Salford Council has done everything to try and undermine St George's RC High School in Little Hulton. It's handed the school's sports field to a sheep farmer, identified the school as a site to build 85 houses while its future was still ongoing, `bribed' the other Catholic schools in Salford to back the closure, ignored consultations that showed wholesale community backing for the school – and charged St George's kids nearly £2000 to march in protest at the closure.
Today Salford Council will be asking the Schools Adjudicator to endorse its hair brained plan to shut St George's and `merge' it with a newly built St Ambrose Barlow School miles away, with 300 less places than are currently available. We asked some Year 10 and 11 GCSE Maths pupils from St George's to try and do the sums…
Maths Question: If Salford Council intends to open a new school with 1050 places. One school, St Ambrose, has 750 pupils, while the other, St George's, has 600 pupils. 750+600=1050. Correct?
Joe Nixon: "It's quite ridiculous"
Hanna Fitton: "It doesn't add up"
Tim Griffiths: "It's pretty stupid"
Richard Cooper: "I find it a bit weird really"
Indeed, the whole saga of St George's is well weird. From Day One, despite St George's being an incredibly successful school in terms of exam results, popularity and community support, Salford Council has been determined to shut it down. Now St George's has brought in a legal team and the School Adjudicator as a last resort to try and reverse the decision.
"This is the culmination of what we've been aiming for" says St George's Head, Phil Harte, who, together with his staff, has bravely put his own neck on the line all the way along to try and save his school for the community.
"We have won the hearts and minds of local people and we have the full support of the community but we have totally failed to sway the Labour majority on the Council, so we've had to go to the Adjudicator and seek legal help" he adds "I have every faith that if the Adjudicator follows the guidance we will win this appeal – I have every confidence in that – but I have been let down in the past because sense and logic hasn't had a part to play in the decision so far. I only hope that at this level sense and logic do have a part to play."
Phil runs through the government criteria for closing schools… "weak schools should be closed and the best schools should be able to expand and spread their success"… "There should be a more dynamic and diverse schools system"… "Parents and pupils wishes should be taken into account"…
"None of these have been taken into account so far" he says "If the Adjudicator follows the guidance in the manual, St George's does not meet any of the criteria for shutting a school – we are not a failing school in any sense so we should not only be kept open, in fact, we should be allowed to grow and develop."
Ironically, stupidly and pathetically, if St George's had been a failing school it could survive by becoming an Academy.
"When I went to the DCSF to look at becoming an academy, the fact that we were a successful school immediately negated us" Phil explains "Why is Jill Baker (Director of Children's Services) and Salford Council going out of their way to support failing schools by allowing them to become academies, and yet are quite happy to shut successful schools – that doesn't make sense to me. And the people of this authority cannot understand that in the slightest."
Phil reckons the only way to understand it is that Salford Council has no `Plan B'…
"I said to Jill Baker `What can we do to keep this school open and what was Plan B?' She said `None'…She even stated at a public meeting that even if there was an extra £20million in the Building Schools For The Future budget she would still wish to close St George's. It astonished the staff and parents here."
In order to force the plan through, and with a nod to the massive genuine public disgust about the closure, Salford Council came up with a plan to merge St George's with St Ambrose Barlow RC High on a new site, previously deemed unsuitable for a school. Indeed, the Council promised the three other Catholic high schools in Salford new build schools in return for the sacrifice of St George's. The diocese, despite initial support for St George's, immediately rolled over and the Little Hulton school was left isolated.
"Jill Baker is the architect of that" says Phil "When we get statements like `We have to have St George's High School closed because it will affect all the other Catholic high school developments' that is not an equal playing field. The Bishop originally said that Salford was better served by having four Catholic high schools. That changed when they got, quote, `a better offer' – not the best offer, a `better offer' which was three brand new Catholic high schools.
"But you have to remember that in the state sector that offer had already been made – every other state school was already being re-built. And in terms of BSF it was more cost effective to build a new school than have a re-modelled high school because of the ongoing maintenance costs. So really we haven't got a better deal, it's only parity with what's already there in the state sector."
But the bottom line is that the community, parents and pupils, want to keep St George's open and have fought to keep St George's open with petitions, letters to the press and two huge demonstrations – one of which was the biggest demo in Salford for years. The fall out has been that the vast majority of St George's kids who left the school this year after their exams have gone outside Salford for their further education. The lack of trust in Salford Council will continue for generations.
"All my family have come to this school as well as all my friends, and they've all come through and got really good GCSE results" says Richard Cooper who's in Year 11 "We've been told that we've got the best RE results in the school since our teachers have been here, and we get better GCSE results than any other school around here. This closure is stupid."
So what will the St George's pupils be telling the Schools Adjudicator tonight?
"I'll be telling him that I think it's quite ridiculous that the other Catholic schools are given the chance to stay open when we're more successful than the other Catholic schools in the area" says Richard Griffiths.
"I'll say don't close the school, it's really good, it's local, it gets good results" says Hanna Fitton "And because it's small you get more attention off the teachers and learn a lot more".
"I'll be telling him that the school at the minute is receiving its best results throughout its history" says Joe Nixon "The closure is quite ridiculous because it's one of the best schools in Salford in my opinion."
If St George's closes, 300 pupils who could have got a really good education will be going missing, forced into other schools destroying parental choice. But St George's deserves everyone's support because, together with the sound educational arguments for keeping it open, there's also the bitter battle that's been fought to keep it open – where kids, parents, community and the school itself have stood up, overcome the divisive tactics of Salford Council, and said `We're not having this!'.
"All Salford Council is interested in is `brand new schools'" argues Phil "That's all they're interested in. It's appalling…Even at this late stage I would say to Jill Baker `Let's talk an alternative plan, let's revise the BSF plan, let's not put everyone's future in jeopardy…"
St George's future is now in the hands of the Schools Adjudicator. This is the last chance for the community to show support. We urge everyone in Salford to turn up tonight and let him know the strength of feeling in the city in support of St George's.
There are two meetings – one at 6pm and one at 8pm at the school.
He's there to listen, and hopefully logic and sense will prevail…
Salford Star says: VIVA ST GEORGE'S!!!
For the history of St George's battle see Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6