Monday, 30 January 2012

Lack of High School Places in Stoke-on-Trent

The views expressed here are my own and are not necessarily the views of any body or organisation I am a member of.

The shortfall in high school places for the young people of Stoke-on-Trent is something I have been banging on about for years, (see 21/11/08, 1/1/10 , 27/2/10 , 28/8/10 ).  Nobody listens of course, but the latest Stoke-on-Trent cabinet meeting on 26th January 2012 has prompted me to have another go.  Item 7 concerns BSF.

BSF in a nutshell:
BSF is the controversial ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme initiated by the previous Labour government to privatise the schools system and contrary to their promise to refurbish or rebuild every high school, resulted for some in Bulldozing Schools for the Future.  There are some rather nice refurbishments and rebuilds although some schools have been cajoled into academisation in the process.  Under the current Conservative government privatisation and academisation continues unabated but instead of the Labour approach of trying to bribe schools with funding for their buildings, the Conservative approach is to cut off funding and just send in the heavy mob to force academisation.  Either way, privatisation abounds and democratic rights are reduced for families and teachers.

In the webcast of the cabinet meeting Councillor Ruth Rosenau, Cabinet Member for Regeneration stated (0:19:16) that both options C in the meeting document were agreed.
One of these involves moving Abbey Hill special school from Abbey Hulton to Longton.  The other changes the planned refurbishment of Holden Lane High School to involve much more rebuild.  These changes bring the total council contribution to BSF to nearly £60million.

Holden Lane is currently in special measures and the governing body has been replaced with an ‘Interim Executive Board’.  Councillor Debra Gratton is Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Life Skills and is a governor at Holden Lane. 
The new plans for Holden Lane provide only 900 pupil places compared with the previously planned 1050.  Debra Gratton stated (0:21:30) that Holden Lane currently has 970 pupils on roll and asked if 900 places is adequate.  Joanne Tyzzer, Assistant Director City Regeneration, said the numbers had been checked against total school capacity across the city and there is no problem.  Well – I would like to see the proof of that! 

The meeting documentation refers to "Pupil place planning projections (updated August 2011)".  I do not have these projections (I have now requested them from the council).  I have some previous projections and have analysed post-BSF high school place provision in the city against these numbers.  My analysis shows, much the same as it has previously, that Stoke-on-Trent is one high school short.  The latest reduction in places at Holden Lane does not help matters. 

Stoke-on-Trent City Council does not provide information on school capacity in a very coherent or transparent way but the information gleaned from the references I give in the first sheet of my spreadsheet indicates a total of 13,800 places.  This is better than the 13,500 in the original SERCO BSF strategy and provides 2,010 surplus places across the city by the year 2014.  Some surplus places are desirable to allow for parental choice and pupil population distribution within the city.  So what’s the problem?  The issue is that 2014 is the year that high school pupil numbers drop to their lowest point before rising significantly.  By the year 2020 high school pupil numbers are projected to reach 14,642, giving a shortfall of 842 places, that’s one entire high school short!  With increasing birth rates there seems no indication that this may fall.  Quite apart from any issues concerning the quality of education, I have grave concerns about educational provision for high school pupils just in terms of number of available school places in the city.

The problem is in fact worse than this when the geographical distribution of pupils is considered, as shown in the second sheet of my spreadsheet.  Clearly some assumptions are involved but it can be seen that the lack of places provides fewer problems in the far North of the city.  There is a particular dearth of provision towards the centre of the city, particularly in the Abbey Hulton and Bucknall areas. 

There has been a strong public campaign by the Community Schools Action Group (CSAG) to retain high schools on the Mitchell and Longton sites rather than merge Mitchell and Edensor to one school, the Discovery Academy on Willfield, but despite Labour lies of support on this, more lies ensued and the merger went ahead, destroying Willfield Gym in the process.  The lack of interest in providing pupil places for the families of Abbey Hulton was highlighted at the Willfield planning meeting.

CSAG are still pursuing a plan for a school on the Mitchell site, now by proposing the R J Mitchell Free School.  If this goes ahead it will help a little with the pupil numbers problem and it is certainly geographically in an excellent location where there is an absence of high school provision.  This could provide for families in Bucknall, Berryhill, Townsend, Bentilee and Abbey Hulton.

I look forward to receiving more up to date pupil projections from the council.  There should be 3 more years birth data now available beyond the numbers I have.  The council really ought to be planning beyond 2014 and planning properly for 2020.  I would like to see the projections beyond 2020.

Analysis spreadsheet:

Pupil projection data:

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