Guest Author Mike WARD, former Chair of the Eskdale School Board of Governors, identifies a practicable alternative to Pete DWYER’s Report to County Councillor Arthur BARKER; an alternative that is conspicuously absent from the Report – and, more importantly, from the draft consultation document.
2 Heads Are Better Than 1
The Status Quo
The Report prepared by Pete Dwyer, Corporate Director of Young People’s Services, on the future of educational provision in Whitby leads to the conclusion that there is no other option but the closure of Eskdale School.
This has been NYCC’s preferred option for at least 10 years and maybe considerably longer.
They have refused to consider and cost alternative solutions and are opposed to any independent review of the present situation.
They insist that they want the best for our young people, but think that their option is the only viable way forward. The cynical amongst us might even be lead to think that their motive is financial.
Everyone agrees, even NYCC, that mistakes were made in the early 70’s when 11-14 middle schools were created with a decision based on buildings not educational need. Most would also agree that transfer at 14 is not ideal, though this is to take nothing away from Eskdale and the old Caedmon School (CS) for the education they have provided to date.
Whitby needs change and all parents must appreciate the difficulty of the decisions lying ahead – decisions that will have to be made for the whole area. The current debate should not be about the protection of Eskdale as an 11-14 school. The Governors had already made the decision to move to be an 11-16 school – which the County is now blocking, by this ‘one option’ consultation, to force through closure.
No-one should ever underestimate the desirability of parental choice at 11.
In many other areas of North Yorkshire you are not required to travel 20/25 miles at 11 years old to have choice.
This is now what is being proposed for our eleven year olds if Eskdale closes.
Eskdale Governors realised some years ago that to offer the best for their students, they had to become an 11-16 school catering for 550/600 students.
A business plan was drawn up to this end. Yes, it showed a deficit budget in the first couple of years but it soon moved into self-sustainability.
The issue currently being faced by NYCC is not the best provision at 11-14. Middle schools must be considered a failed experiment, given the issues created by transfer at 14. The issue now is how best to cater for education from 16-19?
It is this that now needs to be discussed first before trying to implement a piecemeal solution with the creation of one split site 11-19 school of some 1600+ pupils making it one of the largest schools in the County. Split sites have proved to be problematical to say the least and a 6th form in Whitby trying to cater for both academic and vocational options will never be achievable.
Caedmon College Whitby (CCW) needs the money presently provided for the education of 11-14 Eskdale students to subsidise 6th form provision at CCW.
The important question for parents now to consider is: Do you want your 16-19 year old to be educated in Whitby?
If you look at student figures for CCW, you will see that already many of our 16-year-olds do not go to CCW but opt for courses outside of the town.
Many more leave CCW at 17.
CCW simply cannot provide the wide educational opportunities and experiences that are on offer elsewhere. They will never be able to do so – even with the money from Eskdale students, or with subsidies from the County.
The same must surely be true when choosing those vitally important life changing post 16 educational opportunities.
We live in a rural area. You wouldn’t go to Whitby Hospital for life-threatening heart by-pass surgery; rather opt for a centre of excellence, such as James Cook.
Going forward, more and more students will opt to travel. That is the demographic trend. But a decision on the future is required now, not later.
If sufficient students did opt for the same course options, then some provision could remain in the town on a small campus, affiliated to Scarborough College (i.e. under the same Principal).
However, for very many more, if the very best educational provision is required at 16 then there are, and will remain, better alternatives in Scarborough, Guisborough, Redcar and Middlesbrough once travel at 16 is accepted by a majority. Maybe the figures already show over 50% of our 16-19 year-olds being educated outside the town. Subsidised travel is provided by some institutions but there should be free travel for all.
If we no longer have to consider 16-19 education, we can focus solely on the needs of our 11-16 year olds.
With current buildings, we could have one 11-16 split site school for 1,200 pupils or two 11-16 schools based on two of the existing sites.
A split site 11-16 school, as mentioned above, should not be considered, especially if you look at the problems elsewhere in the County. Nor would it give that important parental choice.
The Undisclosed Best Option
Two 11-16 schools seems to offer the very best solution.
Very little extra building would be required on the old Caedmon School (CS) site, though an additional 6 classrooms would be needed on the Eskdale site.
The old Whitby Community College (WCC) site could be sold off to pay back deficits and allow for investment in the two new schools.
Consider the prospect of
- Two 11-16 schools offering parental choice.
- Two 11-16 schools which, with the right leadership, could offer co-operation at examination level to ensure all options were covered.
- Two 11-16 schools which might even specialise in different areas of the curriculum.
- Two 11-16 schools offering the very best educational provision, at the right time with the right opportunities at the right cost.
Any decision taken now will influence education in Whitby for years to come.
It has to be right for the future of our students.
We should not be consulting on just one option – that preferred by Pete DWYER – without fully costing and considering any alternatives.
If Pete Dwyer is serious about wanting to do the very best for our students then there should be an independent review NOW.