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Friday, 24 October 2014

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Where now for £35m schools plan?

COPELAND’S MP and Cumbria County Council have cast doubts about Whitehaven School’s role in a new multi-million-pound educational village now it has become an academy.

They both say the plans are still on the cards but Whitehaven School’s involvement in its vision is unclear.

MP Jamie Reed claims it will be legally more difficult – or perhaps even impossible – for the academy to be part of the plans because it gets its funding directly from government, not the local authority. But Bright Tribe, which runs the academy, says it intends to continue to be part of the discussions and wants to work with partners to get the best for the school.

Last year plans were looked at by Cumbria County Council for a £60million educational campus which would involve rebuilding a smaller Whitehaven School where it now stands and co-locating St Benedict’s and Mayfield schools on the same site. It was at a very early stage and no firm plans were in place.

Mr Reed says local partners, including schools, councils and nuclear partners, are working together to see that an educational village happens on a different site and the estimated cost will be around £30million to £35million. It could happen in the next 12 months.

He said: “I have tabled Parliamentary questions to determine how an academy school can share a building owned and occupied by two other local-authority-run schools. This appears to be unprecedented and may not be possible. If it isn’t possible, the whole town will find it inexplicable that the leadership of Whitehaven School would deny the pupils and the community the chance of a new school twice in recent years. In any event, the new school project will proceed.”

Mr Reed said that when he sought funding for West Lakes Academy in Egremont he did the same for Whitehaven School, which was not taken up by the governors.

He said: “Recently, having watched funding for new schools disappear under the current government, the leadership of Whitehaven School opted to become an academy in the full knowledge that there would be no money forthcoming from government to build a new school. At the same time, plans and discussions were being held amongst local partners in which Whitehaven School was involved that outlined the new schools concept, including how this would be funded.”

He said he wants to meet with the school to understand what its plans are, including how it plans to find the money for a new school if its decision means it cannot legally be a part of the new project.

He said: “My aim is for local partners to have identified a new school site and to have a spade in the ground within 12 months – I hope Whitehaven School will be a part of that.

“Nothing is more important than our children’s future. The best interests of the town and of local pupils will be served by Whitehaven School being part of the new schools project.”

Joe Smith, chief operating officer of Bright Tribe, said the trust has been invited to a meeting later this month. It will also meet county council officials to discuss numerous issues, including the educational village.

He said if it goes ahead, there will be “considerable complexities” to take into account as Whitehaven School is an academy, St Benedict’s is a faith school and Mayfield is run by the local authority.

“Before we took on Whitehaven School we carried out an infrastructure review of the building and conditions. We are all well aware of the state of disrepair but we are where we are.

“We aim to deliver the best quality education we can. We will talk with anyone that will make improved or replacement provision for pupils. We want to work in partnership with all those concerned – the councils, local schools, Mr Reed and everyone else to get the best for the school.”

Whitehaven School’s headteacher Lynette Norris said the school attended a presentation in October 2012 about the campus vision. At the time they asked Cumbria County Council whether becoming an academy would rule the school out of the plans. They claim they were told that it could complicate matters, but it wouldn’t rule them out.

This week Coun Stewart Young, leader of Cumbria County Council, said: “I am very disappointed Whitehaven School has pressed ahead with their plans to become an Academy. We were in discussions with them before Christmas and urged them to reconsider the effects of this choice upon the plans to bring three schools together onto a new campus at the Whitehaven School site, but they declined to do so.

“Despite this setback we will continue to work with the local MP, St Benedict’s, Mayfield and other local partners to secure the necessary improvements to the schools estate in the town as the county council remains committed to improving educational facilities in Whitehaven.”

Mr Reed added: “Our town needs to see a crusade in secondary education; our economic future depends on it. We have some good teachers, some good schools, some fantastic pupils – but I want it to be, and it must be, better.”

Have your say

yes they may have jumped the gun with bright tribe but whitehaven school over the past 5 years has suffered at the hands of local council and government for to long. building schools for the future BSF bid fell through due to change in government and other plans have come to nothing. Seeing a chance for change whitehaven school opted away from local government and county council trying ourselves to better the schools in whitehaven and not sitting on political promises that could still come to nothing.

Posted by inside the schools on 17 January 2014 at 08:49

As a parent of a child who attends Mayfield, I am surprised to read about this, and disappointed that discussions seem to have taken place without the knowledge of the mayfield community, given the timescale is for a quick resolution. Shameful! Mayfield is a special school for the whole of the west Cumbria, not just whitehaven. It is independent, and has no affiation to feeder schools. It is an outstanding school with outstanding resourses and staff. Has jamie reed considered whats best for special needs pupils, and not his ego?

Posted by Special school parent on 16 January 2014 at 20:02

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