The ongoing issue of Brownhills School’s withdrawal of community access to its facilities rumbled on this week, as the Walsall Advertiser published another excellent report about how the Spotlight Youth Theatre Group were told they’d have to move from the school last December. It seems, as suspected, that the termination of such community activities has been planned, and ongoing for some time.
For anyone who’s not aware of the backstory the original post is here, and followup here; the Advertiser carried a good report and an excellent letter from the Brownhills Local Committee, whilst the Express & Star also carried a report last week.
Also, in the same paper but not available online, our Member of Parliament, Sir Richard Shepherd, turned his column to the same subject. In it, Sir Richard parrots the line of the Governors, and proceeds to praise the school head, Miss Helen Keenan, and the results she’s achieved.
I include the text of the MPs column at the foot of this post.
I, and others I’ve spoken with, have a number of issues with Sir Richard’s article.
Firstly, I will restate: There appears to be a distraction tactic applied here, in that any criticism of the decision to close the school to community groups is portrayed as an attack on the integrity of the Head or the school. This is not the case. I am under the impression that this is a decision taken by the Governors, and criticism is solely of that decision. It’s perfectly possible to believe that Helen Keenan and her school are doing an excellent job, but that this, looked at on its own, is a terrible decision. Perhaps if the Governors were to stop hiding and actually explain why there was no consultation…
Secondly, whilst it’s nice to be told about selection process of the Head and how wonderful the school is doing, like Miss Keenan’s family background, it’s utterly irrelevant to the matter in hand. I realise the Sir Richard is an outsider and therefore feels the mining reference might chime with the community, but that’s just a tad cynical. It’s a particularly clumsy reference too; read the history of our community documented in this blog alone and you’ll observe that the Miners valued community and education equally. Their voluntary subscriptions paid for local churches, chapels, schools and recreation facilities. They understood that social activity and sport bound us together, just as education gave us the means to progress. I doubt that they’d be impressed with the expulsion of their community from a school paid for by same in the form of tax.
Thirdly, there’s the issue of ownership. There’s a real and valid feeling that Brownhills Comprehensive was built from common taxation, for the people and community of Brownhills. This concept was further expanded by the conversion of the establishment to a Community School in the 1980s. The facilities there were expanded greatly, and this was undertaken on the promise that the facilities were provided for all to use. People worked to support the school in many different ways. Now the school becomes a trust, drops the Community from it’s title and locks the community out. Many feel as if something that was commonwealth has been sequestered.
Finally, it’s always nice to have explained to us in simple sentences that our community provision is financially untenable by a London-based, privately wealthy politician. Sir Richard Shepherd takes a wage of £65,738 per annum, and his expenses – low by most standards – were in the year 2012-13 £111,202.70. This means that our political representation is a bargain at a shade under £177,000 per annum. And yet we can’t afford to let a youth theatre group use an otherwise dormant community theatre, a football team use empty football fields or a swimming school use an otherwise vacant pool. I may be a wizened old lefty, but that does strike me as a tad backward.
The kids learning to swim, the budding thespians in the theatre or the footballers going for a goal on the field didn’t cause the current financial situation, yet they seem to be paying the price. It’s an odd political system that seems to nurture senior politicians and not young talent.
The most striking thing about covering this subject here has been that whenever the decision is challenged, it’s portrayed as an attack on the school, or the head. Reader Harry suggested Brownhills people were dumb and misogynistic. We’ve been told the facilities weren’t used, or the fact that the swim school is commercial somehow invalidates it’s social credentials. All this is nonsense.
This has been a terrible decision by the board of Governors. Even if it couldn’t be resolved, the application could have been handled so much better. The Head of the school – who is excellent, and her great achievements there and those of her staff are not under scrutiny or any kind of criticism.
I just find it bizarre that something that was presented to Brownhills as a shared resource can be so arbitrarily and clumsily withdrawn.
Walsall Advertiser, Thursday, Fbruary 27th, 2014
View from the House
By Richard Shepherd
MP For Aldridge-Brownhills
LAST week’s edition of the Walsall Advertiser led with the headline: Shock as school closes its doors to local community.
The story arose from the decision in January that Brownhills School Governors were having to end community provision at the school.
Until 2010 Brownhills School had a Community Association running all community provision.
At this point it could no longer afford the rent it paid the school. In 2006 the Community Association was paying £128,000 rent, boosted by adult education grants and bids.
Unfortunately, grants and subsidies died out as budgets were reduced in all sectors and eventually the community Association could not afford to rent, which by then had been set at £50,000.
The community association decided to leave.
Both for the Community Association and the School Governors this must have posed difficult decisions for these are people who in many cases also come from Brownhills.
I know they all care greatly about the school and the wider Brownhills community.
Obviously the school’s facilities are part of the school and are used.
Local primary schools use Brownhills School’s facilities and the school itself provides many activities.
The school runs a genuinely comprehensive intake.
The decision of the Governors has to be based on the section 28 of the 2002 Education Act in conjunction with guidance in the Governors handbook for Maintained schools.
This states, within section 6.3.2: “Governing bodies may not use their delegated budget shares for anything other than the purposes of the school.
“The term ‘purposes of the school’ would normally be interpreted as including all activities that bring an educational benefit to pupils at the school”.
I am genuinely interested in the extraordinary process[sic] that Brownhills School has made in recent years and this I attribute to a number of factors, not least the selection of Miss Helen Keenan as headteacher.
This is possibly the most important appointment that governors make.
It is critical to the success of the school – the Governors chose Miss Keenan.
Miss Keenan, the daughter of a miner, grew up in a mining community.
I believe it to be an inspired choice by the Governors and vindicated by the astonishing exam results of last year.
The school had a very good Ofsted report with outstanding leadership and management and was fourth in the league tables in August 2013 – above Streetly and Walsall Academy.
If all school governors could appoint outstanding headteachers and teachers, the four secondary schools in Walsall in special measures would be in better shape.
My own opportunities in life owe much to the love and support of good parents who believed profoundly in education.
It seems to me that this is so in Brownhills and I would do everything to support this objective and of course the unavoidable decision of the Governors to ensure the financial stability of the school and to maintain the remarkable achievement of Miss Keenan and her staff.