Abbeydale Grange - The Whole Story

Part 4

According to the script, Abbeydale Grange should have been a thriving and progressive suburban comprehensive school that gave credence to the much quoted phrase "equality of opportunity". This never was the case and the ostensible reasons are in both of The Guardian articles. However there is a few areas that have not yet been touched upon and it is these that are the most disturbing.

The late 1960's and early 1970's saw a general improvement in both the well-being and status of the British working classes. Measured by whatever indices you like, the gaps in inequality were narrowing and the prospects for real advancement were promising. Of course the British "Establishment" would not tolerate this state of affairs persisting. The more wilder elements in the intelligence services and military were formenting various plots to destabilise the elected government but I believe that the more insidious decision was taken to "de-educate"people in the state sector.

Nick Davies hints that when he states

“The comprehensive were attacked at birth by the subtle power of British class and then quietly smothered by the education reforms of the 1980’s” he acknowledges but “did the Tories” he wonders “set out to kill the comprehensives without admitting what they were doing”

I would certainly go further and state that successive Conservative governments went out not to kill the comprehensives but to literally de-educate many thousands of children. Nearly every measure that was introduced by a succession of Tory governments had the effect of lowering  standards and expectations in the state sector.  Year after year the decline accelerated and yet nothing was done by central government to arrest it. Of course blame was attached to others but the bare facts of the matter was that when compared to other Western European countries, state education in Britain was becoming progressively worse and not better. Many children were leaving school after more than ELEVEN years of education and they could barely read and write. And as for mathematics, forget it. Even in the so called traditional subjects of history and geography, knowledge was rudimentary to say the least. It happened and the evidence was there for all to see

No person or body has ever accepted responsibility for this disgraceful state of affairs (nothing new there) but the desired result was achieved. The prospect of a skilled, articulate, well educated working class had receded into the distance and was replaced by a flexible, poorly informed workforce that was incapable of promoting its interests. The common strand that permeates Britain is that of class - it always has.  Education has been at the forefront of the class divide and it is blindingly clear who the winners and losers are. Those that have money, wealth and privilege win and those that don't lose.     

Of course the Tory attacks on the state education went to far. The "reforms" and more crucially the persistent lack of funding had the desired effects. Unfortunately the falls in standards were so great that many employers who use school-leavers as a cheap and disposable labour force were disgruntled to find they were becoming in their terms "unemployable". Hence the introduction of OFSTED, the National Curriculum, League Tables and all the other paraphernalia that is supposed to raise educational standards. Of course these are just sops to soothe middle class anxieties and will re-enforce the class divisions that have permeated the British education system. Even the beleaguered Head teacher at Abbeydale believes that they are “lucky” because “we still have the support of a few middle class families”. So those schools that don't have "middle class support" had better watch out because you don't stand a chance. Of course the rhetoric may change under New Labour but there is no improvement on the ground. In fact there are distinct indications that the old and discredited selective element is making a return in the guise of "specialist schools","church schools" and other establishments that will "cherrypick" the brightest (and those whose parents conform to the perceived standards of the school) and leave the residue as fodder for the middle classes to chatter about. The dishonesty of the politicians is positively numbing. As far as I can see admission to a school will be by interview rather than examination. Of course this removes the one hurdle that sowed doubt in the middle classes. As discussed in the begining of article one of the less appealing elements of the 11+ was the pressure it put on the less academically inclined children of the middle classes. This no longer matters - as long as your children live in the right area and the parents conform to the social mores as dictated by school governors, ability and skills no longer matter. You will move to a far better resourced school than one that caters for the less advantaged children of society.

As one commentator remarked "Hypocrisy runs deep in all middle class institutions. In New Labour, it practically gallops"

But there was a far more insidious factor at work in Sheffield that has never been commented upon. The City Council and its Officers have presided over this dramatic decline and the results of their efforts are there for all of us to see. They have always defended themselves by blaming central government and stated that they were merely following government policy. This defence does not explain why other local authorities who received the same funding and had followed the same policy have demonstrably better educational facilities.

Since the 1970's, Sheffield City Council has had a propensity to undertake experiments in social engineering. It has always turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the needs of the taxpayer and elector and pursued policies that were the pet projects of the "ruling clique" e.g. cheap bus fares, Student Games, Supertram etc. A favoured policy of the Council was the forced integration in schools of different classes and races. The fact that people may not want this was immaterial - the Council knew best. It was as though the Council and its officers had gone out of its way to exacerbate a deteriorating situation. Of course the reason stares out at you as you pass the school.

Although the School has gone into serious decline the land it occupies is still in the middle of one of the most sought after suburbs in Sheffield. Already the Council have sold school land off to private developers for residential development. The buildings that comprised the old Sixth Form Centre (and before that Grange Grammar School for Girls) were demolished and replaced by private housing. (see section 5). The large playing fields that border Carterknowle Road and Springfield Road have been constantly the subject of development bids. At one time even Sheffield United F.C. were interested in developing the site to be one of "sporting excellence" but given their track record in property speculation they were given a wide berth.

All other sections of the site are up for grabs. Just recently the Council's Management of Resorces Scrutiny Board (10th July 2001) gave this resounding vote of confidence in the state education sector in the City

"Andy Beard, Head of Planning and Premises, Education Directorate, advised that the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service had, for some time, been searching for a site for a new Fire Station in the Abbeydale/Bannerdale area with the location being tightly constrained by the Service’s need to reach fires within a prescribed timescale. Consideration had been given to the vacant land on the former Abbeydale Grange Sixth Form site but use of this site for a fire station would have prevented its future disposal as a valuable development site and therefore an alternative site had been identified on the Abbeydale Road frontage of Abbeydale Grange School. In considering the proposal Cabinet had agreed to a request by the School for an amount of up to 150,000 of any capital receipt from the sale of the land to be committed to capital improvements to the School building, to be agreed between the School and the Executive Director, Education, and further, for an amount of up to 50,000 of any capital receipt from the sale of the land to be earmarked for environmental improvements in the Abbeydale/Bannerdale area to be determined by the appropriate Area Panel. He also advised that there was a separate proposal for Abbeydale Grange School to accommodate the Yorkon Building from Tapton School on their site to replace the Sheffield College classrooms from the Bannerdale Centre, a proposal which formed part of the strategy to relocate staff from the education building in Leopold Street but not, at this stage, fully supported by the Governing Body of the School. He circulated maps showing the site in more detail and in conclusion confirmed that the siting of the fire station at this location would still be subject to the normal planning process."

Harold MacMillan's phrase about "selling the family silver" springs to mind. It does not matter what political party runs the Council the end result is the same - education is at the bottom of the pile. It is self evident that the Council ( Labour until recently) instead of alleviating the burdens placed on the comprehensive School by successive Conservative governments, saw an opportunity to go there own way and accelerate the School's decline. 

In my opinion the future for Abbeydale Grange looks grim. In the light of the comments outlined above and the lack of commitment shown in the School, it will be eventually demolished and the land used for superior residential developments. It will of course be an indictment on post war education in Britain but the School will soon be forgotten and I'm sure that many people will raise a glass or two to that.

In fact if you go to the next section you can see how the process started on the site

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This page was last updated on 07/06/10 12:04