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Concerns over plans for £170m overhaul
NEWS that plans for a massive £170million overhaul of secondary education in Burnley and Pendle have been given the green light has been welcomed by education bosses.
However, some in Burnley have expressed concerns at some aspects of the plans, particularly the racial mix of the new schools.
Reporter NICK EVANS looks at how the doubters could be kept happy as the massive rebuilding programme gets under way.
SARAH Nicholson tried four times to get her 11-year-old son Michael Nicholson into the school of his choice before he finally started at Towneley last year.
The Nicholson's heartache was familiar to hundreds of parents, similarly affected by Burnley's school places crisis.
The problem got so bad that last year a group of parents even set up their own DIY school -- complete with their own uniforms and inspected by Ofsted.
School place allocation has been a problem in Burnley for a number of years, with problems centred on three schools -- Habergham, Ivy Bank and Gawthorpe. Each year the schools receive more applications for places than they can take.
Many parents, particularly those living close to the three schools, felt aggrieved at having to send their children to schools on the opposite side of the town.
The planned shake-up of secondary education, under the Building Schools for the Future programme, should put an end to the annual scramble for school places, which many parents will welcome. But there are still some reservations about the plans.
Among the concerns are that the reorganisation would reinforce social and racial divisions in the town and that the scheme is moving too fast.
However the consultation process seems to have alleviated many of the worries.
Steve Vintin from the NASUWT said: "Our opinion is the same as it has always been. The money is welcome but we still have reservations about some of the proposals, especially the siting of some of the new schools which we feel will just compound some of the problems we have already seen in Burnley.
"We are also concerned about the speed of the proposals. The new schools will determine the education of our children for the next 50 years at least so the scheme needs to be right."
Burnley Council has expressed similar worries that the catchment areas of the new schools would fail to address problems of racial segregation in the town and has urged Lancashire County Council to look at the catchment areas.
They also voiced concern that one of the new super-schools would be built on the current site of Barden School, which suffers from a negative perception from some parents, rather than at Walshaw.
However, council leader Stuart Caddy today said: "There were worries about siting one of the new schools at the current Barden site, but most of the consultation coming back wants Walshaw to be the site which would help with the mix of pupils. Barden also has a rather negative image and basing one of the new schools at Walshaw would prevent that continuing."
County councillor Alan Whittaker, cabinet member for education, also moved to allay concerns. He said: "Time is not on our side on this issue. This is a fantastic investment, the most money I can think of ever being invested in Burnley's education and the news comes as a great summer holiday present.
"We have had responses from many quarters during the consultation period and I am expecting to make a decision about what to recommend to the county council in September. If the proposals are agreed we can move forward.
"We will obviously continue to consult with interested parties as the scheme progresses and we will need to talk to teachers and others and work closely to work out how we can build the new schools without interrupting children's education. That must be our priority."
Details such as how schools will cope with the transition from current to future sites, design of the new buildings and whether work will be funded by private finance initiatives have yet to be worked out, but the new schools could be up and running by the summer of 2006.
The NASUWT will discuss the plans at their next branch meeting in a fortnight's time.