VICTORY FOR ST GEORGE'S!
Under the powers conferred on me by the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the Regulations made thereunder, in relation to the proposals published by Salford City Council: I do not approve the proposal to discontinue St George's Roman Catholic High School, Salford from 31st August 2012
Signed: Schools Adjudicator: Canon Richard Lindley
Dated: 6 November 2009
Never in the history of Salford has there been such a bitter battle over a school. And, probably, never in the history of Salford has the school actually won!
Despite consultation after consultation showing that the staff, parents, pupils and community of Little Hulton wanted St George's RC High to stay open, Salford Council has been determined to shut the popular, oversubscribed, successful school.
Over the last few years we've reported how Salford Council identified St George's as a future development site for housing before a decision had even been made on its closure; how the Council charged the school's pupils nearly £2000 to organise a protest march; how the Council handed over the school's playing fields to a sheep farmer; and, most notoriously of all, the Lead Member for Children's Services saying during a public Council Meeting that the parents of St George's pupils have "disgusted" him…
It seemed that the decision to close St George's had gone well beyond reason into almost a vendetta against the school, its staff, pupils and the local community. Fortunately the independent Schools Adjudicator examined the closure case from a neutral perspective and saw no logic in the Council's arguments.
"I have considered the proposals afresh" the Schools Adjudicator stated in his report… "The Council's proposals include the closure of a successful and over-subscribed school (St George's), which is unusual and surprising….I do not approve the proposal to discontinue St George's Roman Catholic High School"
The community has backed St George's all the way, even continuing to send first form kids to a school which actually had a closure notice slapped on its front door. Reactions yesterday from staff, pupils, parents and the community were joyous…
St George's Headmaster, Phil Harte, who has bravely ridden the Council storm throughout the process (a lot of which has never been made public) to support his school said: "I must thank all the parents, pupils and staff for their resilience, support and encouragement that has driven the campaign for justice to its successful conclusion."
Pete Fisher, the Deputy Head who called the decision to close the school "civic vandalism" added that it was "An incredibly emotional day for everyone involved. Messages of congratulations have poured in from Salford City Councillors, former pupils, parents and supporters from across the world. This decision is an overwhelming endorsement of the three year campaign to retain St. George's. We owe so much to the justice4georges girls and latterly the justkids4george's pupils."
Tim Griffiths, aged 14, of justkids4georges added "The atmosphere in school this morning is amazing. I am proud that our achievements as a school have been recognised. Where's the party! "
THE SCHOOLS ADJUDICATOR'S WORDS
The Schools Adjudicator stated in his report that "a proposal to close a successful and over-subscribed school has to be examined very stringently and warily, since it is successful and over-subscribed and has retained the loyalty on the part of pupils, parents and staff. SG [St George's] also successfully serves both the Catholic and non-Catholic local community, and its location enables many of its pupils to walk or cycle to school. In this situation, an adjudicator must consider whether all alternative options have been given serious consideration."
He added "I am left with the issue as to whether it is right for a reduction to be made in the overall provision of Catholic secondary school places, if there is no reduction in sight of demand for places in Catholic schools, albeit not solely from Catholic families."
The Adjudicator quoted the Government's Guidance for Decision Makers, emphasising the importance of creating `a school system shaped by parents which delivers excellence and equity'. He concluded "my first concern must be to ensure that the underlying school organisation planning is correct, fair and representative of parental wishes as far as possible. I do not believe that the proposed closure of SG is in accordance with such planning"
The Adjudicator also disclosed that Salford Council had "questioned the propriety of the decisions I was minded to make" and, in turn, he himself questioned the council's assertions that if the closure of St George's didn't go ahead, there would be a delay in refurbishing the school on its existing site and that 241 places would need to be removed from Catholic schools…
"No reasoning was provided for these assertions" he stated "and it is not self-evident to me that the Diocese, the schools or parents have expressed their views of these matters, or that these consequences would necessarily follow in their entirety from my refusal to approve the closure of SG."
The Adjudicator considered three Council proposals together – the closure of St George's, the expansion of St Ambrose Barlow School and the addition of a sixth form at St Ambrose Barlow. He concluded that St George's should stay open, that St Ambrose should have a sixth form but that there was no need to extend the intake at St Ambrose, as St George's is staying open.
JOHN MERRY LOSES THE PLOT…
On the Schools Adjudicator, Salford Council Leader, John Merry, said "I am outraged that his solution is to shut Harrop Fold and give their building to St George's". But the Schools Adjudicator never said this – he merely suggested that an "alternative approach would be the possibility of SG being retained and relocated in the adjoining HF premises. HF remains considerably undersubscribed, with 140 admissions in September 2009 for the 180 Year 7 places available, and its standards of attainment are significantly lower than those at SG".
John Merry's reaction in full…
"I cannot describe how disappointed I am by the adjudicator's decision today which will have a devastating impact on the Building Schools for the Future programme for our Catholic schools in Salford.
"This was a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Salford's children and young people and at a stroke the adjudicator has thrown it all into doubt. The city council is taking legal advice about how we challenge this decision.
"Our BSF programme covers every high school in the city, the whole point of which is to improve the life chances of every young person in Salford.
"Our education results to date prove that we are going in the right direction and our BSF programme was to be the next huge leap forward.
"The Adjudicator clearly agrees we have too many school places in that part of the city but I am outraged that his solution is to shut Harrop Fold and give their building to St George's. I am sure many parents will agree with me.
"We have never said St. George's is not a good school and we have never engaged in any negative comments about the teaching and learning standards there. However, the city council will absolutely stand by the pupils, parents, teachers and governors of Harrop Fold who have put an outstanding effort into their new school – with great results for them and their community.
"Some considerable time ago in an attempt to find the best possible solution for everybody involved, we and Harrop Fold made a proposal to the diocese that St George's join them in their new building to become a joint school site with the right pastoral care for each community. The diocese said no.
"The adjudicator's decision today has far-reaching consequences for every child in Salford but I can reassure them and their parents that we remain committed to working with our partners and stakeholders and won't allow the opportunity of Building Schools for the Future to be thrown away if at all possible."
FURTHER REACTION FROM ST GEORGE'S
"Everyone is really proud after hearing the news - all the teachers are really happy for once. All our campaigning work has paid off. This is a victory for common sense. What we have said for years is that it doesn't make sense to close successful schools"
Joe Nixon, 14, justkids4georges
"This is absolutely brilliant news, thanks to all who have fought to keep our very successful school open. Our thanks to God."
Fr Leo Heakin, Chair of Governors
"It has reaffirmed my faith that every child does matter."
Mrs. Tucker, Assistant Headteacher
"The faith we placed in the Schools Adjudicator has been justified and rewarded."
Mr Richmond, 14-19 Coordinator
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