The decision by Sheffield City Council to close Abbeydale Grange School, which was met with some pretty bitter opposition, is bound to become one of the key local issues in this year’s general election.
Paul Scriven, currently leader of the council, will be standing for the first time as the LibDem party political candidate for Sheffield Central this year. As long time Labour MP Richard Caborn will be standing down*, Scriven will be up against another newcomer, Paul Blomfield, who you’ll be surprised to hear spoke out against the closure of Abbeydale Grange at every opportunity.
*Nothing to do with expenses, he announced his departure in 2007
Hundreds march against school closure
22nd November 2009
Hundreds marched through Sheffield yesterday to protest against plans to close its smallest secondary school.
Parents, pupils and teachers marched from Mount Pleasant Park on Abbeydale Road to the city centre, chanting “Save our school”. They assembled outside the Town Hall to hear speeches from staff, children and local politicians.
Many of Abbeydale Grange’s pupils are asylum seekers and Burmese refugees for whom English is a second language.
The school was described as “inadequate” by Ofsted inspectors in March. As a result it was placed in “special measures” status, under which the school is subject to close scrutiny and given an action plan for improvement.
In July, the council decided to allow Abbeydale Grange six months to try and find another school to enter into a partnership, sharing a Headteacher and board of governors. They have so far been unable to find a school willing to form a “hard federation”.
Labour party parliamentary candidate Paul Blomfield, who visited the school and met with pupils on Friday morning, said: “Like everybody here, when this sorry mess started I denounced the consultation launched by the council as a sham. They weren’t prepared to consider realistic options for the future of the school. They were only willing to consider options that they knew were doomed to fail. It’s been an outrageous process.”
Green Party councillor Rob Murphy said the school’s poor exam performance was a symptom of a lack of investment in the school.
He said: “The results are improving. Give us the £14m promised for new buildings and modern facilities and they’ll be better”.
He also expressed disappointment that Nick Clegg did not plan to attend Friday’s public debate. He said “I think he could learn something. Still I guess he’s got some gardening to do sometime”, a reference to Liberal Democrat leader’s recent expenses revelations.
Teacher and campaigner Ibrar Hussain spoke passionately, despite having nearly lost his voice. He said: “We have got to fight this to the bitter end. There’s no way I can sleep a wink until I know we have justice for our school.”
Council votes to close failing school
10th December 2009
Hopes for a stay of execution for struggling Abbeydale Grange School were dashed on Wednesday after Sheffield City Council ruled that it should close.
The Liberal Democrat Cabinet voted in favour of recommendations made in a report by Sheffield’s director of education, Dr Sonia Sharp, that the school should be shut down and the children transferred to other schools. It emerged during Wednesday’s cabinet meeting that it was to be a whip decision, not a free vote.
Abbeydale Grange was placed in “special measures” status in March after being declared “inadequate” by Ofsted. It also failed to meet government targets of 30% of children achieving five or more A*-C grades at GCSE.
The school has also seen a steady decline in the number of local parents choosing to send their children to the school, with 200 places left unfilled in 2008.
The most recent Ofsted interim report said the school had made “satisfactory progress”, but cabinet member for education Andrew Sangar said that this would not be enough to turn the school’s reputation around.
Abbeydale Grange is Sheffield’s smallest secondary school, and counts a number of Burmese refugees and asylum seekers among its pupils. The school also works in partnership with the Northern Refugee Centre to support refugee parents.
Headmaster Graham Black criticised the council’s handling of the decision, but was not surprised by the outcome. He said, “We could almost predict this type of outcome, however, when you actually see and hear it happen it’s very disappointing. I do believe the council cabinet haven’t had all the facts and they certainly didn’t take up my offer to come into the school and have a personal meeting with me to get some of the most up to date facts and views on the process. I offered them a warm invitation and they didn’t even reply let alone come into the school”
Cabinet member for Education and Children’s services Andrew Sangar said, “Only 7% of local parents who have Abbeydale Grange as their catchment school choose to send their children there. A staggering 93% of local parents send their children elsewhere. Therefore Abbeydale Grange is not a school that is supported by the majority of it’s local community.
“Abbeydale Grange also achieves some of the worst exam results in Sheffield. In 2009 it’s estimated that just 22% of pupils achieved five A* – C GCSEs including Maths and English, which is considered the basic qualifications needed for young people to go on and achieve their full potential.”
Labour party parliamentary candidate Paul Blomfield branded the consultation process which led to the decision a “sham”.
He said “Today’s decision by the Lib Dems’ to close Abbeydale Grange is a sad day for education in our city, but it comes as no surprise. It’s been clear for a long time that the Lib Dems were planning to close the school regardless of what everyone else said.
“The message I’ve repeatedly heard from parents is that they feel the Lib Dems haven’t listened to them, and I think they’re right to feel angry. The Lib Dems ran a sham consultation and failed to look properly at all the options to keep the school open.”
The school will begin “phased closure” from next summer so year 10 and 11 students do not have to move in the middle of studying for their GCSE exams.