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27 April 2008

Secondary Schools Council Debate: Lib Dem Reaction

The Council met on the 27th March to discuss issues relating to the forthcoming review of secondary school provision. The Cabinet will have to make a decision on schools in May, and last night’s meeting was a chance for issues to be aired and discussed in public by parents, school governors and Councillors. However, as was made clear at the start of the meeting, no decision was taken at this Council meeting.

The motion which was voted upon was not the one published in the Council papers on 17 March, and the unanimous adoption of the motion did not represent a specific endorsement of any particular strategy or plan for secondary school provision in Bath and North East Somerset. The vote served to officially thank the O&S panel for the preparatory work which had already been done and to formally request that Cabinet take account of the points of view raised at Council when making its decision.

Speaking after the Council meeting, Councillor Paul Crossley said: “I was very pleased that the Cabinet member for children gave a commitment to go over the recording of the meeting and ensure that all the points which had been raised will be dealt with. We will be looking closely at the forthcoming consultation and decision process to ensure this is the case”.

A number of Liberal Democrat Councillors spoke in the debate to raise issues which should be considered by the Cabinet. Several spoke of the importance of ensuring the consultation on changes was honest, open and thorough.

Councillor Marian McNeir called for the consultations to be done “in a sensitive way”. Councillor Nigel Roberts called on the Cabinet to make an effort to contact groups “we don’t traditionally get in touch with” and to consider co-location of community facilities, such as libraries, in new schools.

Councillor David Dixon has been involved in a campaign run by parents for better travel to school provision in the area. He spoke of the need to consider transport and that schools provision should be “underpinned by a sound, effective school transport system”.

Councillor Andy Furse focussed on the issue of co-educational schools in Bath, and welcomed an expression of willingness on the part of Oldfield school to go co-ed given that co-ed schools are preferred by 60% of families. He called on the Cabinet to “reconsider its view on Oldfield school in light of the commitment on co-ed given tonight [by the Chair of Governors]”.

Councillor Caroline Roberts also spoke about Oldfield school and the dozens of communications she, and Councillor Loraine Brinkhurst, had received from parents who were worried and confused about the decision making process. She said “many parents feel the decision has already been made and they have missed their chance to speak out”; she also called on the Cabinet to reach out to parents during the consultations and “don’t just expect them to come to you”.

Co-ed is also an important issue for Culverhay school and this was brought to the Cabinet’s attention by Councillor Gerry Curran, who spoke of the length of time for which this had been an aspiration for the school. He asked the Cabinet to “bring forward a package of support for the school to enable a smooth transition to co-ed status”.

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