SOT Central – Candidates and Schools

I wrote the story “SOT Central Parliamentary Candidates Speak to CSAG” as impartially as I could, to be fair to the candidates. But here in this blog I will give you my views. If you don’t care to know then don’t read on.

There has been much talk about one aspect of the meeting and precious little about the rest, so I’ll deal with that one first. In the childlike squabble”¦ “Ëœshe started it’. Norsheen said “there is nothing British about the BNP”, which is a bit of a daft statement seeing as most members of the British National Party are British. However it was just one quite ordinary example of political sparring. Simon Darby’s response “I’m more British than you are” was way out of line because it made it personal in a way that had nothing to do with politics, policy or even personality. He should not have said that.

I am glad that so many candidates took an interest in the plight of Mitchell and Berry Hill high schools. It was good that those who attended could come and I don’t blame those who couldn’t make it.

Carol Lovatt however I do think is a complete waste of space. I have a theory about UKIP. I think they are experimenting with Stoke-on-Trent to see how many votes they can get by doing b*gger all. But anyone wanting to vote far right would be better off with the British National Party because they would be more likely to actually do something.

John Redfern is pathetic, unwilling to turn up just because Simon Darby was there. A pretty non-liberal approach from a liberal I think.

Simon Darby, Norsheen Bhatti and Tristram Hunt are the most parachuted candidates, the first two fighting hard for the seat for the short term and Tristram, unless there is a huge swing, likely to win it so preparing for the long term.

In terms of long term passion and commitment to the area and the schools, Gary Elsby comes out top and spoke out very well for the CSAG cause at the meeting. Alby Walker has also been supportive of communities over BSF whilst in the British National Party, although he is more of an unknown quantity now he seems to want to have a go at them at any opportunity. I don’t understand what they did to p*ss him off so much. But I do believe he is likely to remain supportive of the CSAG case.

Norsheen Bhatti appears to be a caring personality taking a real interest although a little out of her depth on the issues. There is little of substance there, possibly because she has Conservative policies to deal with. She also perpetuates the Conservative mistake of the party leadership not being interested in what it’s councillors are doing locally. She does not want to tackle Ross Irving. They never learned, we moaned to the tories about Roger Ibbs over Trentham High. They didn’t care, now they have lost their tory stonghold from Trentham. Norsheen seems to like the party political sparring aspect of things and I think would really like to spend her time having a go at political opponents in parliament. That doesn’t interest me that much as I’m more interested in issues than party politics and competitiveness.

Brian Ward was really hard to fathom. He was difficult to pin down and often contradictory ““ it has already been decided ““ the decision isn’t made yet / I won’t make false promises ““ if elected I will get the school on Mitchell. He had been willing to turn up, as he had before, brave for someone on Ross Irving’s cabinet, but did not really seem to have got to grips with the issues. I understand he is chasing up the current situation though. Good luck to him, I’m getting nowhere with communications with

The candidates with the best understanding of what this government is playing at with BSF and the disastrous consequences for education are Matt Wright and Simon Darby. It is shameful privatisation of the education system for the benefit of the likes of serco to the detriment of the children involved. Others who attended the meeting who showed particular insight in my view are Pat Smith, John Davis and Mick Stone. Dawn Kelly is spot on about the affect of the threat on the schools. I really liked Andy Bentley’s ideas on council strategy.

I don’t vote in SOT Central. At the last general election I remember talking to a Socialist candidate in Stoke, I had to tell him I liked a lot of his ideas but couldn’t vote Socialist as the option wasn’t available to me in SOT South. The ideals are good although the practicalities are difficult. I still don’t have the Socialist option in SOT South. I’ve been doing these online surveys and they’re telling me to vote Green but I don’t have that option either ““ although I’d be too bolshie to let a computer tell me how to vote in any case. Based solely on what I thought of the candidates from their stance on this schools issue, if I had to vote on it I’d pick the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. I sometimes get accused of being far right or far left. I guess this is one of the far left moments.

Of course all the candidates support us on the schools issue. After the election most will disappear. Our next step will need to be to address the next stage of the BroadwayMalyan “Ëœinsultation’.

SOT Central Parliamentary Candidates Speak to CSAG

Stoke-on-Trent Central parliamentary candidates attended an open Community Schools Action Group Meeting at Bentilee Neighbourhood Centre on the evening of April 28th.

CSAG chair MARGARET LOWE opened the meeting and introduced the candidates. Active CSAG campaigner WENDY BOOTH sent apologies for absence. BARRY STOCKLEY (CSAG) chaired the meeting. He outlined the background to the CSAG campaign. In 2007 there were surplus high school places. Mitchell High School and Berry Hill High School showed cooperation by volunteering to close on condition that there would be a new build school on the Mitchell site to accommodate pupils from both these schools. The city council then appointed SERCO which was a most disastrous decision for education. The SERCO proposal was to merge Michell with Edensor and Berry Hill with St. Peter’s. The proposals were rejected totally by parents at Mitchell, Berry Hill, St. Peter’s and many from Edensor. Reports from consultation meetings had been grossly distorted. At a meeting for Berry Hill and St. Peter’s a motion was proposed to reject the merger. Every parent and governor voted to reject the merger but this was not reported. Barry, together with Mark Fisher MP, had challenged Ged Rowney, SERCO director of children and young people’s services and Tracey Penrose, project manager for BSF, over this. Tracey said she must have overlooked this. Many councillors are supportive of the CSAG campaign for a school on the Mitchell site but those appointed to cabinet do an about turn. Mark Fisher always supported the campaign. Each candidate was then given 3 minutes to introduce themselves and express their views as follows:

GARY ELSBY (Independent) explained he had been a member of the Labour party but had walked out because of what had happened. He had produced 20,000 leaflets in the 2008 local election campaign, but then the persecution started for standing up for Mitchell High School and Dimensions swimming pool. He had been removed from the membership list. Council leader Ross Irving had made fun of CSAG and of Pat Smith, Mitchell chair of governors. He had been condescending. Gary said councillor Peter Kent-Baguley is right because he says if we keep up the pressure we will win.

SIMON DARBY (British National Party) introduced himself as the deputy leader of the British National Party and said some might think that means he is wicked but he is not a bad man, he is just a normal guy. He does not believe in the BSF social engineering agenda to create an academy with only two parent governors. Schools should not be run by private companies which profit at our expense. He declared himself fully on our side.

NORSHEEN BHATTI (Conservative Party) said Labour had not been consulting with parents and teachers, which is important for schools. She has visited Mitchell High and congratulates the school for winning an award for the most improved school. She was touched by the children and how much they loved their school. There was passion from the teachers. She said there should be social responsibility and parents and teachers should be given the power to set up their own schools. She also said she was there to listen and wants to put people’s views first.

MATT WRIGHT (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) said what we are seeing is the systematic privatisation of the education system. Academies will be a disaster with worse travel to school. The sponsors choose the governing body and are in charge of ethos. It would not be good to have religious fanatics or companies in charge of schools. Tens of thousands of building workers are out of work. We need to rebuild or refurbish community schools. There should be no cuts to pay or conditions of staff and no compulsory redundancies. There should be no private finance initiatives because these result in the tax payer footing 300% of the building cost. He advocates a joint campaign of all schools under threat.

BRIAN WARD (City Independent) introduced himself as leader of the City Independent group on the council. City Independent councillors Rita Dale and John Davis had backed this campaign the whole time and talk about it every day. He said this is not an MP decision, the city council will make the decision. The protest should be directed to the council. He said Labour councillor Adrian Knapper had also backed the campaign at times. Brian said he had first heard of the fight to save the school at a meeting at Mitchell High. He is in cabinet now having previously been in opposition but nothing had been said at cabinet about this issue. Officers have been sent to check the sites and numbers to see if they are right. Brian said he bases his whole ethos on community issues. He said the public wants a school on Mitchell, not on ‘Springfield’ and to know why they should vote for one parliamentary candidate rather than another. He would have liked to ask Tristram Hunt the Labour candidate about the Labour government. Deals had been handed down from a Labour government which underfunds the council by £300 per child.

Margaret Lowe then read statements from the parliamentary candidates who were unable to be present:

PAUL BREEZE (Independent) said it was evident CSAG hearts are in the right place and we have passion. CSAG has a strong and logical case with evidence for the merger and site we want. Paul said he is fully independent and if elected will back CSAG 100%

ALBY WALKER (Independent) said there should be a new school on the Mitchell site and another on an appropriate site near Edensor. He opposed the Park Hall site and had organised the call in of this decision when he was a British National Party councillor. He is now an independent councillor.

JOHN REDFERN (Liberal Democrat) does not want to share a platform with the BNP. He is not happy with a new academy on Park Hall because of fears about safety and busy roads. He does not think it would improve education standards.

TRISTRAM HUNT (Labour Party) said it was already clear the only way forward is to have two local schools and he would fight tooth and nail for a school in the heart of the community. He had attended a previous CSAG meeting and visited Margaret Lowe at home. He is 100% behind us.

CAROL LOVATT (UKIP) had not responded at all.

The meeting was then opened for questions to the candidates.

MIKE COLEMAN (British National Party councillor and parliamentary candidate for SOT South) asked Brian Ward if he was in favour of Mitchell staying or going. Brian replied that it had never been discussed in cabinet and that the decision had been made previously by the mayor. Brian stated that he is supportive of a school on Mitchell.

PAT SMITH (Chair of governors at Mitchell) said she should put Gary Elsby right on his quotation. City Independent councillor Ian Mitchell was the one who was nasty and wanted a bulldozer through Mitchell High School. Ross Irving and Ian Mitchell had been invited to visit Mitchell High School four times, but each time the personal assistant had rang to cancel. It seems they dare not come anywhere near. In trying to speak to them she had just got insults. Stoke-on-Trent College, the intended academy sponsor, want a 1300 feeder school for the college. Pat said the experience with Stoke-on-Trent College is not wonderful. Nobody has spoken about the wonderful results for adults at Mitchell High. 1500 adults have learned in the community learning centre there, the learn direct there works because it is in the community. Mitchell and Berry Hill are happy to merge because they can form a natural community hub.

TERRY CROWE (Chair of governors at Berry Hill) said Ross Irving and his cabinet are trying to destroy education at the two schools. Terry said he had opposed the independent and Labour elected mayors and the Conservative council leader. This is not party political, it is a fight for the children out there. Terry asked Brian Ward to come off the fence because he has the power but has not faced up to his responsibility. He said Mike Coleman had brought up the issues in the council but they had tried to ridicule him. He asked Norsheen Bhatti if she would speak to Ross Irving and tell him to get off his backside and do something. He asked her if she was prepared to tell Ross he has got it wrong.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said if she were elected she would make representations everywhere.

TERRY CROWE asked Brian Ward to speak to Ross Irving.

BRIAN WARD said we must go though a process, we still have Mitchell High today and can not guess what happens after the election.

GRAHAM WALLACE (CSAG) asked Norsheen Bhatti why she said the Labour party had done this. Her Conservative party had been in charge of the council cabinet for 9 months now.

MICK STONE (CSAG) said to Brian Ward that he was sorry it appeared he was being given a hammering but his question was simply that as leader of the City Independents which have a majority of councillors, he should have influence, so what has he actually done since becoming leader of that group for this campaign? Mick put forward his theory that the area is seen as a hotbed of support or the extreme right and the establishment don’t like that. The area is seen as a poor working class area full of thickos on crack. So taking two lumps of the community and sending them in opposite directions was a ploy to water down support for the extreme right. But Mick thinks this could create the reaction they are trying to stop.

BRIAN WARD said there had been umpteen meetings with SERCO and the new chief executive of the council and there are issues so he did not want to give false promises. There was a desire to move the school because education was poor. Brian said he had backed Trentham who ran a good campaign. As he is not the ward councillor he does not know Mitchell High School. The independents have made more waves in the city than anyone.

GARY ELSBY said he had heard all sorts of stories about wanting the land, he didn’t accept the point about the far right, this area is underprivileged so why not build a school here?

SIMON DARBY said they are doing this in Burnley too, trying to mix muslim and white children. They are busing them around and they don’t like it. This government enforced bullying shouldn’t be happening. He said it is good to see support to fight this here, if we fight it he will back us.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said there is nothing British about the BNP.

SIMON DARBY said he was more British than Norsheen.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said if she were elected she would be supportive because children matter.

MATT WRIGHT said this would rip the heart out of the community and with the scale of public sector cuts to come we need unity in communities, not division.

ADRIAN KNAPPER (Labour councillor) said to Norsheen Bhatti that this is a council decision and if the two schools option were put to the council, Labour and the British National Party and others would support a school on the Mitchell site and another in Longton. He said the only thing in the way is the executive; Brian Ward, Ross Irving and Liberal Democrat support. Norsheen should go to Ross and get him to go ahead with what we want.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said the reality is the decisions have been made and the council’s hands are tied.

ADRIAN KNAPPER stated that schools minister Vernon Coaker would not block the two school option.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said it was not a decision made by the Conservatives but if elected as MP she would do as Adrian Knapper had asked.

BRIAN WARD pointed out that it is a cabinet decision, not a full council decision.

BARRY STOCKLEY suggested a vote of no confidence in the council leader.

JOHN DAVIS (City Independent councillor) said he is a governor at Mitchell High School. He had never seen so many lies and distortions of the facts than on this issue. The first time the proposal was discussed was over two years ago. The council have said for many years that this is a government decision and we are not allowed to build on the Mitchell site. At that time there was a Labour elected mayor and Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat elected mayor’s board. Mark Fisher had been brilliant and talked to the minister who said the site of the school is up to the city council. The current minister says we could have two schools. Another lie is that if we don’t agree it will affect funding and other schools. They have tried to set schools against each other. John called this ‘insultation’ not consultation and said the dictatorial decisions are ludicrous. But John said he believes in people power and we can beat them on the arguments. John asked the candidates if they would, like Mark Fisher, ignore the party whip and stand up for the community even against their own party.

BRIAN WARD said he would do better than that because he would save the school.

MATT WRIGHT said he would stand shoulder to shoulder.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said she would put people first.

SIMON DARBY said he would be 100% behind the fight.

GARY ELSBY said for 27 years he had stood by Mark Fisher’s side and Mark had asked him if he would take on the role of MP. He said Rob Flello MP was taking all the credit for saving Trentham High School and yet the community themselves had put up signs all over the area saying Trentham High School not for sale.

ANDY BENTLEY said when SERCO put forward their proposal the socialist party got 5000 names on a petition for no closures, no loss of jobs and new buildings if needed. His suggestion is every councillor should adopt a different strategy, instead of planning cuts they should plan what is needed as sufficient government funding and launch a campaign to force the government to give us the money. This has been done in Liverpool in the 1980s and they even got money out of Margaret Thatcher. Andy asked who would support such a strategy instead of money going to rich bankers.

BRIAN WARD said every child in the city gets £300 less than the average for the country and where have the MPs been to rectify this?

MATT WRIGHT agrees with Andy because the money needed is like crumbs from the table compared to the richest people in the country.

NORSHEEN BHATTI said Labour had said education, education, education so it is scandalous we get less than others, due to the city’s Labour MPs.

SIMON DARBY said bailing out the bankers, gamblers, was a disgrace and we are paying the price. He would abolish investment banks, have no front line cuts, pull out of the war in Afghanistan, having had an illegal war in Iraq, pull out of the EU and stop foreign aid. Common sense is needed and we should look after ourselves more.

GARY ELSBY said laws should be reintroduced to stop the banking fiasco. He had fought all his life for what he believes in. Labour have done some good things. He said national insurance should not be increased. We should demand no special favours but just the same as everyone else has, which should be easily fundable.

NICKY DAVIS (CSAG) said that by the year 2020 the current SERCO plan will mean we will be short of high school pupil places by about 500 for the Discovery school, wherever it is built, 350 for the new St. Peter’s and 300 for Sandon. What is the best plan to deal with these shortages?

GARY ELSBY said an extra high school can be built in Longton. Caps on immigration will come. We must plan properly for the children and if necessary build more schools. He said the answer is simple, they should give us the money.

SIMON DARBY said it is despicable because it involves private companies so it is about profit and he knows the way these people work with their ethos of selling off public assets. He suggested what is needed is an investigation into the private companies involved and who has directorships involved with these companies. Immigration is problematic.

NORSHEEN BHATTI admitted she does not know, to be honest. We don’t have the funding, education is in crisis and we need to take control.

MATT WRIGHT said we should kick private companies out of schools, increase capacity and employ more teachers. Immigration would not be an issue if public services could cope with demand.

BRIAN WARD said the Labour government has done more privatising than Thatcher.

DAWN KELLY (CSAG) said it gets on parents nerves that they are told pupil numbers are going down at Berry Hill High School but the only reason for that is because of the threat to the school. People are sending their children elsewhere but if a school were to be kept on the Mitchell site they would come back.

KEN said there had been underfunding for years and asked if we should blame the MPs or the council.

BARRY STOCKLEY said we are not underfunded in BSF capital funding, it is the way it is used that is the problem.

BRIAN WARD insisted there was underfunding.

TERRY CROWE had attended a meeting to make teachers and other staff redundant because Berry Hill was targeted for closure. Terry backed up Dawn Kelly’s point. He said as Brian Ward had made a statement he would keep a school on Mitchell if elected, then why not do it now?

BARRY STOCKLEY thanked the 5 parliamentary candidates who had attended.

The meeting finished with a video showing how Mitchell and Berry Hill pupils worked together.

Labour campaign in Bentilee ““ an outrage!

Mervin Smith’s election leaflet, promoted by Mark Meredith, claims after all this time that labour locally want a school on the Mitchell site and another for Longton. After all these years driving forward plans to bulldoze Mitchell High School, Labour at the last minute change their tune in a desperate bid for support.

Nobody has been more of a disaster with their “Ëœbulldozing schools for the future’ plans than Labour’s Mark Meredith and his supporters. He has arrogantly gone round the city, claiming to listen but giving Labour political speeches about how it is best for education to rip schools out of communities in favour of imposed academies. Mark Meredith’s Labour, continuing after he was kicked out, do not deserve to win an election in the city. They will do the city no good, their track record says it all.

Mervin Smith’s leaflet says to bombard council leader Ross Irving with the message “let our community keep its school”. Fine, but who voted for Tory Ross Irving to be council leader? Labour did! Yes it’s true, they really did. Labour set up the Tories so that after years of failure under Labour leadership they could blame the Tories just before an election. And Ross Irving is daft enough to fall for it ““ if he had any sense he would do as Labour are claiming they now request and give us a school on Mitchell and another in Longton – but I won’t hold my breath.

Mervin Smith says about Mitchell “I’m proud to be a governor of the school” So Mervin, are you going to tell us what you have really done as governor? Did you support a ridiculous merger of Mitchell with Edensor miles away? Did you support the destruction of the current schools with no replacement on the Mitchell site? Did you support it being taken over by an academy with sponsor dominance over parents on the governing body? Go on, admit it, tell us what you have really done for Mitchell.

The leaflet says “Labour’s Mervin Smith ““ on your side”. Don’t believe a word of it! The council’s Labour group screw over communities then just before an election pathetically say they have not listened enough but will now. No ““ LABOUR CAN NOT BE TRUSTED!

If the folk of Bentilee and Townsend want to be conned over a few weeks before an election and face the prospect of further betrayal afterwards, then they can vote Labour.

Happily though they have better alternatives, people who have consistently supported the community and to keep a high school on the Mitchell site. People who care about the area all the time, not just at election time.

Independents Wendy Booth and Margaret Lowe are standing for election. Both live in Bentilee, care about the community widely and have been campaigning vigourously in the Community Schools Action Group for a school on Mitchell (I have never seen Mervin Smith at a CSAG meeting). Residents will remember Wendy Booth declaring at a public meeting at Mitchell that she would stand for council and Margaret Lowe, chair of the action group, is also standing. They deserve the local vote, Mervin Smith does not. Current councillor Phil Sandland, standing again, has also shown way more support for the school and has a track record in the community.

This Labour leaflet, for Mervin Smith, promoted by Mark Meredith, is truly shameful.


LibDem propaganda in Trentham & Hanford

We have in Trentham received our first leaflet for the local election in May, from Alan Alcock the Libdem candidate.

What spin with regard to the Libdems view of Trentham High School!

“Alan Alcock is a local businessman and community activist, for Cockster Brook. He feels very strongly about the inequalities in our area, schools for one, Trentham High School,should never have been under threat. Stoke-on-Trent City Council wanted to close this school, how wrong could they be?.If elected Alan promises to support the interests of the people of Trentham and Hanford before all other interests.”

(Sloppy punctuation as printed, not mine.)

You could easily read this, if you didn’t know better, as the Libdems being on our side through the whole Trentham High School saga. They were so not!

Let us instead look at the facts and the track record.

To be fair, back on 9/7/08 at the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Dave Sutton was on our side when he voted with the City Independents and British National Party and Jean Edwards from Labour

That this Committee recommends to the City Council that it supports the soft statutory federation between St Joseph’s College and Trentham High School and that, as a consequence, Trentham High School be removed from any school closure list and placed upon the upgrade and renovation programme.

Other Labour and Tory were against us but the recommendation was carried. That was of course before Dave Sutton did an about turn and decided he thought we were snobs.

On 2/10/08 at Full Council a motion

“This City Council has no confidence in SERCO or the recent building schools for the future consultation exercise and calls upon the City Council to:
(i) instruct the Executive to reconsider all the building schools for the future
proposals and in particular give a commitment to keep open Trentham High
(ii) instruct the Executive to consider, despite the potential financial costs,
termination of the SERCO contract and awarding a new contract for the
remainder of the period of Government intervention.
(iii) instruct the Executive to reconsider the proposed site (Park Hall) for the Academy
planned to replace Edensor High School, in the light of the representations made
by parents and others”.

supported by a group of City Independents was defeated by Libdems, Labour and Tories. The Libdems also voted against some amendments to the motion that commanded support from other City Independent, British National Party, Potteries Independent, Libertarian and non-aligned councillors.

On 4/12/08 at Full Council a motion

“ËœThis Council notes the widespread and deep disquiet amongst a number of communities across the City concerning the proposed sites, proposed catchment areas and proposed forms of governance, associated with parts of the restructure of the City’s High Schools. This Council further notes that it believes the disquiet, upset and controversy around these issues is having an increasingly unsettling and debilitating effect both within the schools and the wider communities.
Therefore this Council resolves that: “The Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee sets up a Task and Finish Group under the Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee to research the views of parents, pupils, governors, teachers, councillors and relevant officials with regard to the restructure as it concerns Trentham High, Blurton High, Mitchell High, Berryhill High, Edensor High and Longton High Schools and to present their findings and evaluations to the Executive for debate and resolution”.

supported by Potteries Independent, non-aligned, British National Party, City Independent and Libertarian councillors was defeated by Libdems, Labour and Tories.

On 26/3/09 Full Council approved the motion:

“ËœThe City Council is requested to ask the Executive to reconsider the future of Blurton and Trentham High Schools. Following the recent public meeting about Blurton and Trentham High Schools the Executive are asked to consider:
1. rebuilding the Blurton High School on the existing site and keeping a school in the
2. remove Trentham High School from the Building Schools for the Future programme
3. consider the refurbishment of Trentham High school
The City Council is also asked to note that Trentham High School would continue to seek foundation and co-operative trust status through the Department for Schools and Families’

thanks to the City Independents, British National Party, Potteries Independent, Libertarian an non-aligned councillors. No thanks to Libdems, Labour and Tories who tried to defeat this.

So what did the Libdems ever do for Trentham High? Nothing! Because of that, is it any surprise that I am sceptical when Alan Alcock says he will support the interests of the people before other interests? What I think is he will do what his party tells him and past experience shows that they will put the wishes of any coalition they are in before the wishes of the people.

No, we don’t need a Libdem for Trentham and Hanford, we need an independent who can truly put us first.

Council seeks views on academy location

People who have an interest in the proposed location for the new Discovery Academy in Stoke-on-Trent are being asked for their views as part of a feasibility study being carried out on behalf of the city council.

The proposed Academy is one of five brand new academies planned to be built in the city as part of the £250m Building Schools for the Future programme.

The independent study will look at possible locations for the Discovery Academy and then advise on a preferred site.

Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Ian Mitchell, said:

“We are keen to hear from the public on this very important issue. The Discovery Academy is the last piece of the BSF jigsaw. We want to move this process forward to ensure the young people from Edensor and Mitchell high schools are afforded the same opportunities as other students throughout the city, where outline approval has already been granted for new build or refurbishment.”

Anyone wanting to know more about the feasibility study should visit

Building Schools for what Future?

This week I attended the Governors’ Finance sub-committee at Mitchell High school, one of the City’s 17 High schools.

Mitchell’s examination results were poor enough to attract over £100,000 additional funding a couple of year’s ago. Last year, Mitchell’s results shot up, so much in fact, that it was the most improved school in the whole of England.

Reward? Slashing of the additional budget to the extent that now the governors have no option but to agree a £95,000 cut in the school budget, and that after the headteacher’s line by line clipping across the board.

Sometimes I really do think there maybe something embedded deeply in some bureaucrats’ heads which rewards success with a swinging penalty. Who, with a modicum of education, not to say commonsense, would even contemplate withdrawing additional booster resources immediately success has been achieved?

Staff who have pulled out all the stops to rise to the challenge are now looking round the staff room and thinking: will it be them or me faced with the question: have you thought of early retirement/voluntary redundancy?

This is not the way to run our schools; this is not the way to treat our children; this is not the way political issues should be handled. The allocation of scarce resources is what politics is all about: we should not stand by and watch bureaucrats undermine the hardwork and aspirations of all involved with our schools.

The City Council’s cabinet member for schools needs to get a grip on the situation to make sure young people in some of the most economically deprived areas of our city are not being penalised.

Knapper’s Outrage At Birches Head Proposals.

Berryhill and Hanley East City Councillor Adrian Knapper is shocked and outraged to read within Friday nights Sentinel that the Conservative/Independent Liberal Democrat Alliance that now runs Stoke-on-Trent City Council wants to expand Birches Head School by an extra 300 pupils when residents within the Bucknall area want a new School at the Mitchell site.

The Local Authority aim to invest £3.1 million extra into Birches Head High School that their own officers from the City Council have admitted was built prematurely under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in an outlined area rather than in the centre of the community that it serves.

These additional spaces will be created at the wrong location with out any consultation with members of the public and represent a major change to the BSF by the Local Authority who have always stated that their was not enough pupil numbers to accommodate extra class room space within this multi-million pound investment by the Government into Schools.

Councillor Adrian Knapper say’s:

“Its total wrong of the Education Authority to move forward with this plan without going out to consultation with local people who want a High School at Bucknall.”

“Now that it clear that this area of the City has the demand for more Educational Space at Secondary School level in the future, the City Council must do the right thing and build Schools in the best location to serve communities.”

With recent news that Primary School are full to capacity and extra temporary class room space is needed to accommodate growing numbers of pupils, Councillor Adrian Knapper has written to the Chief Executive of Stoke-on-Trent City Council requesting an urgent meeting of Ward Councillors for the area, asking that these plans are put on hold until the New Head of Department for Children & Young People takes office.

It would be far better to review the BSF proposals taking into consideration the increasing numbers of pupils to ensure that the potential to build an extra school at a location within the local community at Bucknall and give consideration to a new School at Longton that has been given approval by the Schools Minister on his recent visit to the City. The £3.1 million would be better invested to refurbish Mitchell High rather than build a School at a location that is out of reach for Children to reasonably walk to School.

A change in policy is required to ensure that Education Facilities meet the requirements of the people of Stoke-on-Trent.

Stoke Beats The National Average For Pupils Getting 1st Choice Schools

91% of parents were allocated their first choice of secondary school for their children compared to the national average of 83%

Staffordshire schools did even better by allocating 95% for parents their first choice schools.

Last year there were issues surrounding the allocation of places at Sandon High School.

A number of parents whose children would have attended Longton High School were refused places at Sandon High on appeal even though Sandon High officially takes over Longton this year.

This year it seems that there is no repeat of this problem and it would appear that everyone who expressed Sandon as their first choice, got their wish.

Parents applying for primary school places will find out their fate end of this month to receive their offers.

Vernon Coaker says it again ““ council could give us 15 high schools in Stoke-on-Trent!

On Tuesday 23rd February Stoke-on-Trent MPs Mark Fisher and Rob Flello met with schools minister Vernon Coaker, who reiterated a previous statement that a two school solution, instead of the currently planned merger of Mitchell and Edensor, would be completely acceptable, provided that it came within the £25 million remaining for this. However he said this can not be imposed by government. A request for this two school solution will have to come from the council. He also confirmed, in very strong terms, that he told Ross Irving exactly the same as he told the media and the Community Schools Action Group (CSAG) about a possible two school solution.

Mark Fisher accuses Stoke-on-Trent council leader Ross Irving of telling a “barefaced lie” about obeying orders. Ross Irving is maintaining a stance that Mitchell and Edensor should be replaced by a single school. Government are clearly not ordering him to do this. Is he taking orders from officers? Is he not supposed to be a leader, able to think about an elegant two school solution? He and his cabinet do not even have a site for a single school. Two schools would be better for all the communities involved and would be in line with his own conservative party’s policy for schools of less than 1000 pupils.

What will it take for our council leader and cabinet to see sense?

The background to this is that following a crazy SERCO plan to merge two schools 5 miles apart, Mitchell and Edensor, rather than the obvious community centred approach of merging Mitchell and Berry Hill, less than a mile apart, CSAG has being doing battle with the council cabinet to get a better decision made.

As well as MPs Mark Fisher and Rob Flello, many ordinary councillors also agree with CSAG, including Steve Batkin, Rita Dale, John Davis and Adrian Knapper who are actively involved.

The council’s own Children and Young People’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee have recommended that Mitchell and Berry Hill should merge on the Mitchell site. The most recent recommendation on December 16th has still not been minuted or considered by the cabinet. That meeting also examined the bizarre selection of the Adderley Green site for a school, vehemently opposed by the “ËœSpringfield’ action group, after at failed a feasibility study. This site has been rejected by the council’s Development Management Committee.

Vernon Coaker’s visit to Stoke-on-Trent included the Mitchell High site which CSAG wants to retain for a High School as it is in the heart of the community it serves. Vernon Coaker met with CSAG and listened to their concerns. He told the Sentinel he did not rule out the possibility of keeping an extra secondary school. He passed the community views on to the council leader.
However he too it seems was ignored by Ross Irving and Children and Young People’s portfolio holder Ian Mitchell.

Pat Smith, chair of governors at Mitchell, reported on the subsequent meeting of CSAG with Ross Irving and Ian Mitchell in a letter to the Sentinel. She describes them as patronising and dismissive and Ian Mitchell as showing antagonism and viciously attacking the Mitchell Business and Enterprise College.

It is obvious that the Mitchell site should continue to be used for a community based high school. An additional school in the Longton area would fulfill the needs of the communities served by Edensor.

Council agrees 2010/11 budget

Stoke-on-Trent City Council has approved its 2010/11 budget at a meeting today.

The increase in council tax will be 2.89 per cent and will mean residents of Stoke-on-Trent continue to pay the lowest council tax in Staffordshire.

Council tax for Band A homes, which make up 61 per cent of properties in the city, will be £925.87 a year, including the contributions towards the costs of the police and fire service. The increase will be 41p a week for Band A properties.

The council has carried out extensive consultation on its budget proposals since the autumn, including a public survey which produced nearly 900 responses and detailed scrutiny by a series of overview and scrutiny committees.

To deliver a balanced budget this year the council has identified savings of £9.8m, resulting in a net budget of £209m for 2010/11.

A range of savings have been made, including:

* allowing 140 staff to leave through voluntary redundancy and deleting vacant posts that are no longer required
* reorganisation of the way adult social care services are provided
* increasing fees and charges
* recruiting more local foster carers, to reduce the cost of using outside fostering agencies
* reducing maintenance on IT systems following installation of new equipment.

A series of more controversial proposals, including the closure of two swimming pools and a gymnastics centre, have been shelved.

However, the council will now begin a “root and branch” review of all services to identify how to make much greater savings over the coming three to five years.

All councils are expected to receive much less funding from central government over the coming years, because of the effects of the recession and the need to tackle borrowing by central government.

In addition the city council has been hit by the effects of the recession because it has received less income and because demand for services has increased.

The council also set its capital budget for 2010/11 at £141m. This will allow Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire to continue to invest in major regeneration programmes, including redevelopment of the city centre, the University Quarter, town centres, building of new housing and the Building Schools for the Future programme.

Council leader Ross Irving said:

“This year’s budget setting process has been difficult. We have had to make substantial cuts, we have reduced staffing by 140 people and we face a big fall-off in the income we generate.

“We have consulted extensively with the public, with partners and with councillors to come to the proposals we have agreed today.

“We have managed to avoid implementing the most controversial cuts this year, but there will certainly have to be much greater savings next year.

“There will be much less money for local government in the next few years. We will have to change the way we do things, employ fewer people and stop delivering some services. We will have to make radical changes and make lots of tough choices.

“Councillors will begin that root and branch review immediately and get us ready for the lean years ahead.”