"We've seen it all go wrong with Salford's secondary `Bulldozing Schools For The Future' programme, now get ready for Part Two" Mary Burns Salford Star issue 8 Autumn 2008
Three years ago, in the last printed issue (8) of Salford Star (click here for PDF) the Mary Burns Back To School (er, what school?) Special exposed Salford City Council's mad plans to bulldoze or merge a quarter of the city's primary schools to "save the Council loads of money".
While it was obsessed by getting rid of what it called `surplus places' the programme was based on figures that were "an art rather than science", according to the Council's own Assistant Director of Resources, Mike Hall.
Meanwhile, a secret report by the Lead Member for Children's Services added that the "projected effect" of the proposals in the first five years would lead to a "potential overcrowd" in Weaste, Seedley, Langworthy and Ordsall. And the Schools Adjudicator himself added that the closure of North Grecian Street and Charlestown primary schools would lead to a "possible shortfall [of places] by 2013" in the wider area.
The secret Lead Member's report also stated that the Council's figures ignored the possible impact of new housing developments and dismissed the projected rise in the city's birth rate.
The warnings were everywhere – the Council's own Joint Strategic Needs Assessment until the year 2013 noted "the high frequency of women of child bearing age".
As Mary Burns shrieked in the feature, it was all bound to go wrong. And, lo and behold, it did!
At a meeting of the Schools Forum in July, Sue Wilkinson - whose consultancy, Instar, is paid an average of £12,000 per month (see here) - presented a report which "informed members that there has been unprecedented demand for reception places for 2011/12 along with increasing pressure on Year 1 and 2 places across the city".
The reasons given were "increasing birth rates…an influx of migrants… and the successful regeneration of areas within Salford".
The Schools Forum members, who included Head Teachers, a councillor, top council managers and school governors, "expressed their astonishment that this problem had not been picked up by the Authority earlier"… But it was. Three years earlier. And the Council chose to ignore the potential `problem'.
Which kind of begs the question as to why they all ignored the warnings. The answer was given by Mary Burns… "because it will save the Council loads of money, or as the (Lead Member's) report puts it… `Nevertheless, the ability to generate additional local revenue by generating greater efficiencies through a well managed reduction in surplus places is a real possibility and a goal which we must strive for'…"
Unsurprisingly, the highly paid `efficiency' consultants Capita Symonds and Capita Children's Services had a hand in it all. However, rather than "generating greater efficiencies", the reduction in `surplus' primary school places has led to Salford Council having to find an extra £630,000 to fund extra places in schools, together with the "Health and Safety issues" of schools having to take in extra pupils.
The Schools Forum members actually passed a resolution "that the Forum would like to record its disappointment at the perceived lack of planning by the Authority that has resulted in an untimely consideration of funding for the provision of school places, which has placed a strain on many Salford schools".
Shocking! If only they'd read the Salford Star!
But the story doesn't end there. The plans to "improve matters" were due to be heard by the Forum on October 5th and there were agenda items titled Strategy For Managing School Capacity and The Strategy For The Closure of Schools. Unfortunately these `strategies' were not made public. Just like the report three years ago which warned of the consequences of `greater efficiencies'.
What are they hiding this time? Worried that Salford people might apply some common sense to the Council's plans? Or are they planning to bring in even more highly paid consultants to sort out the mess. Over to you, £12,000 per month Instar!
* See also: Seedley Primary School Trashed
** Salford Primary Schools Mess
*** Salford Schools Demolition