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.