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.