Some readers may remember a Lincolnshire campaign in 2010/11 against wholesale academy conversion, which was a policy that the local authority endorsed. I was fortunate enough to have chaired the campaign, and although our backs were well and truly against the wall and we couldn't stop the groundswell of conversion across the county, much good came out of the debate. Indeed, in the Louth area where the campaign centered, most schools remained within the local authority. It's only now that three out of four local secondaries are converting, and this at the dictate of the Department for Education, not by choice.
Much has changed in the last five years for me personally, and on the back of the schools campaign I stood successfully for election to the district and then the county council. I now hold the opposition portfolio for education in the county, and in that capacity I now find myself offering support to a new band of parents prepared to campaign for education in Lincolnshire.
Mablethorpe has a population of 13,000 and like many of our coastal towns has very high proportions of social deprivation. At the moment it has its own secondary school, Tennyson
. It became part of a federation and then eventually merged with another LA secondary school - Monks Dyke in Louth.
However, pupil numbers have fallen to the point that the Mablethorpe site is no longer considered viable. Results for Tennyson have been historically poor, and an air of uncertainty over the future of the school has been around for years. Parents have thus voted with their feet and a considerable number have opted to educate their children out of the town. This effect is made worse by Lincolnshire being a selective authority, and by Mabelthorpe not having a grammar school option.
Governors of the school were faced with an impossible dilemma. Unable to set a balanced budget, they opted for consultation on closure of the Mablethorpe site. The county council have tried to work with academy sponsors and the DfE on a solution, but all of them have said no. The current position is that the consultation period will start in September, with closure July 2016.
This was the way that Gove always intended it to be and what we campaigned against. He always intended market forces to call the shots. Parents would have "choice." Schools that apparently weren't up to the job would close - they would wither on the vine if they failed.
The current thinking from some politicians at the county council is that parents have made their choice and that the school closure is part of the natural order of things.
I will never accept that. Schools belong to communities and communities belong to schools. We break that link at our peril. What would it mean to the Mablethorpe community to lose its only secondary? I believe; and the new parents' group set up to campaign against the closure believe, that it will have a catastrophic effect on the town.
Closure offers no hope or aspiration to the town. It closes down its future. In planning terms, the community would be downgraded from a town to a "large village." New families looking to move in or remain won't choose the town, and thus the viability of the two primary schools will be jeopardised in the medium to long term. The loss of employment and economic benefit of having a school at the heart of a community will be significant.
This is not a decision to be taken for the short term, but the market forces model only allows for decisions that matter now. The deficit is now. Falling pupil numbers are now. Poor results are now.
And because that matters now, no one wants this school. Other schools were cherry picked by academy providers long ago. The local authority has watched as exam results and pupil numbers have slipped to the point of apparent no return.
Tennyson is the school that no one wants, apart from the communty itself, and I for one am delighted to nail my colours to that mast and help them in their fight. We want to see Mablethorpe get what is deserves and needs - a good local secondary school that serves its community.
Further details on the story can be found here