School closure.

Adrian Elliott's picture
The main story in our local paper this morning was about the proposed closure of a secondary school in the city. The news saddened me. I got to know the school well some years ago when I acted as mentor to the then head.
I liked the atmosphere immediately and soon became aware of the absolute determination of head and staff to raise standards which duly happened. But despite a good Ofsted report, numbers have fallen and it looks now as if the die is cast.

This is not a case where closure is the inevitable response to school failure. Changing demographics have meant that more and more houses in the school’s catchment area have been turned into student lets. And almost certainly too many schools were retained when the city converted to comprehensive education 25 years ago: the school is 11-16 and there are two well-regarded 11-18 schools only a couple of miles away and an outstanding 11-16 school close by as well.

But I was struck by the transparency and time scale of the closure. It is due to take place in 2014 which at least gives both staff and parents time to plan for the future. Whatever the time frame, school closures are difficult for everyone and some might argue for a quick rather than a lingering death. I would disagree.

Michael Gove and his supporters tell us constantly that state education should be more like the private sector. But the problems of independent education (unless they involve sex or substance abuse) are under-reported in the media. What happens, for example, when an independent school closes, an almost weekly event apparently?

I can’t speak for other areas of the country but in this region I know of several independent schools which have shut, not with two years notice but with barely a term. The effect on pupils studying for public examinations and the resultant pressure on parents can be imagined.

Some supporters of independent state schools, whether they are called free schools or academies have shrugged off questions about what happens if they fail with naive comments about letting them close down, as if they were a bankrupt corner take-away.

If some of these people had actually had responsibility for the formation and happiness of young people for any length of time they might have realised this is not as simple as fans of unfettered market forces believe.

In the meantime, another school, in a different part of the country, has experienced dreadful tragedy this week and has been receiving support from its local authority. Of course , I have no idea how effective that support has been but I do know if I had been that head I would have wanted that immediate local support and not be dependent on ringing up the Department for Education.
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Rosemary Mann's picture
Wed, 22/02/2012 - 21:52

Its a shame this had to happen but it seems inevitable when numbers fall.

I think the point about the longevity of private schools is a good one. They can close any time. Most of the long established ones probably won't but people are moving away from the private sector due to financial challenges so its not impossible that such places wont be able to balance the books at any time. Nurseries often fold with no notice so why should private schools be any different. I am not sure about the position about free schools. Presumably they would be bailed out by central government. At least you know the local authority will be there to ensure continuation. That is really why I dont understand why people are so willing to trust new 'start up' free schools with brand new management teams- and occasionally inexperienced head teachers! All business start ups are risky. Why do some parents choose to put their childrens education at risk?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 13:19

That's a good question, roslyn. Why do some parents put their faith in an organisation with no track record and may not even have a site or staff when parents choose the school? Perhaps the parents have fallen for the myth about the dire state of English education. Or maybe there's some kudos attached to being among the first cohort in a "pioneering" school especially if it's one with a high profile. Perhaps they believe government hype about these schools being trailblazers who will smash through complaceny. Or maybe they believe the propaganda put out by some free schools that they will be like private schools only paid for by the taxpayer. But a fancy blazer and a latin motto does not make the school any different from established state schools - it will still be offering the same core curriculum (unless it's a Steiner school, of course, and then science will be sidelined). In reality, the courses on offer may be narrower. And anyone expecting the playing fields of Eton might be a little disappointed when they find the school's been housed in an office block or refurbished church hall.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 23/02/2012 - 21:04

I went through a school closure which was 14 months from announcement to closure. It was horrific for the staff as it was not possible to put coherent plans in place for them in the time available. On the very last day of the school people who thought they'd got redundancy were being told they hadn't and so on. The staff had to absorb so much incoherence themselves while caring for the children during the traumatic process. Your time schedule sounds about right.

On a positive note, Adrian, we did some things which really worked. In particular we challenged the children to do something for the future and they raised enough money to buy and equip a temporary school ( for children in worse circumstances than themselves. They raised money in the traditions ways - the came up with the ideas and did it all themselves.

This focus on doing something really positive which helped them be aware of people in much worse circumstances helped them cope with the emotional trauma and grieving processes associated with their community school closing and I would strongly recommend any school which is heading towards closure considers this example.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 25/02/2012 - 23:13

However having said that I'm now wondering if it will be the evidence required to hang me as the lefty nutter who is responsible for education being in such a horrific state that all secondary schools need to be instantly run by people with no relevant experience with no coherent infrastructure..... Such a lefty nutty will need to be conjured up for tomorrow I assume?

Meanwhile back in the real world - the reason why we created the emergency school project was to deal with the way we all felt disempowered when our community school closed. Decisions were being made far away by people who didn't understand their consequences and cared nothing for the people affected. Creating a project construct that was real and relevant and made it easy for people to do something which would make a really positive difference to this world (by coming up with their own way to contribute to the fund raising or helping a friend out with their idea) turned that sense of disempowerment on its head and neutralised it.

Another school near here focused on allowing students to mourn their closure with flag lowering ceremonies and so on and it was not good or healthy or constructive. Celebrate what's been achieved and have a reflective assembly and a party for the final group through.

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