Discovery Academy – The Final Piece Of The Jigsaw?

The Building Schools for the Future [BSF]controversy has rumbled on and on in Stoke-on-Trent for some 6 years.

It should have been a good, good news story, a win win for every family in the 6 Towns.

But from the moment that the then Elected Mayor and Serco decided to stand in front of secondary pupils, their parents, their teachers and their headteachers and tell them what they were getting instead of asking them what they want, it all went belly-up!

The Elected Mayors Board and Serco described this process as ‘Consultation’ – Oh how the communities laughed.

Citizens and schools staff united and turned into community action groups and gave birth to Hands off Haywood and the Trentham Action Group and the battle lines were duly drawn.

Just like the old Max Boyce sketch, ‘I Was There’! I witnessed the on-going fight that the Head of Heywood had with the leaders of Serco.

I watched with interest the walks to London, Bike Rides to Europe, the sit in in an EMB meeting – yes the Trentham lot were a feisty bunch.

Eventually those two action groups won the day for their communities and the BSF process seemed back on track – or did it?

The last ‘Academy’ site to be finalised was that of the Discovery Academy.

The lead school going into the Academy was to be Edensor High School largely down to the fact that the Head at the time, broke from the ranks of a very united group of ALL the secondary heads in the city and reached an agreement with Serco to move his staff a few miles to the other side of Longton to a new build that would eventually be known as the Discovery Academy.

The council then started looking for suitable sites to house this project. The original ‘preferred’ site was the old Gasometer, this was doomed to failure due to the costs of decommissioning the structre and stabilising the ground.

The site of the old Willfield High was always on the scene but there seemed a reluctance to recognise it as viable option.

Berryhill Fields and Mossfield Road were also contenders.

The Longton High School site was proposed by Rob Flello MP, some suggested that this was politically motivated as it was on the run up to the General Election.

But of the blue, the council announced that their preferred site was now Springfield. ‘Where is Springfield?’ – the residents of Adderley Green asked. ‘Just look out of your kitchen windows!’ – the council replied. The battles lines were drawn once again.

The Springfield Action Group were formed and they took on the council with a little help from PnP’s Nicky Davis who had been an integral part of TAG.

They lobbied, protested, held meetings and lobbied some more and eventually managed to convince a planning meeting that the land was to contaminated to build on and would pose a health risk.

All the time that the BSF proposals were being discussed, objected to, welcomed by some and hated by others, Mitchell High School fought for survival.

They wanted to be merged with Berryhill and a school for both communities built on the current Mitchell site. The school results were phenomenal, one of the most improved in the country. Their arguments however fell on deaf ears.

The Community Schools Action Group have fought a hard campaign, but it’s message has always struggled to be heard.

Finally last week, the decision was made to build the Discovery Academy on the land currently occupied by the Willfield Community Centre.

The decision did not shock me at all. It was a case of damage limitation in my opinion and if I’m honest, I was shocked that this conclusion was not reached a lot sooner.

Yes, it means that Edensor pupils will have further to travel, but many at that end of the City have always believed that the current Edensor catchment area will opt for alternative schools anyway.

Mitchell High have failed in their bid to get a school on their existing site, but have managed to get the new school location closer to their community.

The decision is probably in part due to finance as the City Council own the land that Willfield stands on.

The focus now is that the swimming pool and the City Learning Centre located on the Longton High site is retained and maintained for community use.

Let’s hope that this can be done without the need for yet another Community Action Group.

In the audio interviews below you will hear the relief, tinged with some sympathy from the Springfield Action Group and the disappointment of the Community Schools Action Group.

Merger means kids will go to 2 schools, 3 miles apart, for 2 years

By Matt Taylor

School children will be forced to go to school on two different sites, several miles apart, if current proposals go ahead as planned.

As the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) process continues, more fights follow the Trentham High campaigners in their opposition to the project, and a decision on whether to go ahead with such an organisation in Blurton is about to be made, it emerges that the merger between St Peter’s in Penkhull and Berryhill High in Bucknall would mean that pupils will have to actually go to both schools while they wait for the new building to be constructed.

This, of course, would mean pupils, parents, and teachers would be inconvenienced, having to travel to both St Peter’s, and Berry Hill High during a transitional period.

It appears that this move is needed to secure funds for the project, meaning that the two schools would have to be officially merged in 2011, with the move to a joint school in Fenton not happening up to two years later.

Concerns are that as well as being inconvenient for all people involved, this would mean that there could be staff with split loyalties to their respective establishments. It would also mean a hugely complicated staff and student timetable, taking into account problems with swapping between sites for different lessons.

This adds to the fact that the merger is already contentious, since St Peter’s is a faith school, and Berry Hill is not, and the planned Academy would be faith-backed.

Furthermore, teachers are worried that if they do speak out about their concerns, they could be in a position in which their contracts are not renewed to work at the new school. And although teachers’ jobs are deemed safe, holders of other roles may have to reapply for their posts.

A Community School for Bucknall

By Nicky Davis

A community school for Bucknall” is what the local action group wants.

Willfield Village Forum, East Bentilee Residents Association, Townsend Residents Association, Ubberley and Brookhouse Residents Association and the governors and parent/governors and pupils of Mitchell High School and Berryhill High School have formed the Community School Action Group.

A protest march took place this afternoon (12th July), starting at Park Hall Golf Course near the council’s/SERCO’s proposed school site and ending at Mitchell High School, the far more sensible community’s proposed site on which the action group would like to see a new school built, as an amalgamation of the current Mitchell High School and Berryhill High School.  They do not want Mitchell to amalgamate with Edensor as the council currently proposes.  A plan to amalgamate Edensor with Blurton could work well. SERCO also proposes that Berryhill should amalgamate with St. Peter’s.  Why enforce that in opposition to the wishes and sensible plans of the local community?  Protesters do not want an academy on the Park Hall site or Springfields site.  They want a community school on the Mitchell High School site.  There are insufficient places at the planned new St. Peter’s academy to accommodate all the pupils from Berryhill anyway and many of them would not want to travel from their own community to the new Fenton site.  It is so important for high schools to be accessible and part of their communities.

There are good educational arguments for siting a school in the heart of the community.  Parental and pupil support will be high for a school which is part of their community and feels as if it belongs to them.  This encourages everyone to work together to ensure a good education for the children.  An accessible school encourages attendance at after school activities because pupils are happy to stay later if their travel home is easy and safe and their parents are happy for them to stay if they are not worried about their safety. After school activities form a crucial part of the whole pupil experience and enhance the breadth of their education.  There are more possibilities for community activities at a local school which further strengthens parental engagement and pupil support.  Conversely a school divorced from community surroundings can result in alienation and disengagement and does not easily lead to high levels of attainment.

The local Residents’ Association agreed unanimously at its meeting on 19th May that Park Hall was the wrong site to use for a new school.  They are concerned that by using Park Hall, the loss of Green-Belt land, golf course, fishing pool and the disturbance of the wildlife would be detrimental to the community and that increased traffic along Dividy Road would make this already busy road more dangerous.

Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Mark Fisher walked the walk with the protesters.  The SERCO plans would leave the constituency with only two High Schools!  What other constituency anywhere in the UK is as badly served as that?  The local people on the march were also very well supported by their councillors from the wards of Bentilee and Townsend and Berryhill and Hanley East, other councillors and the odd person from further afield (including me).  I would have liked to see a somewhat larger turn out (I didn’t count but I’m guessing there were maybe ~50).  However this was a very well organised protest.  There were some great placards and balloons, first aid support and marshals.  We handed out leaflets along the route.  I have to say I was particularly impressed with the help and support provided by the police officers and PCSOs, who in particular facilitated some tricky road crossings we had to make.

Having walked the walk myself it is very plain to me that the planned Park Hall site is the wrong place and the current Mitchell site is an excellent choice for a school.  I wasn’t that familiar with the area myself.  I’ve been to Park Hall Country Park and have driven along Dividy Road on occasions, but this was the first time I had been to Mitchell High School.  Park Hall is countryside, which is why it has a country park there and is a haven for wildlife, but it’s not in a community.  Walking beside Dividy Road was far from ideal.  The road was very busy, even on a Sunday.  The pavement was narrow and the trees and shrubs were overgrown and encroaching onto the pavement, so much so that we were almost jostling each other onto the road at times.  Not a good route for school children to walk.  It was a fine day for our walk but imagining a dark cold rainy winter’s evening following an after school activity made me wonder what child would be inclined to stay for such activities.  As we progressed on the walk there was a feeling of entering a proper community and by the time we reached Mitchell, a fair old trek, it felt like we’d reached its heart, with children out playing in the neighbourhood.  That is where a school ought to be, at the heart of its community.  I enjoyed the Sunday walk and enjoyed meeting and talking to the variety of people I did on the way.  But for a school child to do that twice a day on weekdays doesn’t make any sense to me.

Well done to all the organisers, participants and supporters of this protest.

I firmly believe that SERCO and the council are there to serve communities and what those communities say should be taken on board.  I hope there aren’t too many people who are dissatisfied but are too disillusioned to speak out because they think it’s a “Ëœdone deal’.  Now is the time, if you do speak out there is some chance you will be listened to.  Admitedly there is also some chance of being ignored.  But if you don’t speak out there is no chance at all of being heard!

Residents of the Bentilee area and supporters are encouraged to write to Mr Ged Rowney, Children & Young People’s Services, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Civic Centre, Glebe Street, Stoke-on-Trent.  ST4 1HH.

He can be urged to consider:
1. Â Ã‚  Joining Mitchell High School and Berryhill High School and building a new community school in the grounds of Mitchell High School.
2. Â Ã‚  Allowing Edensor High School and Technology College to join with Blurton High School.
3. Â Ã‚  Keeping hands off Park Hall!

For further information and a letter you may use please see:
www.willfieldvillageforum.co.uk