who represents the Shaw & Nine Elms ward, where both Salt Way and Shaw Ridge are located said: “sometimes we have to make tough decisions and recommending to close Salt Way is one of those, but I believe it is the right one.
“The simple fact is that the decline in primary aged pupils in West Swindon is acute and if we do nothing then there would be over 680 ’empty’ school places by January 2009. I am not prepared to let our limited resources be wasted on empty desks rather than being used to provide the best possible education for children in West Swindon. The Council has to be forward thinking, which is why we have to act now to secure a sustainable future for our schools.”
“The recommendations do show that we have listened to all of those involved. In response to concerns about the school closing during the academic year, the proposed date of closure has been changed to September 2006. Beginning the process of expanding Shaw Ridge will, I hope, answer the concerns of those parents who did not think there would be enough places at schools in the immediate area.”
“Recognising just what an important role the nursery plays in the local community has led to the recommendation to keep it on the site. There is also an opportunity to work with our partners and do something exciting with the site, such as creating a Children’s Centre that would really benefit the children and families in the area.”
However parents at Salt Way are angry that they’ve been taken on an emotional roller-coaster by the actions of the council, since it announced the closure of their school during the Easter holidays. Many have been in a total panic and have desperately sought places at Shaw Ridge and Brook Field primary schools.
Salt Way has been imploding since the council announced its intentions. The school roll was about 190 in April and declined to under 150 in mid-June. It is likely to continue dropping as parents are offered places for their children as part of the usual churn in school rolls elsewhere.
Salt Way parents were very critical about the proposals when they were explained by Swindon education official Paul Blackmore on 21 June. One said, “I just cannot see the point of closing a perfectly good school, in order for our children to move to a school in less good condition on a smaller site, which is not easy to get to from The Prinnells or Middleleaze.
“The council will have to spend a lot of money on putting mobiles onto the Shaw Ridge site in September 2006, whilst the new expensive permanent classrooms are built.
“The council told us that our children would not walk past another primary school, nor be educated in mobiles. Now, our children are to be booted out of a school very close to their homes, walk a mile to Shaw Ridge – past Tregoze School – to be educated in mobiles. What the council wants to do is unacceptable.”
Other parents were concerned about who would teach their children because nearly all the present Salt Way team have secured jobs elsewhere. Mr Blackmore said that Swindon education department would introduce a new headteacher to support the present acting headteacher and new teachers would recruited on fixed term contracts. He added that there would be close liaison with governors and managers at Shaw Ridge in the hope that teachers taken on to work at Salt Way could transfer with their children to Shaw Ridge when the time comes.
One parent said she was very upset by the way the council had treated them. “It is just amazing how they have gone about this. They announced they would close Salt Way without a clear idea where our children would go, knowing there were not enough places at Brook Field, Tregoze or Salt Way. Now they come up with another consultation process which means a final decision will now not be taken until January. It just goes on and on.”
Parent Ayzee Hyner said she is convinced of a conspiracy to get Salt Way School off the site. “There is something going on at Swindon Council which they won’t admit to. Our children and the Salt Way parents are the victims.”
The new consultation exercise will engage parents at Shaw Ridge Primary School about the provision of new facilities and expansion of their school to two forms of entry. The headteacher and chair of governors at Shaw Ridge have written to the parents saying they support the proposals before the EPB. Shaw Ridge celebrated its twentieth anniversary on 18 June.
Chair of the Salt Way governors Steve Spence, commenting on the council’s proposals for the school, said, “they do not take account of the parents’ wishes to send their children to the nearest primary school. The governors’ preference is for Salt Way to continue as a single form entry school with its own nursery. The governors are not happy and will continue to fight for parents’ views.”
He added that Salt Way children are being educated in West Swindon’s second newest school, as all classes now occupy the extension opened in 1996.