As one councillor said, it was like groundhog day. Yet again, members and the public were lining up in a last ditch attempt to save Stockwood Green and the two other primary schools scheduled for closure under the 'Primary Review'.
The battleground today was the full council meeting. The line-up was LibDem, Tory and Green members versus the Labour group, ever-loyal to its executive member and axeman Peter Hammond. The debate was forced by Jay Jethwa and her Tory leader Richard Eddy having the Cabinet's closure decision 'called-in' so that the whole council could make its views known.
It started with the public forum, with strong defences of each school put up in statements to the council. I'll copy the one about Stockwood Green, from Mike Landen, below.
The debate that followed had its moments, but never felt as if it was going anywhere. As ever, the party groups formed inflexible lines. A Tory/LibDem resolution called for the Cabinet to re-examine its decision, this time having a lot more regard for the very good reasons for keeping each school open. But as Charlie Bolton pointed out, it would have been much better to have simply voted against closing the schools.
Peter Hammond's performance was embarrasing. With one statement, he managed to provoke an unheard of procedural device, so that his false claims about one school could be categorically refuted from the public gallery by its head teacher. With another, he seemed to be putting the case for council officers to decide policy rather than elected members because they're the professionals. Nothing new there then....
There were a couple of votes during the session - each got a loud 'AYE' from the majority opposition benches, and a loud 'NOE' from Labour. Both were repeated as a 'named' vote, each councillor's vote being recorded. Miraculously, this time all the Labour NOEs became abstentions.
In the end, council made its will known, and the Cabinet was duly asked to go back to the drawing board.
And will it make a jot of difference to the three condemned schools? Almost certainly not. The Cabinet has no constitutional duty to respond to the will of the full council.
Statement to Council 13 January 2009
Re Proposal to Close Stockwood Green Primary School
It is clear that the decision to apply the 'call-in' was made because, in the opinion of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee (Call-in) Panel, the process relating to the closures was not carried out correctly. We now hope that the decision made by the Cabinet to close Stockwood Green will be re-examined. Over the past few months we have presented arguments as to why the case for closure has been flawed and these are 'on record' and so there is no need for me to repeat these. We now hope that the following will happen:
1. The consequences of a possible closure will be considered much more carefully and should include provisional plans for the site, the provision of child-care and nursery provision in the local area and details of the school(s) that the parents/carers will be offered in the event of a closure.
2. That there will be an immediate halt to the misuse of statistics by both Officers and by Councillor Hammond. These have attempted to show our excellent 2008 SATs results as somehow not being acceptable. I suppose it is too much to believe that the more extreme statements that were made, in some cases using data that should not be in the public domain could now be withdrawn, but we 'live in hope' since all those connected with Stockwood Green have been devastated by the completely unjustifiable criticism. All this happened at a time when support was required, not a shambolic attempt to misrepresent the school.
3. That there will another attempt to estimate the number of primary school places that will be required within the local area. This should take account of any new housing planned for Stockwood and should not just be for one particular year as happened when you asked for a reassessment of the number of places at a previous council meeting. I was able to obtain, with some difficulty, the information for a further year so surely officers can give rather better estimates than they have managed so far.
4. Councillors should also note that the school has admitted pupils this academic year who have been unable to get a place at Waycroft School for whom walking to Burnbush School was not a viable alternative. It is not acceptable for 'pram-pushing' families to have to walk a 3 mile round trip to Burnbush School twice each day because there is not a place in their local school.
5. We ask that before any final decision is made that there is a discussion at a local level as to what is required to give a first class primary education for all the children in the area. One council department is in the process of carrying out meaningful local consultation so surely CYPS could instigate a similar process.
(Chair of Governors, Stockwood Green Primary School)