Chorley headteachers in 'unprecedented' letter of concern over 'free school' plan

CLAIM: The academy boss said children would get ‘more care and attention’

CLAIM: The academy boss said children would get ‘more care and attention’

First published in News This Is Lancashire: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

THE headteachers of all six secondary schools in Chorley have jointly written to The Citizen to air their concerns over a proposed “free school’ for the town.

In an unprecedented move, the heads said they wished to inform parents and the community of the “potential damage it could cause to the education of pupils in Chorley”.

The free school, which has been approved by the Department of Education, but not yet granted funding, is the Chorley Career and Sixth Form Academy.

Its website says it will provide state funded education to a small number of young people aged 11-19.

Once opened it would admit children intending to go to Year 7 in a secondary school in September 2012 or after and current year 9 and 10 students who are finishing their GCSEs and looking to do A levels or vocational courses.

The letter addresses concerns that a new school would draw pupils away from existing schools with spare places.

The Department for Education will meet the cost of building and setting up the academy.

But schools are funded on a per-pupil basis meaning the new academy could take up to £6,000 per child away from existing schools.

The letter said: “There are currently six secondary schools in the Chorley area all of which are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted.

“A free school is designed to meet the needs of the community in areas where there is a lack of quality of provision or choice.

“This is clearly not the case in Chorley.

“There also seems to be a lack of clarity with regards to the vision behind this proposal.

“Initially it was going to be a 14-19 vocational provider but this has now changed to be an 11-19 provider, one gets the distinct impression that the driving force behind this venture is to set up a school of some type rather than to address a non-existent gap in the current provision.”

The letter is signed by Jon Hayes, Wendy White, Julie Heaton, Alan Davies, Mark Fowle and Claire Hollister, respectively the heads of Albany Science College, Holy Cross Catholic High School, St Michael’s CE High School, Bishop Rawstorne Church of England Academy, Southlands High School and Parklands High School.

On its website, the person leading the drive for a free school, Dr Bulvinder Michael, says: “The academy will be a small school with a real sense of community.

“It will have small class sizes so that students get more care and attention every day from leaving primary school all the way through to entering university.

“Students will not waste time and money travelling further than they need to because the academy is in Chorley.”

Various locations in Chorley have been looked at as a site for the new school, including the former CCH offices on Gillibrand Street, land on Bengal Street and the former tax office on Water Street.

The headteachers also expressed concern that the proposed free school would mean “scarce resources will be diverted from the current schools”.

The letter concludes: “At a time of financial instability and reduced funding for education generally any further loss of income can only be damaging to the children of Chorley, whichever school they attend.

“We believe that this is a hugely important issue and local parents, young people and other community members need to be made aware of the concerns of educational professionals and the implications for education in Chorley should this proposal be accepted.”

As reported previously. All six secondary school headteachers have written to The Citizen airing concern about a prposed free school in the town.

Below is the letter in full along woth a response from Dr Bulvinder Michael, who is leading the formation of Chorley's free school.

HEADTEACHERS' LETTER.

Dear Editor,

I am writing on behalf of all the secondary school headteachers in the Chorley area to express our views and concerns regarding the proposal for a ‘Free School’ currently being put forward in the town.

I think that is it important that parents and the local community understand the views of the current schools on this proposal and the potential damage it could cause to the education of pupils in Chorley.

There are currently 6 secondary schools in the Chorley area all of which are rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted.

Two of these schools are academies and two are in the process of converting.

Three of the schools are faith schools. There is also exceptionally successful post-16 provision available in the area at Runshaw and the Preston colleges.

This breadth of provision allows parents to choose the educational establishment that is right for their child, secure in the knowledge that they will receive a high quality education from an institution with a proven record of success.

Due to the number of young people currently in the Chorley area there are places at several of the existing schools and so pupils always receive a place.

A free school is designed to meet the needs of the community in areas where there is a lack of quality of provision or choice.

This is clearly not the case in Chorley. There also seems to be a lack of clarity with regards to the vision behind this proposal.

Initially it was going to be a 14-19 vocational provider but this has now changed to be an 11-19 provider, one gets the distinct impression that the driving force behind this venture is to set up a school of some type rather than to address a non-existent gap in the current provision.

A new school is therefore unnecessary and unwanted and is not based on need or demand from the local community.

Should this application be successful, resources and funding will need to be allocated to setting it up and running it.

This means that already scarce resources will be diverted from the current schools into the new establishment.

At a time of financial instability and reduced funding for education generally any further loss of income can only be damaging to the children of Chorley, whichever school they attend.

We believe that this is a hugely important issue and local parents, young people and other community members need to be made aware of the concerns of educational professionals and the implications for education in Chorley should this proposal be accepted.

Yours faithfully

J Hayes – Albany Science College W White – Holy Cross Catholic High School J Heaton – St Michael’s CE High School A Davies – Bishop Rawstorne Church of England Academy M Fowle – Southlands High School C Hollister – Parklands High School.

LETTER FROM DR MICHEAL.

The vision of Chorley Career and Sixth Form Academy is well set out to transform the lives of young people of Chorley, a town which has higher than national average percentage of young people not in education , training and employment( NEET is above 10%).

Through a rigorous programme of career pathway for young people of all abilities from 11-19 the school guarantees success for all young people attending the school.

They will achieve one of the following: Go to university, gain employment or set up a business.

Failure will not be an option for any student. We challenge any of the six schools to take up the same guarantee that we are offering students who choose the school.

We are committed to improving the actual lives of these young people on leaving education at 18 or 19.

Chorley Career and Sixth Form Academy will provide parental choice for parents wanting their children to have a continuous education from year 7 to sixth form.

Every town around us including Leyland, Wigan, Bolton or Preston have 11-19 education provision.

Why should young people in Chorley be deprived of a similar opportunity?

Why should the young people of Chorley pay to travel to a post-16 provision?

Whilst post-16 providers are currently available outside Chorley Borough we need to consider not only how many of these students make it to post-16 education but in fact how many of the young people complete post-16 successfully to enter university or secure employment.

Research shows that 11-19 provision assures better chances of completing a post-16 education.

It is therefore not surprising that the number of young people in Chorley going to University is below national level and youth employment is at a record high.

Both the NEET percentage and the below national average percentage of young people entering university is indicative that the young people do not have sufficient education provision and motivation to improve their life chances.

There is a gap in this continuous provision and the change from 14- 19 to 11-19 was done on the basis of recognising this obvious gap in addition to wanting to achieve more successful outcomes by nurturing the young people at an earlier age from primary school.

In addition secondary schools who have taken responsibility for your child at 11 at the start of the secondary school should continue to bear responsibility to achieve success at GCSE for every student irrespective of ability.

Parental choices are indicated by first and second preferences of year 7 intake.

In Sept 2011 we have data to indicate that some of these schools had first preferences that were below the school capacity and that parents were offered the school on a second preference basis.

In addition, there is data to indicate that parents who were not offered their first choice chose to send their child to a secondary school outside Chorley Borough Council.

OUR INFORMATION HERE GIVES additional basis for a need for another school which will give parents more choice in Chorley and a different approach to education provision.

We all have a moral obligation to work together to give every young person in Chorley an equal opportunity to succeed in this very difficult work environment.

Post- 16 qualifications at the door step certainly will improve that life chances for all our young people irrespective of background.

As educationalists and members of Chorley community, we should embrace this new opportunity for our young people that will enhance current education provision rather than drain resources as suggested by some who are scaremongering for personal, political or social reasons.

Dr Bulvinder Michael Chorley Career and Sixth Form Academy

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