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Anger over Free School bullying

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ANGRY councillors at Warrington have “called in” the controversial decision to allow moves to enable a Free School to be established in the town.
Labour and Conservative councillors have joined forces to demand that the decision – made by the council’s executive board on May 22 – be examined by a special scrutiny committee.
Education secretary Michael Gove and officials from the Department for Education (DFE) have also been requested to attend the meeting on June 13.
Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Paul Bretherton said: “Committee members will now have the opportunity to consider the merits of the ‘call in’ and question the decision makers in this process. We all need to establish whether it has been taken within the principles of good decision making.”
The controversy centres on moves by a group of parents in the Padgate area – backed by the DFE – to set up The King’s Free School in the buildings currently used by Woolston High School.
All parties on the borough council want to convert the high school buildings for special education needs and have approved plans to do so.
But the DFE was indicated it could use special powers to take over the high school for the new Free School unless the council makes alternative accommodation available.
As a result, the council has reluctantly agreed that empty classrooms at Bruche Primary School could be used temporarily by the Free School and that, subject to planning approval, land could be made available at Hillock Lane for permanent buildings for the Free School.
Education chief Cllr Colin Froggatt and Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Ian Marks have both accused the DFE of trying to “bully” the council over the issue.
Leading the “call in” Labour councillor Lottie Ladbury (pictured) said: “For over two years we have been working up plans to provide decent educational facilities for 200 of our most disabled children, but these plans now seem to be under threat by the pressure being put on the executive board by the DFE. who have effectively said, if we don’t grant them planning permission they will take away the land we desperately need.”
Cllr Ladbury said the DFE appeared to be forcing the council’s hand and, as a result, there was inadequate consultation.
The call-in is supported by Conservative leader Cllr Paul Kennedy and education spokeswoman Cllr Sheila Woodyatt.
Cllr Kennedy said: “I am not opposed to Free Schools, but in this case it seems the council is acting under duress. Warrington has long-standing plans to use Woolston High School for Special Needs education which appear to be put in jeopardy.
“I do think the DFE need to be made aware of the special circumstances here in Warrington.”
Woolston High is due to close at the end of summer term in July and the King’s School – which is already advertising for staff – hopes to open in September.

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10 Comments

  1. council tax payer on

    Get real! If the DfE want to do this WBC will not stop it. There should have been this concern for Education when the school was closed by Mrs Woodyatt and her colleagues. The schools that are being suggested to be moved to the Woolston Site have just received and outstanding grade from Ofsted – why can you not leave them alone?

  2. WBC may not be able to stop it but credit to them for trying. It’s good to see a united front from all parties, which must say something about the depth of feeling here.

    Does “Free School” refer to the expectancy of the people behind the King’s School to acquire these premises for nothing?

    Ofsted demand continuous improvement, maybe that’s what WBC are planning at the Woolston site.

  3. How dare Michael Gove dictate what our council does with its assets?

    Previously some have crtiicised members of the council for speaking their minds on the basis that they live in different parts of the borough to Woolston – well I can guarantee they know considrably more about the situation and the needs of the area than Gove sat in Whitehall.

    Despite what a vocal minority may think, a “free school” is not needed in the area and the fantasy of it re-crerating the, supposed, paradise on earth of Woolston High School, does not change that.

    The fact is that up to now schools, including Woolston High School, have functiioned within a proper framework , including working to standards and guidelines, many of which the “free school” will not have to meet. Any success can , at least in part , be seen as a result of those standards and guidelines. Is it really worth the risk?

  4. The parents and advocates of the Free School are being used as pawns, blinded by the idea of having a High School back in Woolston, regardless of the logic, the number of pupils in the area and the fact that the Woolston site has long been earmarked for development as a special educational needs centre. Do they share Gove’s arrogance that special needs are somehow less worthy than the Free School? I sincerely hope not

  5. Quote; “For over two years we have been working up plans to provide decent educational facilities for 200 of our most disabled children…….” If these children already have OUTSTANDING education why should it be changed to merely “decent”? Does the reshuffle in school sites really have anything to do with education?

  6. There certainly seems to be “a united front from all parties” fug but whether in this instance it is a good thing or not I would wonder – exactly what is it that they all trying to achieve?

  7. Given recent announcements from Gove, it would appear that there is an ideological shift towards schools becoming profit making. That appears to be the covert thinking behind free schools.

  8. Sha makes a very good point. My son attends one of those outstanding schools and I for one am very worried about the reduction in support when numbers increase to over 200. I prefer the smaller more nurturing environment of the existing school. Obviously I’d like to know more about what the Councils plans are but I can’t see how larger equates to better, I know a lot about the needs of my son and speak to parents and teachers on a regular basis, the consensus around here is that needs are better met when numbers are more manageable and personal, 200 students together with specific needs is a huge worry for parents, how will they maintain the existing outstanding status when all the teachers and students come together? Surely any merger is difficult, I wish that the Council would let us know the plans, it seems at times that they only care about their own agendas. It would be better for all the children affected if the Council would stop squabbling and come to some kind of a compromise. It’s the children that matter in the end not this imaginary fight against the government, Warrington may be a small town but the Council treats us like we’re all stupid.

  9. Sha, I am sure it is not deliberate – but you seem to be confusing the cirumsyances in which “decent” is used, as a part of everyday speech, and the grading term “outstanding” which is used in a more formal, report arena.

    As they are used in two different contexts – one is not inferior to the other.

  10. So 200 children will be moved into a high school that would hold something like 800+ children?? That makes great sense!! It really makes you wonder what the real reasons are for trying everything they can to block it..

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