By Matt Taylor
Last night, in an emotional meeting at the Britannia stadium held to consult over the proposed Academy to replace Blurton and Trentham High, parents made their position known with a show of hands ““ with all but one of around 150 people voting against the plans. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a vote that would count for anything other than to establish the opinion of people in the room.
The conference was held so that the proposed sponsor of the new institution, Ormiston Trust, could consult with parents to give them more information about how the Academy would work. But frustrated parents, governors, councillors and even one pupil were, after feeling their views had been ignored before, not interested in the details, but in telling the panel in no uncertain terms that they were “not wanted”.
Rousing speeches from worried family-members and elected representatives alike were greeted with undivided cheers befitting of the venue from the crowd.
But Get Rowney, Director of Children and Young People’s Services for Stoke-on-Trent remained adamant, and near the end of proceedings came out with the audacious comment, “this is the problem with people in Stoke” as he retorted that the angry people in the room just wanted “further delays”.
On the panel with Mr Rowney was Bernard Dickinson, principal at the Ormiston Community Academy in Sheffield, Ian Cleland, Chief Executive of Ormiston Trust, and the head of S-O-T communications Dan Barton, who chaired proceedings.
Mr Dickinson was there (one parent said as a “lamb to the slaughter”) to explain how successful his academy has been, but was received with mocking laughter when it transpired that the results he was quoting were about his school which has only been open since this January.
And Mr Cleland explained how he could transform under-performing schools in deprived areas into successful organisations. But this was met with annoyance by parents, one of whom demanded “what can you do for places which aren’t performing badly?”, since Trentham High actually has a better record than any of Ormiston’s academies do currently.
There was an obvious sense of resentment in the room, with a “Ëœthem and us’ situation between the panel and their 150 adversaries developing. Ian, a parent at Ash Green, which is a feeder school for Trentham High, asked:
“Could you explain how this consultation works? 1344 comments against and four of support was the result of the last consultation. But it wasn’t taken into account. And Mark Meredith said we were the minority trying to “derail” the plans. Is this time different?”
Ged Rowney’s response was to say that the complaints had all been “fed into the Executive and Members Board (EMB)”. And when asked why they had been ignored, parents were dished out with the same retort that this was the decision of the elected representatives, none on whom were present to be accountable for their decisions.
Karen Pate, who has a daughter at Ash Green primary and at Trentham High, said:
“I’d like to put forward a formal complaint that we don’t have our portfolio-holder here. We did invite him. But he is not able to make it. Will an academy improve things? Evidence does not support that it does. None of the academies out-perform Trentham.
“We came up with a cooperative solution run by a community. It was granted on the Friday and rescinded three days later.”
Terry Follows, councillor for Trentham and Hanford and a Governor at Trentham High, the Priory and Ash Green, said:
“Can I just dispel that the council wants academies. It is the [elected] mayor who is supporting these academies. Blurton people don’t want an academy ““ you hear this Mr Rowney? They want their school rebuilt.
“Why should parents take a risk with an unproven school? It doesn’t make sense. There is no reason to have five academies in Stoke-on-Trent, no reason at all.”
Julian, a parent with one child at Trentham and one on the way there, said:
“We have a 47 percent national average for passes of A to C in GCSE. Stoke is 36 percent, and the academies’ average is below 30. How can you even dream that you will get to the 57 percent we have at Trentham?
“You will have a brand spanking building and it will be empty ““ because we will take our children elsewhere.”
And it wasn’t just Trentham parents that were against the academy. At this meeting, it became clear that there is considerable discontent at the Blurton camp as well. One unhappy Blurton mum commented:
“My daughter is in year 8. She has gone from the bottom to the top of the class. All we want is a new school on the current site, with better equipment for the teachers.”
As Bernard Dickinson explained how this brings his school the opportunity of half-a-million pounds in extra funding a year, and that £23 million can provide a different environment for learning, he came up against the suggestion, “well just give us the money”, which really sums up the sentiment of all of the parents, pupils and governors who were present.
These parents are happy with the environment they are in. They simply want new facilities with new technology. The resounding message which came out of last night’s events was that all they want in Blurton is a new school on the same plot, while Trentham families would be happy with a refurbishment. And councillor Brian Ward was optimistic that an imminent change in the city’s political make-up could make this a possibility. He said:
“This is a decision being pushed through politically by the [elected] mayor.Ã‚ The mayor leaves office in June (which received cheers from the crowd). If the political make-up does change, and Terry Follows has supported this, we will be fighting on your behalf. We believe we could get new schools built and your school left in your community.”
A seven-strong group of protesters against the closure of Trentham High are to cycle from Westminster – where they walked to deliver their petition last year – to Strasbourg next month, in order to hand the document to MEPs at the European Parliament. Two of the group are grandparents in their 60s. Check Pits’n'Pots-The Radical Press for more on this story soon.