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SALFORD SCHOOLS FAIL TO IMPRESS
 

Star date: 28th May 2011 

LESS IS MOORSIDE

Salford Council has been shuffling its schools and its schools figures around for years, the latest being the Moorside and Swinton High School mess.

Gareth Lyons tries to get his head around the latest Council approval for a super school at Moorside and Swinton High going academy.

Full story here…


Swinton High School
click image to enlarge

The new Salford Council proposition in the wake of Swinton High School's academy application was approved by the Council Cabinet on the 25th May. It will see the continuation of a super school being built on Moorside playing field, this time without Swinton High which refused its invite to Salford Council's education party.

The new "improved" plans for Moorside High School will see a slightly reduced capacity secondary school, an increased size primary school and 20 place "short stay" school (which in layperson's terms means pupils who have been taken out of main stream education). The building will be the same physical size as the original plan which had been proposed. This is due to one factor, which is cost - a detail neglected in the official statement by the Council Leader to the press. 

Incompetent Consultants or Officials?

The new proposals make a mockery of the projected numbers used to justify the original plans from last year, which were focused on reducing excess capacity to cut costs, one of the main objectives set by the council for the 21st Century Learning Commission. More frighteningly they call into doubt and raise serious questions as to the entire building programme initiated in this city. When the 21st Learning Commission published their report towards the end of last year they stated that a single secondary school in Swinton with a capacity of 1350 would suit the town's needs.

The new report to justify the proposed build of a new Moorside High School calculates that this school, to satisfy its catchment area, needs to be kept at its current capacity of 1050. Something does not tally. It is true that the 21st Century Learning Commission used figures of projected rolls until 2016 and this new report uses figures until 2021. What cannot be brushed under the carpet are these simple facts…

Why is Salford Council party to a building programme which will affect the city in terms of huge long term high risk debt – and one which is based on figures that will be out of date almost before the paint has dried on the new schools? 

If Salford Council's new figures are correct and the merger of Swinton High and Moorside High had taken place, then by 2016 Swinton would have needed another High School Building or a significant expansion to the merged school site.

Cynics and conspiracy theorists may point out that this was easily sorted, as the inclusion of a primary school in the original merged school was subterfuge to get an 1800 capacity secondary school built. This may be further validated from the official press release which states "The building will be a flexible space that will mean the school can adapt to any fluctuations in the number of primary and secondary pupils."

Leading educational figures, including the Council's 21st Century Learning Commission, state that the optimum size for a secondary school is 900 pupils.

If Salford Council's new figures are correct then this calls into question…

* The validity of the 21st Learning Commissions' entire report.
* The competence of the Council officials who handpicked the officials for the 21st Century Learning Commission, who legally bypassed an open and fair recruitment process as well as the councillors who allowed this process to go ahead.
* The competence of Council officials who rely upon the judgements of highly paid consultants (In this case £140,000 was the expected wage bill for four consultants and their year's work)

If, however, Council officials have massaged figures to continue a build because it is "the most cost effective solution" - as worded in the report presented to the Council Cabinet - then, simply put, they should be removed from office and legal proceedings  instigated.

Frightening

What is frightening is the number juggling in order to justify the continued original proposed build, with the Council documentation justifying this by stating it is the most cost effective solution. For whom? The tax payers or the Council's building partner cronies? Shouldn't education be a consideration in building schools and local stakeholders? Surely a school which is too big, is in its own way a danger as there is more space for anti-social behaviour to go unnoticed, less staff to patrol spaces and higher running costs.

This new report is in direct contradiction of the 21st Century Learning Commissions Report which looked at rebuilding Moorside on its own and concluded that "There is a risk that the new Moorside School would not be full and, as a PFI building, it would risk the same budget issues that other PFI schools in the City have experienced".

The problems other schools have experienced is that they are being run under their capacity and over budget. Which results in the Council struggling to finance students' education properly, and paying off the interest from private finance to build the schools.

The original proposals were based on the 21st Century Learning Report which had as one of it's first Council-set objectives being to: "Investigate and evaluate options to make further reductions in surplus places in the secondary sector, notably in the areas where there are schools which are not financially viable".

In contrast, The Leader of Salford Council, John Merry went on record this week saying "The school population in Salford is currently increasing and this new school will bring some much needed extra school places to the city."  Something quite clearly doesn't add up.

The 21st Century Commission concluded that there should be only one non-faith secondary school in Swinton with eventually on roll 1350 secondary students, but with initially 1800 or so and, as rolls fell, capacity could be taken over by Moorside Primary School. The commission concluded that this single secondary school would be popular and therefore and would minimise "the risk of financial problems arising from the PFI build" (PFI are loans from private business, which is a way local authorities can spend huge amounts of money they don't have, and pay it back at extortionate rates over long periods of time).

In Swinton we now have Swinton High trying to get Academy status by getting out of direct local authority control (which in itself is a testament to the local education authorities competence), and a new build 1050 place Moorside High School where the roll for this year, as project by the 21st Century Learning Commission, was 773. 

This new Moorside High School build will cost the tax payers more. By merging the two schools the Council could raise money by selling off land whilst also reducing running costs. With Swinton High's spanner being thrown into the works this sell off of land and playing fields is no longer an option. As the report to the Council at this week's Cabinet meeting stated: "The impact of The Swinton High academy decision has had a significant impact on the funding available"…Meaning there will be more money borrowed and more interest to pay. Will this see an increase in council taxes or more job losses?

It is no surprise that this original conclusion of the "experts" has been ignored. The Council also ignored the Learning Commission's recommendation not to build the Oasis Academy at Media City. This was rejected for the following reasons…

* `A contract arrangement has already been signed and is in progress to deliver this scheme'
* `The regeneration of Salford Quays through MediaCityUK investment requires provision of an outstanding school'
* `Considerable investment and future committed investment has been made available to the scheme'

In short, the contracts to build this school were made before the independent report had been concluded. No matter what the implications would be for the rest of the education city wide!

The new proposals for a single school on the site of Moorside playing fields are sure to be a blow to residents who in all probability will find themselves fighting a battle against the increased congestion and noise pollution, loss of green space and communal space (even though people who take their kids on there to kick a football are trespassing.)

It is hard to see how the teaching staff at Moorside will be against a proposal of a shiny new school when their jobs are no longer in danger from an amalgamation, with their colleagues at Swinton High and their Headteacher Mr Ogden on record saying, "This is what the staff and pupils of Moorside High School have been waiting for ".  The same may be surmised for the parents of students.

The new proposal as set out in the Council documentation sees the following;

* A replacement 1,050 place school for Moorside High School;
* A replacement 630 place school (plus 60 place nursery) for Moorside Primary School;
* The creation of a 20 place Short Stay School.

I am not saying the Council is right or wrong with this decision. But to have a report done internally that contradicts what the "independent experts", who were hand chosen by the Council, does look extremely strange. Especially with the short space of time between reports. It does look to me like someone has decided there will be a new school built on Moorside playing fields whatever the justification.

In light of the recent criticism - or being less diplomatic the Council's disastrous and incompetent handling and running of the Children's Services and the refusal of those at the top such as the Chief Executive and leaders of the council to resign - there should be a completely Independent review of education and its provision within this city.

The issue is not the need for the rebuilding/replacement of Moorside High School, but the changing of the goal posts. Why they have been changed and why is a school going to be built, which an independent set of commissioners said was not a viable option in view of the Council's own educational financial black hole? 

It is discouraging reading this document that the justification in these plans is simply cost - it is too expensive to redesign plans, it is too expensive not to build it now.

I must be a complete fool but how can a building that has not been built be too expensive not to build? Unless the unconfirmed rumours from Moorside High School staff are correct, and everything has been bought by the contractors.

There is little mention in this report of, as Tony Blair put it, `Education, Education Education'. It is all Cost, Cost, Cost.

If they are building a school on Moorside playing field it should be for the right reasons, to provide high quality education. Not because, as many locals have suggested to me, that agreements made at the golf club need to be kept.

 

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