Swindon's cabinet agreed on 20 April with the recommendation of the Education Partnership Board that the council should proceed with pre-statutory consultation to close Salt Way Primary School.
Some thirty parents attended the public question time to hear Frances Bevan ask why Salt Way had been recommended for closure at the end of this year when parents had been told in the parents' consultation meetings in February and March that schools that might not close would not do until September 2006.
She told the cabinet that Salt Way provides education for some of the most vulnerable children in Swindon and to disrupt them from a settled school would do untold damage.
Cabinet member for education councillor Gary Perkins said with falling roles that the school was moving towards self-destruct mode and that Government guidelines were that local education authorities should not have more than 10 per cent surplus places.
He added that until a formal agreement had been made to move towards a closure consultation, it had not yet been possible to discuss with other primary schools the transfer of children elsewhere.
The parents left the cabinet meeting to engage in a 90 minute discussion with Hilary Pitts, director of education and coun Perkins about their plight. They were told that the next stage of consultation gave parents another chance to object to closure proposals.
Parents and staff will meet with councillors and officers at Salt Way on Wednesday 27 April.
See the background to the story below.
Swindon's independent Education Partnership Board (EPB) on 14 April supported a Swindon Council education department proposal that Salt Way Primary School in Middleleaze should be closed and further discussions should take place on the future of Freshbrook, Windmill Hill and Toothill Primary Schools.
This means that Westlea, Shaw Ridge and Brook Field primary schools are safe, having been in the frame for closure as part of a consultation exercise to find ways of removing 650 surplus places predicted across West Swindon primary schools in 2009.
Tregoze and Peatmoor primaries were not included in the discussion.
At the public meetings officers and councillors explained they were taking a pro-active approach to the problem by looking at how funding could be redirected towards developing extended schools which incorporate health and social service provision, and also more facilities for community activities.
The EPB recommendation goes to Swindon Council's cabinet on Wednesday 20 April. If agreed there will be a formal pre-statutory consultation as to the closure of Salt Way Primary and Nursery from 1 January 2006.
The meetings with parents produced no clear picture as to whether Toothill or Freshbrook or Windmill Hill should close. The EPB will consider a report on further discussions with parents, governors and staff in September.
Councillor Gary Perkins, cabinet lead member for Education, said, "the Salt Way roll has been dropping for several years because parents have been choosing other schools. The support at the public meeting and written comments made the decision clear cut.
"This isn't the case for Toothill, Freshbrook or Windmill Hill where we want to look at the numbers and the needs of the community with governors, parents and staff.
"It is essential we come up with the best for children in the short and medium term and also the requirements in 10 to 20 years."
The EPB heard that from Swindon deputy director of education Dr Kate Reynolds that apart from Salt Way's falling roll, the education department are concerned with the management and leadership of the school, confirmed by an Ofsted report released in early April.
Lynda Stevens, senior teaching assistant at Salt Way, given the chance to address Board, told members that the school had been let down by Swindon. "Staff and parents cannot believe it has come to this. The quality of leadership has been a concern for years. The education department have been well aware of the problems and have done nothing," she said.
Before the meeting Steve Spence, chair of governors at Salt Way School, was highly critical of the consultation process. "There has been a conspiracy against Salt Way or it's been a cock-up. At least, the officers and members have acted unprofessionally.
"Councillors were saying things at the Brook Field and Shaw Ridge parents' meetings which made it clear that Salt Way would close. Then why did the news come out during the Easter holiday, when officers were away, and we couldn't advise staff and parents?
"Parents have not known what is going on, the children are upset and staff are very angry."
How other local schools will absorb the 180 Salt Way children will be revealed after the cabinet decision. School offices and the LEA admission department have been flooded with enquiries from anxious parents. One headteacher awaiting to be informed of the council's management plan told SwindonLink, "uncertainty leads to panic."
20 March: Reorganising West Swindon?s primary schools. How well has the council done so far?
Swindon Council?s big consultation with primary school parents has ended. Meetings have taken place at eight of the ten schools in the area, with two general meetings in community centres, to get viewpoints on reorganising school provision to remove up to a predicted 700 surplus places. This could include closing two or three schools and their sites sold in order to generate income to invest in other sites as ?extended? schools, including rebuilding.
Some school halls have been packed with passionate parents, convinced of their case, sceptical of the proposals, some hostile to change, ready to defend their school at all cost. Other halls have been less full.
Council officers are now considering written submissions and the comments from the meetings for a report to the cabinet in late April.
The January SwindonLink magazine asked if the exercise would set out a vision of the future or if there was a disaster in the making. Parent John Doyle from Nine Elms suggests the consultation process is the latter.
Extended schools are one part of a Government initiative to bring about dramatic changes to the delivery of education, health, social and youth services to children. The Laming Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie highlighted how these departments focus on their own areas of responsibility, ultimately failing the children they aim to serve and protect. The Government?s ?5 Year Strategy for Children and Learners? aims to break down departmental barriers and seeks real commitment to putting children first.
As well as the 8am to 6pm childcare provision wrapped around the core teaching hours, we should see:
o foreign language classes available to children from age 7;
o the opportunity for all children to learn musical instruments;
o access to 2 hours quality PE and school sport per week for all children;
o networks of primaries with stronger schools aiding weaker ones;
o a Children?s Service instead of separate Education and Social Service departments, where the focus is on children not the profession working with children;
o a national database of children with social, health, youth and education professionals all having access to the data;
o parents having access to their children?s data;
o focused case workers for children when needed;
o joined up planning and delivery of services from early years, through primary school, to secondary school and beyond – a 0 to 19 continuum;
o improved results in the basic subjects taught and better results at all Key Stages.
It?s a radical change with much more detail than can be shown here, but there are real benefits to children, parents and the wider community ? without expecting schools to solve all today?s social problems.
Quite how Swindon Council?s proposal for ?Improving Education Provision in West Swindon? as set out in its document with this title fits into this is difficult to tell.
Extended Schools are mentioned but there is a very clear focus on closure and am
algamations. There is no real vision for education in West Swindon and limited information has been made available. Indeed, there seems to be a major blind spot to recognising that several schools already have many of the features of extended schools.
Unfortunately the consultation discussions have focused more on finance rather than on education, children or how the community as a whole will benefit in the longer term. The only significant data used to compile the reorganisation proposals is the number of pupils on roll. We see mention of 26 nursery class places in each school and the notion of extra facilities being made available, but there is no real substance behind the ideas.
From the reaction at some meetings there has been just enough information to stimulate the territorial suspicions of parents, to strengthen opposition to change and encourage campaigns to block closures. The result: schools and neighbourhoods being set against each other.
o look at education in West Swindon without referring to the secondary schools that serve the area. It?s meant to be a continuous service from 0 through to 19 not just 4 to 11;
o leave parents and prospective parents of Tregoze and Peatmoor schools outside the debate. It?s supposed to be a consultation about education not just about closures;
o suggest that schools will become community facilities and not discuss what will happen to the existing community facilities across West Swindon;
o blindly accept that removing empty spaces in classrooms will generate anywhere near the ?15 million that this proposal needs. House building on the land of closed schools might, but we can only speculate given the lack of openness on this point:
o consider the closure of performing schools with good results without a commitment to improve results right across West Swindon.
We can say to the Education Department and Swindon Council: go back to the drawing board and do the task properly. Do audits on the schools looking at more than the numbers on roll. Be honest and open, provide information about costs and evidence that you?ve worked across council departments and with other service providers, and work out a coherent story.
Finally, provide the vision and leadership that puts the children in West Swindon first and give the parents and prospective parents something to believe in.
Report Card: Education Department
Information sharing -E
Putting children first-F
Overall Comment: Could do much better