Saturday, 21 September 2013

Respect us at Skerton High, say governors

The governing body of Skerton High School recently issued the following statement on the consultation on the school's proposed closure initiated by Lancashire County Council, which we reproduce in full below.

Campaigners are urging local residents to protest the plans.

The consultation on the closure of Skerton Community High School [has begun] and all interested parties will have the opportunity to express their views as to whether a school such as this one is required to meet the needs of young people in the district.

Since the badly timed announcement of the county council’s decision to start this consultation was made public at the beginning of the summer holidays, many views have already been expressed in support of the school.

The comments and testimonies that have appeared on the petition website speak volumes about what the school has meant and continues to mean to parents and students past and present.

They are also indicative of the chasm will be left if this school closes.

It has been alleged in reported statements from County Hall, that the governing body has been consulted about the future of the school. This description is inaccurate.

Since the beginning of 2013, in correspondence with senior officers of the local authority governors have been required to agree that the school should close.

In response, we have repeatedly asked what provision would be made for our young people in the event of closure. Our frequently repeated question has been ignored.

Now we learn that there are ample places for them all in other schools, specifically and somewhat surprisingly, that two local high schools will welcome the 37 students who will enter Year 10 in September 2014.

This proposed solution demonstrates an alarming failure on the part of the local authority to establish the range of difficulties and challenges that our young people and their parents face on a daily basis or even to consider whether their relocation is in their best interests.

To close first, then ask a question afterwards is irresponsible where young lives are at stake.

Our students are all special in a whole variety of ways.

A significant proportion have already tried and failed to make progress in other local schools.

Those parents whose children have complex special needs or who have endured relentless bullying in other schools have found the answer to their prayers at Skerton.

The distribution of vulnerable youngsters around other local schools is not an acceptable alternative and is one that students, staff, parents and governors will resist.

Financial factors having been set aside, the school stands condemned on the grounds of poor academic standards and decreasing numbers. The former claim is simplistic.

It fails to take into consideration that, given the range and nature of secondary school provision in Lancaster, Skerton does not have a typical distribution of ability or that a large proportion of our young people have to overcome many obstacles in their lives that are barriers to their learning and progress.

That said, each year a small number of our students do achieve the highest grades and have gone on to sixth form and university. External measurements and national benchmarking do not allow recognition of the fact that a proportion of youngsters achieve beyond what they would have done elsewhere. Over the last six years, the local authority has refused to support a number of proposals from the governors that would have enabled the school to grow and develop. The rumour and uncertainty that has consequently hung over the school for all that time has had a destructive impact on the growth of the school population.

Some years ago, an officer of the local authority commented that Skerton was the cheapest special school in the county. We maintain that it still is.

The Ofsted inspection report demonstrates very clearly all the reasons why Skerton should be regarded as special.

For example, the proportion of children who are particularly vulnerable or who have free school meals is twice the national average, the proportion of children with special needs is double that nationally, late entry into the school is well above the national average.

Inspectors paid tribute to the very high level of nurture, care and support that students receive individually. Skerton is a truly inclusive school.

The vast majority of young people who come from elsewhere are given a second chance regardless of the risk that their attendance and achievement might well have a negative impact on judgements about the performance of the school.

We are proud of our inclusivity but are being made to pay the ultimate price for it.

So what of this consultation process?

We have heard the cabinet member assert on local radio that closure is not a foregone conclusion. Do we believe this? We recall the Hornby experience. The omens emanating from County Hall are not good.

The inconsiderate timing of the decision to consult and the structure of the process arouse suspicion.

Senior officers should be prepared to face in a public forum those whose lives could be radically affected by their decisions but are not scheduled to do so.

Nevertheless, we will fight to keep the school. We trust that the power of public opinion in favour of this school will sway elected members in the County Council.

Above all, we believe passionately that parents, present and in the future, need a range of choices for their children.

Our overriding conviction is that all children have the right to receive an education that is appropriate to meet their individual needs in an environment in which they feel safe and can thrive.

Susan Willoughby (Mrs), Chair of Governors, Pat Quinton, Roger Frankland, Andrew Manwaring, Sandra Jones, Karena Kyne, Janet Hall, Karen Leytham, Jez Reay

Governing Body of Skerton Community High School

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