Dates for public consultation meetings announced – see below
The provision of primary school places is a problem all over Swindon for which the council is struggling to find solutions.
In North Swindon there are not enough places in the locations people want them – not even for siblings.
In West Swindon the baby boom is over. The good provision of places at 11 primary schools since Toothill School opened in 1978 has now turned into surplus. The number of empty places is predicted to rise to around 700 in 2009 which means a lot of money being spent on maintaining unused classrooms.
At the same time Central Government is requiring greater integration between education, health and social services, whilst wanting to see school use extended to provide more community facilities.
As school roles continue to fall, the council has difficult decisions to make. It can be pro-active in taking new approaches to education and community development or allow some schools to wither because parents choose to send children elsewhere, eventually leading to closure.
The December SwindonLink magazine exclusively outlined the radical plans Swindon Council has in mind for primary schools described at the November West Swindon Area Forum by cabinet lead member for education, councillor Gary Perkins.
At the meeting Director of Education Hilary Pitts was nervous about admitting in public that reducing surplus places and investing in educational development could well mean some schools being closed.
The January SwindonLink reported the rumours and speculation circulating across West Swindon as to which schools might close to fund the new-look extended schools. Achieving a positive way forward depends on correct information being made available and consultation which is both meaningful and relevant.
In January 500 parents attended a meeting called by Westlea School governors incensed by a confidential but inaccurate education department report in late November to headteachers, outlining school reorganisation proposals.
Parents expressed anger that Westlea was being considered for closure and vowed to defend it in every way possible. Deputy chair of governors Mick Adams said the turnout was staggering. "It showed the depth of feeling there is for Westlea School. Remove the mobile classrooms and the school does not have any surplus places; I would argue it is a good example of an extended school serving its community. It really is appalling how this threat has come out, accompanied by an aggressive time-scale for change."
The options in front of the council to alter West Swindon primary school provision went to the Education Partnership Board on 20 January which recommended to the council?s cabinet which meets on 2 February that a process of formal consultation should start.
Coun Gary Perkins has sought to calm parental fears. "We have the potential to do some very exciting things for schools in West Swindon, putting them right at the centre of community life and building state of the art facilities for children.
"This means some reorganisation and includes options for amalgamation and possibly closure in some cases. I appreciate that this creates some uncertainty and anxiety but I want to make it very clear that local people will be kept fully informed and everyone will have the opportunity to have their say about the future of schools in West Swindon. We look forward to hearing the views of local people and working with them and the schools to develop these exciting plans."
? The report to the Education Partnership Board ?Improving Education Provision in West Swindon,? explaining the extended school, can be found at www.swindon education.org.uk The report also sets out the number of surplus places at each school and gives options for the future, including taking no action.
Public meetings, open to all, attended by a representative from the Education Department, at:
Upper Shaw Farm – Thursday 17th February 2005 at 7pm
Freshbrook Community Centre – Tuesday 22nd March 2005 at 8pm
Parents evenings at West Swindon primary schools:
Toothill Primary School -Wednesday 9th February, 3.05pm and 6pm
Salt Way Primary School – Tuesday 22nd February, 7pm
Freshbrook Primary School – Monday 28th February, 7pm
Westlea Primary School – Tuesday 1st March. 7.15pm
Oliver Tomkins Infant School – Thursday 3rd March, 7pm
Shaw Ridge Primary School – Tuesday 8th March, 7pm
Windmill Hill Primary School – Thursday 10th March, 7.30pm (venue to be confirmed)
Brook Field Primary School – Monday 21st March, 7pm
All members of the community are encouraged to come along and share their views.