Saturday, October 16, 2010

Anonymous Comments

I'm pleased that so many people are interested in reading this blog and commenting on it, but I'm saddened by the number who feel it necessary to hide behind the screen of anonymity.  I have decided to put down today some of my thoughts around the issues of Egglescliffe School and Ingleby Barwick school places which I have previously written on here, spoken about in Council meetings and in public meetings as well as in Focus leaflets & face to face conversations.  Once this is written I have no intention of responding further to anonymous comments though I'm more than happy to have reasonable discussions with people who aren't hiding.
Egglescliffe school is currently a very successful school in a building which hinders rather than helps its success.  The building will need to be replaced within the next decade as it is coming to the end of its useful life.  At the moment the buildings are on the main school site, along with the all weather pitch which can be used for hockey, football and other games.  The athletics track is on a site at Allen's West, reached by walking from the school.  That track is used in summer term for athletics practice & competition.
The school takes pupils mainly from Eaglescliffe but with a significant number also from Ingleby Barwick and some from other areas including Yarm & central Stockton.  As far as I know, no independent research has been done to ascertain how many of the Ingleby Barwick families would choose Egglescliffe over a school in Ingleby if the choice were available.  Some people contend that all IB families would always choose a local school.
Ingleby Barwick needs more secondary school places.  I have always said that and will continue to say it until such places are provided.  I have no strong feelings on whether they should be provided by building a new school or by expanding the present provision.  I am personally not convinced by the rhetoric which has prevailed over recent decades on education which has encouraged ever bigger schools with wider and wider curriculum spread.  I think that a well run smaller school, sharing some facilities with other schools can work very well, especially when modern technology allows sharing over distances.
Where I differ from Ingleby Barwick Independents Society councillors and some other residents is over the issue of "Free Schools" which are not free of course.  There's no such thing as a "Free" School.  The idea of Free Schools was promulgated by the Conservative minister for Education, Michael Gove and supported by most Lib Dem MPs in parliament as part of the coalition agreement.  However, at the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in September 2010 the party's opposition to so-called "Free Schools" was reaffirmed and this is party policy.  Like some other party policies it is not coalition policy, just as some Conservative policies are not coalition policy.  That's the nature of coalition - compromise.
The funding for these new kinds of schools has to come from existing budgets.  There is no money tree in the back yard.  If the funding pattern is the same as that for the academies there are serious questions about the amount of money which would be needed by the school and where it would be found.  The obvious answer is from the allocation to the Local Authority for such matters.  When a school is outside the Local Authority framework there are no economies of scale on such things as HR, to mention just one problem.  Will the school be obliged to share in the education of children with special educational needs in the borough?  These and many other problems will need to be addressed but there is far too much to write about in one blog article.
As for questions of where Egglescliffe School should be rebuilt - again I've talked about this in the past.  If places can be provided on Ingleby Barwick for significantly more of the children who live there then Egglescliffe school can be smaller than at present.  A rebuild on its present site would be possible, not easy but definitely possible.  The push to build on the playing fields at Allens West came  from people who told us that it would be too disruptive to move into temporary accommodation then move back into the new build.  It would be disruptive and that can't be denied.  But I'm sure it could be done and if the new building were of good enough standard it would be worth the disruption.
However, before any of this can happen the borough has to have the capital to build the new school.  The beauty of the cancellation of the BSF programme is that the council is now free of the restrictions of BSF and can look at all of its buildings, their age, their quality, their suitability for purpose and their size in relation to where the children of the borough live and want to be educated.  A sensible order of priority can then be drawn up for the borough and funding applied for.  On these criteria new secondary provision at Ingleby surely would be high on the agenda, along with new buildings for Ian Ramsey and Egglescliffe schools to my knowledge.  Whether they are more of a priority than new buildings to replace old Victorian primary schools is a discussion for another day. And I hope that any thoughts of building on Preston Park have been firmly scotched once and for all.


FrannieR said...

Thanks for your response Councillor - but I would like to point out that I did sign my name at the bottom of my second post so I'm not trying to hide at all!

Regarding the definition and funding of Free Schools... first of all, none of us think that a "Free School" costs nothing - we are all aware of the fact that "Free" means that its not under state control and is independent in the same way that Academies are.

What is very clear though from the DfE website and other places, is that any capital requirement for a "Free School" does not come from the local borough, and therefore the borough doesn't need to have the capital to build it (see for the details on this).

Surely if the "Free School" is funded out of a different pot of money (and we get some of that pot, rather than everywhere else in the country getting to spend it), it means that whatever money Stockton have or can apply for in future can be spent elsewhere, as the issue of schooling for children on IB will already have been addressed. Isn't that a win-win situation for everyone?

As with Academies, the council can bid to provide back office services (giving economies of scale) or these can be purchased from external companies or charitable trusts who provide it to a number of schools (also giving economies of scale). As you would expect, the trustees of the "Free School" would be responsible for showing that they are using public funding wisely, and would go through a proper tendering process for procurement.

With regard to Special Educational Needs within the Borough, the school would have to adhere to the governments admissions policy and therefore all of the relevant issues will be covered correctly. The process of getting a "Free School" requires significant commitment from the individuals involved as there are many areas that must be properly addressed and managed, not just the provision of Capital for the school.

BO2SS who are behind the new school have already approached both Egglescliffe and Conyers and asked them to partner the new school. Unfortunately neither school is interested in this, so the DfE have given BO2SS a partner who already runs an Outstanding School nearby.

It's worth remembering that 11 buses take children to Conyers and only 4 to Egglescliffe school from Ingleby Barwick. I'm also sure that once parents have a child settled in school they won't wish to distrupt their education by moving them (nor would this be feasible since the new school would start with just Year 7 and perhaps a small Year 8).

There are, however, plenty of parents who wish their children to have access to the extended school day and can't do this when a bus journey is required.

Frannie R

Maureen Rigg said...

Apologies - I thought this had posted at the weekend but I see it hasn't. Better late than never I guess.
I wasn't getting at you particularly - I've had a number of anonymous posts some of which had to be removed. I'm sorry that I didn't make it clear to you.
The definition of Free Schools seems to be taxing some of the brains in the DfE at the moment judging by correspondence I'm having but I agree with you about what it's supposed to mean - I just dislike intensely the name which some people take to mean as free in the cash sense (not implying that you fall into that category). State schools are not under state control other than to have a prescribed curriculum - there are lots of freedoms round how that's taught, how the day is structured etc. I am an ardent supporter of good quality state funded education and I don't like the way that over recent years it's been fragmented. However, I fully respect the right of others to disagree with me and wouldn't want to try to impose my views on anyone else. I would like to hope that persuasion might work though!
No local authority has the capital to build schools sitting in their coffers, much as they might like it. It's always the case that such capital has to be applied for and successive governments have had different names for the funds and different criteria for awarding it. The last one, BSF, was stopped as you know. This government also has a pot of money which is finite to use on school building. In Stockton I believe we were badly served by the BSF fiasco which meant we had to spend a lot of money on preparing bids for schools on criteria which didn't help us to replace the most needed buildings nor to get the new building where we needed it in IB. I'd hoped that the stopping of BSF would mean we could have a proper priority list and apply for funding in that order. If it were done properly I would hope that most people would see the logic of the list and I would expect that a new school or an expansion of the present one on Ingleby would be pretty high up that list. If, however, the government is going to take applications from groups of people without reference to such a priority setting exercise it will make it more difficult to have a planned programme for the borough. It might also mean that money desperately needed to stop the roof falling in one school is actually spent on a new school elsewhere. This isn't, in my eyes, just an argument about Ingleby Barwick. I hope that is understandable, even if you don't agree with me on all of it.
The detail of the arguments for and against various ways of resolving the needs for schools in the Yarm-Ingleby-Eaglescliffe area is far too complex and lengthy to be laid out in emails.
I do know what it's like to travel out of one's area to school - I did it for 5 years of my secondary school career and I know I missed out on a great deal even though the extended school concept wasn't nearly as well developed then as it is now. My own children did it to primary school and I spent a long time ferrying them to friends and to after school activities. I want all our children, right across the borough, to have the opportunity to work and play in their own community and I'm happy to work with council officers and other councillors to achieve that. Despite what some councillors claim, caring about other parts of the borough doesn't mean that I don't care about Ingleby Barwick.