I’ve been too quiet for a little while now on BSF pupil numbers. I have been arguing this point with SERCO and the multitude of Children and Young People’s portfolio holders over the last two years, although I have not said much in the last 6 months because nobody with any influence in the council wants to see sense. But it is a good time to say something again now ahead of the visit by Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker in January.
The SERCO plans have suffered throughout from serious flaws, some of which have been eventually addressed, but there remains poor planned provision, with respect to both pupil numbers and geographical location, especially in the centre of the city and to some degree in the South of the city.
To recap the background, which many of you will be aware of, the council plans reorganisation giving a total of 14 high schools; James Brindley, St. Margaret Ward, Haywood, Brownhills, Holden Lane, Birches Head, St. Peter’s, 20:20, Thistley Hough, St. Thomas More, St. Joseph’s, Blurton, Trentham, Sandon. The current Longton High School has already ceased new intake, to be taken over by Sandon. The plan is for Berry Hill to close and merge with St. Peter’s onto the current site of the 6th form college and for Mitchell and Edensor to close to be replaced by 20:20. The mergers are geographically stupid. It makes far better sense to merge Mitchell and Berry Hill to a new school on the Mitchell site as is the wish of the local communities and as is being campaigned for by the Community_Schools_Action_Group. This would avoid a gaping hole in provision in the centre of the city. Planning permission to build 20:20 on Adderley Green has been seen off by the “ËœSpringfield’_Action_Group, the Community Schools Action Group, their representations and the council’s Development Management committee.
What I embark on now is an analysis of the provision of pupil places across the city. This is made difficult by the lack of openness of SERCO and the council and the continual movement and disappearances of information that does exist on the council’s web site. A particular outrage is the reluctance of SERCO to publish the BSF strategy for change part 2. They published part 1 but I wanted to see their up to date reasoning in part 2. Well if they are going to publish it, I don’t know when. I get the impression they are just proceeding with the outline business case that is supposed to come after part 2. However, I have put together a spreadsheet of pupil numbers which is as accurate as I can manage, given what I have available to me. You will need to refer to the link ““ Spreadsheet_of_Pupil_Numbers ““ to follow my analysis.
Sheet 1 shows the raw data and where I have sourced this from. Much of it is taken from the strategy for change part 1, but where there is more recent information available, I have used that. The information on planned pupil numbers for Trentham High has been changed since the strategy for change part 1, but then disappeared from the web site, but I do have the hard copy which was posted out stating that the capacity is 750, which I know anyway as I am a governor at Trentham High. The numbers highlighted in yellow in sheet 1 are SERCO’s own figures and show the high school population for the city decreasing from 13,113 in 2008 to 11,790 by 2014, then rising again to 14,642 by 2020. Also stated is the SERCO plan to provide 13,050 high school places, another stupidity that should be glaringly obvious to everyone. Do you not think that building schools for the FUTURE should be properly providing for 10 years from now? I do. You will notice also that the 13,050 high school places the council says it plans to provide is not in agreement with the total of 13,820 places I have referenced. In both cases I am using the council’s own figures, I can not help it that these do not agree. Perhaps there is a more consistent story in the strategy for change part 2, but how can I know as I am denied that information. I use the 13,820 for further calculations as at least it is closer to the 14,642 needed, despite not going far enough. If the 13,050 is indeed the plan, the situation will be worse than suggested by my analysis.
In sheet 2 I try to analyse provision in different areas of the city. To do this I make certain assumptions which may not be completely accurate but should at least provide a good estimate. I know the pupil numbers in the separate schools for the year 2008 and I know the total number of 11-16 year olds which is the age range I am analysing. But for the 3 schools with sixth forms I do not know individually how many 11-16 year olds there are, so the first assumption I make is to assign these in proportion to total pupil numbers. The second assumption I make is that pupil numbers will dip then increase in the same proportion, based on the year 2008 figures, everywhere across the city. I certainly know of one case for which this is inaccurate, Trentham, for which the 2008 figure is artificially low. We have 136 FIRST CHOICE applicants for 140 places in 2010 and look set to fill all places even when the annual intake rises to 150 from 2011. There may be other examples of figures which are rather too low or too high that I do not have knowledge of. So the best I can do in the absence of a complete set of individual projections is apply an equivalent algorithm to all schools.
I calculate the spare places in the planned schools for the year 2008 and for the year 2014 when high school pupil numbers reach their lowest point and for the year 2020. In these calculations I have followed the council’s planned mergers. Negative numbers result where the school can not accommodate the calculated number of pupils destined for it.
Then I imagine what I would have to do if I were in charge of applications to the schools and have to send pupils to alternative schools. These are listed in the sheet, obviously trying to select “Ëœnearby’ alternative schools, with the aim of solving the problem of any negative numbers. The adjusted figures are shown in the coloured columns. Working with the 2008 figures I fail to accommodate enough pupils in the 20:20 school and end up with 138 pupils, likely living in the Bentilee or Berryhill area, without a school place (orange column). There is some capacity elsewhere but how reasonable would it really be to send these pupils to Brownhills? It’s just as well other schools were still open in 2008. Looking ahead to 2014, I have initial problems with accommodating pupils at 20:20 and Sandon, but manage with alternative provision at Birches Head and schools in the South of the city (blue column), not that families involved would necessarily be happy with this. But looking at numbers rather than families, from the 2014 figures all is apparently well with the world. This lowest high school population year is presumably the blinkered SERCO focus, their idea of future not extending beyond 4 years. But looking ahead to the year 2020 reveals impending disaster. This is bound to be the case with the ridiculous policy of providing fewer pupil places than pupil numbers in the city, but is made much worse by the distribution of the pupil places that are provided. It can be seen from sheet 2 (pink column) that the new 20:20 and St. Peter’s fail to cater for the needs of the centre of the city with over 800 pupils without high school places and there is also some shortage of places, over 200, in the South of the city. These amount to the size of another school. The only available pupil places are in the far North of the city, well beyond any reasonable expectation of pupil travel.
My analysis uses the council’s own real data. Because these are high school data they do not depend on estimated birth rates, they depend on real live children who now exist and will need high school places in the future. If there is any reason why there could be any large exodus of young people from the centre and South of the city to ease the situation I would like to hear of it but I know of none. Certainly I do not believe, for our sake or anyone else’s, we should be seeking to dump our young people out of the city to Staffordshire for their education. I am aware I have used some assumptions in my calculations but these are fairly reasonable and I would be very happy to receive further facts and figures that could help refine them. But I would not be willing to settle for any unsubstantiated SERCO statement that their planned provision is adequate. If they think that, they should prove it by publishing their own detailed analysis and they should prove it for the future, for 2020, not just for 2014 to make their lives easier. Consider the lives of the young people of the city!
The best solution to the problem of under provision I have highlighted is to build the 14th school on the Mitchell site, to address the largest shortfall both in pupil numbers and geographical provision and cater for the needs of Bentilee, Berryhill, Townsend and the general Bucknall area. But further, I would suggest building a 15th school on a suitable site, possibly the Longton High School site, to better cater for pupil numbers in the Weston Coyney, Meir and Sandford Hill areas. This is no startling new suggestion that I am making. The 15 high school solution was the view of Mark Fisher, Rob Flello and Joan Walley 2 years ago when they worked with schools to suggest an alternative to the SERCO plans. Rob Flello MP has since then reiterated the argument for 15 schools
and recently when the planning application to put 20:20 on Adderley Green was thrown out, Mark Fisher MP further reinforced the argument for 15 schools ““ see his video interview on:
The council’s own Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee consistently presents sensible arguments for the right mergers of schools, the right number of schools and the right location of schools ““ see for example chair Cllr Mike Coleman’s video interview on:
but many of the scrutiny recommendations are ignored by the leader and his cabinet. If we really can not have 15 schools, the 14th should be sited at Mitchell and the rebuild/refurbishment plans for schools in the South of the city should be increased to accommodate the pupil numbers.
Apparent in the issues I have discussed is a distinct lack of openness and transparency and engagement with people, the things that government are always harping on about but just are not happening locally. Instead the council leader and cabinet are in my view treating interested citizens of the city with contempt. Why do they pay no attention to the needs and wishes of communities such as those served by Mitchell and Berry Hill High Schools? Why do they seemingly have no regard for the representations of the ward councillors for these areas. Why do they ignore their own scrutiny committee? What has happened to openness, transparency and democracy? Why is the BSF strategy for change part 2 not published and accessible to ordinary citizens? To me, something is very wrong.
Jim Knight when he was schools minister, under persuasion from Rob Flello, helped fix the Trentham High problem by strong advice to deputy mayor Mohammed Pervez. Let us hope that Vernon Coaker and Ed Balls, with Mark Fisher and Rob Flello, are just as successful with advice to Ross Irving. Let’s finally please get sufficient pupil places provided in schools in the right locations, to provide better future education for the young people of the city along the lines suggested by the local communities who will be directly affected.
…Oh – and a Happy New Year to Everyone.