Scrapping BSF left children in 'decrepit' schools
15 Jul 2011 http://www.mikebakereducation.co.uk/
It is over a year since Michael Gove controversially scrapped the Building Schools for the Future Programme. My town, Newark upon Trent, was just a whisker away from securing the building of a new ‘Learning Village’ under the scheme. Our decrepit state secondary school buildings would be getting demolished by now; gleaming new buildings would be rising in their place.
We decided not to just accept Mr Gove’s decision and launched a campaign to pressure government for the money to build the secondary schools our town so badly needs. The Support Our Schools Newark campaign began with a few motivated parents and one meeting. Since then over 6500 people have signed a petition in support of our demands. We’ve given a presentation to Lord Hill, parliamentary under secretary for state for Education, lobbied local councillors and met our MP, Patrick Mercer, countless times.
And this month we were told that we would get our chance to talk to Mr Gove himself. He was due to visit Thursday 7 July. Many of us from the campaign re-arranged our day to fit his diary. There were three schools ready to show him around. The local press were primed: surely he wouldn’t come up without some good news to announce? But Mr Gove didn’t turn up. On the morning of his visit, just hours before he was due to talk to the parents of Newark, he cancelled.
Why? We don’t know. His office said he had “diary problems”. We met the local press anyhow and had a lot to say to them. We met our local MP Patrick Mercer again the next morning.
Now we know Mr Gove is a fan of the ‘Swedish style voucher’ system of educating children where each child has a voucher for their education, which can be taken to wherever their parents choose. We can see how a system like that could work in a country like Sweden, where the disparity between rich and poor is far less pronounced than in the UK. It might even work to some extent in Gove’s own constituency, Surrey Heath. The socio-economic profile of the residents there is rather different.
Newark’s demographic mix has all the characteristics of the UK as a whole. The better off can afford to either educate privately or bus their children out of county and into the grammar school system on offer in the neighbouring county Lincolnshire. Currently a third or so of parents make these choices. As uncertainty over investment in our local schools grows this figure may rise but it isn’t an option for all. So what happens to the rest?
Some of us have to rely on local comprehensives because we can’t afford the buses to Lincolnshire’s Grammars. Newark has areas with the highest levels of deprivation in the country. Some wards are in the bottom 10% on a national scale.
And some of us who live in this town could afford those buses, but strongly believe that local children should have the right to be educated locally, in schools that are supported and invested in, rather than left to wither on the vine by government at both a local and national level.
We know the school buildings inspectors that came up in April 2011 (repeating the job that had been done previously by the BSF team) have submitted their report to Mr Gove’s department. We’ve heard a lot of news like that over the year and sadly have got used to hearing nothing further. What we want to hear now is that Mr Gove’s department will put the money they have – which we know they would willingly give to a new free school – into action and build this town the state secondary schools that its existing and future school populations deserve.
Elaine Winter, Support Our Schools Newark Campaign