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Monday, 22 September 2014

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Battle lines drawn as parents vow to fight Cumbrian school closure

Angry parents and pupils have vowed to fight controversial plans to close Southfield Technology College and create a Workington academy.

Southfield closure meeting photo
Parent Eddy Wilson at the meeting

A packed meeting heard how parents were bitterly opposed to the plans to create an academy by merging Southfield and Stainburn, and a 15-year-old girl accused education bosses of ignoring pupils’ feelings

The meeting, the first of two about the proposed closure of the schools, which were both put into special measures last month, heard from council leaders how it was “not a forgone conclusion”.

Parent Carol Bates, of Salterbeck, said she would start a petition to keep the Moorclose school open.

She was one of many people at last night’s meeting who appeared to be bitterly opposed to the academy merger plans.

She said: “They are going to have a fight on their hands. This is our local school and it should stay in our local area.”

Independent Allerdale councillor Denis Robertson said he would back the campaign amid claims its closure would “tear the heart out” of the community.

Demands by John Bracken, Independent town councillor for Moorclose, that both schools be kept open were also greeted with loud applause.

Serious concerns raised by the proposals included possible disruption to pupils and the effect on their GCSE results.

It was also suggested that increasing numbers of parents would seek to send children to schools outside Workington in response to the crisis.

Caroline Sutton, the county council’s assistant director for schools and learning, reassured parents that the closure of both schools was “not a forgone conclusion”.

But she also told them that the future of Southfield was not sustainable because of declining pupil numbers.

There are 350 pupils at Southfield, while there are 623 at Stainburn.

Creating a single new academy, she said, would mean that more money could be spent on the pupils rather than on maintaining two buildings.

Parents, teachers and pupils were told that they had a “key voice” in the consultation.

But Ms Sutton was also forced to admit that there would “no choice” over the academy path if the decision was taken to close the school.

“The Department for Education is clear that any new school must be an academy,” she added.

But Samantha Tear, 15, of Gilgarran, accused the council bosses of ignoring the feelings of the students.

“You are just talking about the schools. Do you think about how that is making us feel? We don’t know where we are going to be in the future.”

Rennie Nicholson, 44, said she was worried about the effect of the transition on the grades of her 15-year-old daughter, Rachael.

“This is a crucial time for these students,” she said.

Karen Brown, 47, of Salterbeck, whose daughter Ellie goes to the school, said that she did not see the need for an academy and wanted things left as they were.

Husband Chris, 50, said: “Why should our kids have to go through this? It’s a joke!”

The headteacher at Brampton’s William Howard School is to become executive head of the two failing schools.

Lorrayne Hughes will take up the interim position managing Stainburn School and Science College and Southfield Technology College as they prepare to be formally closed and be turned into a single academy.

Cumbria County Council has tabled proposals to shut the schools at the end of December and launch a search to find another organisation, a sponsor, to run a new academy that will replace them from January 2015.

The announcement of two interim headteachers for each school is likely to take place tomorrow.

The county council’s executive is due to make its final decision on the schools on July 24.

The proposed academy would open across both sites until the new building is completed though it isnot known when this would be.

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