ABBEYDALE GRANGE - 50 YEARS ON.

Part 8

In The Sheffield Star dated Monday 24th October 2005 the following article was printed under the heading

SCHOOLS GOLDEN YEAR 

PLANS are being drawn up for a special golden jubilee event at one of Sheffield's smallest secondary schools in the new year.

'Old boys' from the former Nether Edge Grammar School are invited, along with pupils from the era when the building was the lower school for the large comprehensive created in 1972.
The anniversary marks the date that Manchester architects Taylor and Young signed a contract to design a new boys' grammar school for a 60-acre site on Hastings Road.
The site was already home to three schools – Abbeydale Girls' Grammar, Grange Grammar and Holt House Primary – and the newcomer would not be officially opened until 1959.
But education began there the previous year, when the head, 22 assistant masters and 432 boys moved in a school that was designed to be 'state of the art'.
It used a new system of building – a concrete frame with floors and ceiling formed in pre-cast concrete beams.
The boys' grammar school would later merge with the other schools on site in 1972 to become a large comprehensive of more than 2,000 pupils.
Following further reorganisation in the early 1990s, the school became its current smaller size of around 600 students.
Current headteacher Kate Bull, who has been researching the school's history, said it was a credit to the original design that the school had seen numerous generations come and go.
She said: "But flat roofs are notorious for leaks and this summer the outside of the school was repainted for the first time after 50 years of wear and tear."
Abbeydale Grange is now a co-educational comprehensive with specialist status for media arts, and the building has metamorphosed over time into a school where pupils can experience a multi-cultural education enhanced by some of the latest digital technology.
Kate, who has been Abbeydale Head for just over a year, said her main objective has been to change the school's reputation.
She said: "I was aware that many parents deliberately send their child anywhere but Abbeydale Grange.
"As a parent I know that not every school is right for everyone, but it is difficult to convince parents about the strength of a school when opinions are based on out-of-date information which is then perpetuated in the community. "Our parent governors believe the school has happy, creative high achievers, and confident, articulate and thoughtful young people who are prepared for the real world. That is why they choose to send their children to Abbeydale Grange today."
Kate said the Abbeydale Grange of 2005 was a school of incredible richness.
"We have pupils who come from around the world. Many speak three or four languages already and are soon able through integration to develop enough English to achieve highly at GCSE. We reckon it takes about six months for a teenager to become proficient in English. This is of enormous benefit to our local children who learn directly what living in a multi-cultural society is about and who learn first hand about life in many different countries."
Abbeydale's media arts status means every pupil now has an entitlement to take part in a media-related project each year, such as making a professional rap DVD or preparing teaching resources based around Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet.
And the headteacher is understandably proud of the school's best ever GCSE results last summer, with a 42 per cent pass rate and a first-class 'added value' rating.
Kate said: "Because we are a small school we can model ourselves on everything that is good about primary education.
"We can respond immediately to pupil and parent concerns and ensure all our pupils feel safe and secure. Families are attached to a personal mentor who oversees the progress of no more than 10 pupils.
"We will be proud to welcome past pupils for the celebration."

Two days later on Wednesday 26th October 2005 the following letter appeared in the Letters section of The Sheffield Star from one of the old lags. John says that remembers the school with fondness but anyone reading the letter will perhaps now understand why I felt so "dispirited and disillusioned" with the School.

 

The optimism and confidence shown by the Head-teacher Kate Bull was profoundly misplaced. The decline in the fortunes of the school continued and in December 2008 a report in The Sheffield Star outlined the dire state of the school

SCHOOL FACING CLOSURE AS NUMBERS FALL

"SHEFFIELD'S smallest secondary school is facing possible closure.

A debate begins today on the future of Abbeydale Grange School at Millhouses with options including closure, joining forces with another school, changing the way it is led, or becoming a trust or city academy.

Abbeydale had only 526 pupils at the beginning of the autumn term, with more than 200 places unfilled.

Ministers holding the purse-strings of the national Building Schools for the Future programme have told the city council to look at the secondary's long-term future - with concerns also being raised about poor exam results.

Abbeydale is unpopular with the community it is meant to serve - only one in seven families in the school's catchment area listed it as their first choice during last year's application process. But it has a strong reputation for providing quality education for its multi-cultural students, taking in newcomers to the city from around the world. Half its pupils speak English as a second language.

A further problem is the instability of the pupil population - during a typical year there can be 140 students coming in and out of the school.Consultation groups will be set up by the council to examine three specific issues, beginning in January and reporting in March.

Governors, parents and council officers will look at educational standards, with fewer than 30 per cent of students achieving five A-C grades at GCSE including English and maths.

Feeder school parents, community groups and governors from neighbouring schools will look at the issue of low parental preference rate and low pupil numbers.

A third group of Abbeydale parents, ethnic community organisations and council officers will look at the school's provision for migrant pupils. Closing the school is one way forward but councillors say other options include a partnership with another school or schools, changing its leadership and governors, or Abbeydale becoming a Trust or City Academy.

Numbers don't add up at smallest school

The city's Lib Dem council hope the consultation approach will avoid the acrimony which dominated the proposals to merge Myers Grove and Wisewood schools for more than 18 months.

Coun Andrew Sangar, cabinet member for children's services, said: "This is a radical approach, and one which we think is a first, certainly for the city if not nationally.

"Decisions about local schools need to be influenced by local people, and there's no way we're going out to the community with a done deal on this."

Last year Abbeydale Grange became a Foundation school, taking over greater control of its grounds and buildings in a move which governors believed would give the secondary more autonomy from the city council and help guarantee its future. But education chiefs say they still have ultimate control if a school's standards and results fail to come up to acceptable standards. For Abbeydale to have a secure future, the consultations will have to build up a solid case for its defence backed up by evidence that ministers will be persuaded to accept.

Executive director of children's services Sonia Sharp said it was likely a report on the school's future would go to the council's cabinet in May. She added: "We need to draw a line under the instability that has surrounded this school – it is really important that a clear decision is made."

The pressure that the school was under was immense. The move to "foundation status" in 2007 was a desperate attempt by the school and its governors to reduce the malign and pernicious influence of the City Council who were in many ways responsible for this debacle. But "education chiefs" were not at all phased by this move away from local authority control. They maintained that "they still have ultimate control if a school's standards and results fail to come up to acceptable standards."

The Head teacher Kate Bull appeared on BBC Radio Sheffield the same day as the report appeared in the Sheffield Star. She obviously defended the school but did make one very telling point. Abbeydale Grange was one of eight "failing schools" in Sheffield but it was the only one of the eight that was being touted for closure by the Council. She was puzzled by the attitude of the Council but she need not have been. All they were concerned about was closing the school, demolishing the buildings, selling the publicly owned land and pocketing the Council tax from these new "private developments      

The Sheffield Telegraph dated Friday 5th December 2008 provided a summary of the events

Ten months later the following article appeared in the Sheffield Telegraph dated 29th October 2009

  

Sheffield City Council was by that time working on the "basis of closure" which of course speaks volumes for the "public consultation" process. Even an independent expert suggests that the Council's conclusions were "simplistic and misleading." and that they used evidence that was wrong. Six weeks later The Council came clean

This article on the closure appeared on the Socialist Equality Party website 

Britain: Abbeydale Grange School’s closure agreed by Sheffield Council
By Tania Kent and Liz Smith
26 January 2010

The following article is being circulated as part of an ongoing campaign by the Socialist Equality Party to oppose the Abbeydale Grange School closure.

The Liberal Democrat-led Sheffield Council voted unanimously to close Abbeydale Grange School on December 9. The decision was met with anger and dismay by many staff, students and parents who have campaigned tirelessly to save the school since the proposal for closure was officially announced in July.

The school will close its doors to new pupils by September 2010. A skeleton staff will then remain to enable the Year 11 students to complete their studies by the end of the 2011 school year. At this time, the entire school will then shut. The proposed closure is a blow to all those directly concerned with the future of the school and who oppose the never ending assault on public education.

The Council decision was predictable. The three-month “consultation process” was only ever a means to let off steam. It provided a democratic veneer to cover the fact that there was no legal basis for the school’s closure and that all basic protocols in deciding on school closures were being broken.

Contrary to the repeated claims that the decision was based on poor academic performance and a reluctance of parents in the catchment area to choose the school for their children, the closure has its roots in significant financial considerations and has been engineered over a number of years.

In June 2008, the school was one of 638 targeted under the government’s National Challenge scheme, which put an ultimatum to schools where less than 30 percent of pupils achieve at least five GCSEs (General Certificate of Education) at grades A to C, including Maths and English. They were told to improve their results by 2011 or face closure, merger or becoming Academies.

In the latest GCSE results, Abbeydale Grange was the eighth most improved school in Sheffield. A contentious OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education) inspection held in February 2009 failed the school and ordered it be placed in special measures. Although the school had a further year to improve its results, which it then did within months of the inspection, due process has been disregarded in announcing its closure.

The overwhelming majority of schools under the National Challenge that fail to meet the targets set have either become trust schools or Academies. The governing body of Abbeydale Grange proposed that the school become a trust, and was already in discussions with the Cooperative Trust about this possibility, but this established policy was repudiated by the Council in favour of closure.

Sheffield City Council has in fact cynically exploited the school in order to address its budget shortfalls. In July 2009, the council’s audit committee revealed the council’s debt was £1 billion. Chief Executive John Mothersole blamed this directly on “the carrying out of major projects such as Building Schools for the Future, (BSF) for which we have to borrow first and are then repaid by the government.”

The £14 million BSF funding that has been withheld from Abbeydale Grange will now be absorbed into the budgets for other schools. Last month, Mothersole announced spending cuts of 10 percent over the next three years and the council cabinet are looking to find £18 million savings in order to preempt government cuts.

One area where large sums of money can be raised is through the sale of council land. Abbeydale Grange School sits on 52 acres of prime building land situated in the lucrative South West of the city, where houses can fetch up to £1 million. Recently, planning permission was granted to build a residential complex for the elderly on the lower half of the school land. This follows a precedent set in the late 1990s, when two of Sheffield’s leading special schools for children with behavioural difficulties—Folkwood and Broad Elms—were closed and their land redeveloped for private housing. There have been six applications for the deeds of Abbeydale Grange School since January 2008, including from a Merseyside property development company.

When the Labour government was elected in 1997, one of its election pledges was to end the sale of school playing fields. Instead, up to 2008, local authorities have sold off school land worth an estimated £236 million. The sites of 298 former schools have been sold off and another 188 earmarked for sale. In addition, 1,331 parcels of land smaller than 0.4 hectares have been sold off since 2001, without needing ministerial approval.

Abbeydale Grange became a Foundation School in 2007 and opted out of Local Authority control in an attempt at saving the school from closure. As a Foundation School, the governing body owns the deeds to the land, but if the council shuts, ownership of the school reverts to the council and it can be sold.

The contemptuous way in which the closure of Abbeydale Grange School is being organised must serve as a warning. A precedent is being set by which even the most basic and limited redress that exists for those wishing to challenge cuts and proposed school closures can be brushed aside. Schools in the southwest of Sheffield are already severely oversubscribed, with class sizes of well over 30 pupils. Places allocated for Abbeydale Grange pupils at other schools will end up in temporary classrooms for years to come.

The various teaching trade unions at Abbeydale Grange have done nothing to prevent the school closure and have allowed the proposed redundancies to proceed without protest. Staff have been left in a position where none of their jobs are guaranteed elsewhere. This is in line with the unions' consistent collaboration with the myriad measures imposed by the Labour government aimed at destroying what remains of the comprehensive education system.

The Socialist Equality Party has intervened throughout the fight against closure to insist that only an independent political movement, guided by a socialist programme and mobilising all those involved in education, along with parents, pupils and other workers facing similar attacks, can defend the past gains of the working class.

Appeals to the various pro-business parties making up Sheffield City Council have proved to be a dead end. The school and its governing body have appealed to an independent adjudicator, but all the mechanisms for closure are in place. Parents have been given until the end of January to choose a new school for their children, and some have already left; Abbeydale Grange is no longer on the list for parents to register as a choice next year.

The most important appeal that can be made at this eleventh hour by staff, parents and students must be to the working class in Sheffield to defend public education in the city.

All social gains in Britain, including state education, were won only by and through struggle and in the teeth of entrenched opposition by the ruling elite. Today, amidst the greatest ever economic crisis of the capitalist system, the only way to defend past gains and win new ones is to turn towards socialism. This requires a mass mobilisation dedicated to breaking the grip of the financial aristocracy over society and its resources, placing them under the democratic control of working people. This demands above all a final organisational and political break with the Labour Party and its allies in the trade unions and the building of a new workers’ party."

A fine article but there is one phrase that I would alter "the closure has its roots in significant financial considerations and has been engineered over a number of years". Decades rather that years would be appropriate.

The local Labour MP Paul Blomfield had this to say about the closure

“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. Then they dismissed an excellent report by the Governors outlining a positive and realistic future for the school. The least that the parents, pupils, teachers and governors should have expected was an open minded and fair consultation process which clearly did not happen here. The Council owes them an apology because they deserve better than this.”
Abbeydale Grange has a unique role in Sheffield’s family of schools and there are plenty of unanswered questions about how the Council plans to replace the expertise of the school and protect the interests of pupils. Neighbouring schools will also rightly feel worried by today’s decision as it will have a massive impact on the number of pupils they will be expected to provide places for.”

The Labour Party who have presided over Sheffield City Council for much of the School's 50 plus years also have questions to answer but I'm afraid that the silence on their contribution to its demise will be deafening

The Last Rites  

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