Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education urges Councils to stop being bribed by Building Schools for the Future money into closing good schools – especially as BSF is doomed anyway.
'London's schools at breaking point', screamed the Evening Standard last week (11 November). 'Figures show [primary] schools need an extra 50,000 places'.
Two days later, the Daily Telegraph reported that record numbers of primary children are being taught in schools with more than 800 pupils.
Can't those in charge ever get it right?
These reports are not as contradictory as they may seem. Large schools are almost always created by merging smaller schools. Under the present regime, that usually means effective, popular schools are
closed and sold off. But who knows exactly what the future may hold?
The leading villains here are Labour's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and its Primary Capital programmes. Using billions of pounds of taxpayers' money, Whitehall politicians and officials have cleverly lured local authorities into grandiose school rebuilding programmes which, as often as not, have alienated rather than pleased parents.
The Telegraph reported that parents in London, Bolton, Bristol, Lancashire and Oxfordshire are campaigning against their local authorities. Several other areas where parents are in conflict with their local authority could be added – Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Lincolnshire, Slough, Suffolk – the list could go on.
So what's going wrong? Quite simply, local authorities have stopped listening to local people. Encouraged by ministers, officials from Whitehall are setting the ground rules, whilst local authorities take the flack when it all goes wrong. They've no-one to blame but themselves.
Only last night a Bedfordshire council meeting was lobbied by parents incensed with plans to close about a dozen of their local schools.
What is the matter with Suffolk County Council? As one of its insensitive, irrational re-organisations, the local authority has been planning to close Clare Middle School and compel 11-year-olds to make a 20-mile round trip each day to enlarged secondary schools in Haverhill or Sudbury.
Backed by local dignitaries including Tim Yeo MP, parents and their supporters have made massive efforts to produce a more sensible (and less costly) plan to keep Clare Middle School open and turn it into an 11-16 secondary school by adding a few classrooms for older pupils, for which there is plenty of space.
Now, following a meeting with shadow schools minister Nick Gibb, they have been advised to explore the possibility of turning Clare Middle School into one of the Conservative's first new state-funded, parent-run schools.
A ray of hope indeed. But why has Tim Yeo had to write to Suffolk's cabinet member for children's services urging him to 'use [his] authority'? And put out a press release saying he hopes 'Suffolk County Council will not take any steps which could jeopardise the chances of this genuinely excellent project getting off the ground'?
The construction industry knows that Labour's profligate BSF programme is probably doomed. When will local authorities catch up with reality? And respond to their voters' needs?