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June 17th 2024

Adjudicator makes Closure Decision On Danesmore

DETERMINATION


Case reference: STP/000246

Referral body: Wolverhampton Metropolitan Borough

Statutory proposals: To cease to maintain Danesmore Park Primary School and make a prescribed alteration to Oak Meadow Primary School from 31 August 2007.

Date of decision: 16 July 2007

Determination
Under the powers conferred on me by The School Organisation (Transitional Provisions) (England) Regulations 2007 I hereby approve the proposals with the modification that the implementation date be changed to 1 January 2008.
The Referral

1. Wolverhampton Metropolitan Borough (‘the Authority’) wrote to the Office of the Schools Adjudicator on 11 June 2007 referring to its own proposals to cease to maintain Danesmore Park Primary School and extend the age range of Oak Meadow Primary School.
Jurisdiction
2. In a notice dated 9 March 2007 the LA published the linked proposals to cease to maintain Danesmore Park and extend the age range of Oak Meadow from 1 September 2007. The notice was in the necessary form as required by sections 28 and 29 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”).
3. The proposals fell to be determined after the abolition of the School Organisation Committee and were therefore referred to me as an adjudicator in accordance with transitional arrangements contained in regulations made under section 31 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. I am satisfied that I have jurisdiction to consider them under the relevant powers.
Procedures
4. I have considered the proposals as required by regulation 14 of Statutory Instrument 2007 No. 1355 The School Organisation (Transitional Provisions) (England) Regulations 2007. I have had full regard to the guidance given by the Secretary of State. I have also had regard to the Human Rights Act 1998, and, as required by Schedule 5 to the 1998 Act, to the relevant provision of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

5. I have considered all the papers put before me including the following:
• prescribed information from the proposer as set out in Schedule 3 to the Education (School Organisation Proposals) (England) Regulations 1999;
• Reports considered by the Authority’s cabinet outlining the reasons for establishing the school, the consultations undertaken and the financial arrangements.
• Tables of material facts requested by me.

6. I visited both of the existing schools on 5 July 2007. The purpose of the visits was to familiarise myself with the geography of the area and the state of the buildings. On the same day I convened two meetings. The first was with representatives of the schools and the LA to check that they had no questions about the material facts. The second was a public meeting, attended by about 70 parents, teachers, governors and others. I have taken account of representations made at that meeting.

The Proposal
7. Pupil numbers have been falling in the area surrounding the two schools for a number of years and one of them, Danesmore Park has been the subject of an OFSTED notice to improve following an inspection on November 2005. That notice has now been lifted but the school has 30% of its places surplus to requirements and there was informal consultation about its possible closure. During the consultations, the Governing Body of a neighbouring school Oak Meadow, offered to merge. The LA agreed with this suggestion, which has now become the current proposal.
8. The LA has held meetings with the governors, staff and parents of the three schools to discuss the proposal. It claims that the scheme would help to raise educational standards in the area and, in the medium term, reduce the number of surplus places.
9. Those opposed to the proposal claim that it would reduce parental choice and increase travelling distance and traffic congestion. The parents and staff at Danesmore Park claim that they are being treated as ’second class citizens’. Oak Meadow is staying open with its existing Head Teacher and Governors while Danesmore Park staff and children have no protection. There is concern about special needs provision and the impact of the addition of a nursery on neighbouring providers. Objectors claim that alternatives have not fully been considered. They claim that the proposal is being rushed and does not allow for proper integration of pupils from the two schools.
Consideration
Standards

10. Although Danesmore Park School has now been relieved of its notice to improve, it is clear from the test figures and OFSTED reports that it has some way to go. I have considered the question of whether it would improve more quickly if the proposal is implemented. I have concluded that the school would find it difficult to improve steadily over the medium term if it remains as a separate school. Pupil numbers are falling in the area and parents have several schools to choose from. They are tending to choose the schools where results are better. There is a risk that Danesmore Park will lose numbers rapidly, with a damaging result on its school budget and consequently on standards.

11. I have also considered the effect of the proposal on Oak Meadow. The Governors, Head Teacher and senior management would have to cope with the burdens of a larger pupil population, initially spread over two sets of buildings a mile apart. I have, however, concluded that the Governors and leadership of the school are capable of taking on these tasks without losing their focus on improving standards of teaching and learning (though see the section on timing in paragraphs 20 and 21 below) . Oak Meadow would also benefit from the extra security that more children and staff would bring.

12. I raised the question of provision for special needs and what would happen to the Danesmore Park Unit when the buildings are vacated. Only 16 of the 22 places are filled (only 3 children from the catchment area) and I have been assured by the Authority that its future is secure. However, I am concerned that more planning seems to be needed at this late stage about the future of the unit.

Surplus Places

13. The LA has significant worries about falling rolls in primary schools. There are more surplus places than in most other local authorities (17% net in January 06 - above national average of 11%). The Ashmore estate is one of the areas in Wolverhampton where action is needed with over 30% at Danesmore and 12% at Oak Meadow. The LA projections indicate that this will become worse if no action is taken. There is no new housing planned for the area and no prospect of any other development that would increase the school age population.

Travel
14. I have considered the impact on travel for parents. The schools are very close together and, although there is no doubt the proposal will inconvenience some parents, I do not consider the impact to be unreasonable.

Finance

15. The closure of Danesmore Park would produce a saving of one ‘lump sum’ element of schools budget for the Authority. This amounts to £54,000 pa. Danesmore Park would also lose small school protection of £25,000 pa. Oak Meadow would receive a ‘split site allowance’ of £30,000 pa until the school is re-organised onto one site and there would be a transitional grant of £10,000 to £20,000. The net saving would be in the order of £40,000, to be added back into the dedicated schools budget for other schools in the area. There would be a better use of resources within the new school since there would be only one Head Teacher salary and a saving in other staffing overheads.

16. I understand that the Authority has set aside £500,000 in next year’s budget if the proposal proceeds and up to £1m in the next year for adaptations to the Oak Meadow buildings. Although the present accommodation is in good condition, some resources to upgrade the buildings of both schools will be required even if the project does not proceed.


Community Cohesion

17. Although the Ashmore estate is part of the urban area of Wolverhampton, it is reasonably self contained. A significant number of children from the north of the estate already go to Oak Meadow in the south but there appear to be still some divisions between communities. Having a single site for primary age children on the estates might help to create a more unified community.

Conclusion

18. I have concluded that the proposal represents a proper response to the existence of too many surplus primary school places in the area and to the possibility that falling rolls will threaten educational standards in the two schools. I have decided to approve the proposal.

19. I have given much thought to the timing for implementation of the proposal. I consulted the schools and the LA about modifying the implementation date either to January 2008 or to September 2008. The response from the Authority and Oak Meadow was that they would be very disappointed if the proposal was not implemented in September 2007. They say that much preparation for a September start has already been done and detailed transitional arrangements have been worked out. Danesmore Park Governors and most of the parents at my meeting were vehemently opposed to a September 2007 start. They say the proposal has already been rushed. Parents and teachers have not been sufficiently consulted and they are deeply opposed to the transitional arrangements that have been suggested.

20. I have been persuaded by part of the Danesmore Park argument. This decision is being announced a few days before the end of term. Many parents, teachers and governors will be deeply disappointed by it. I am not convinced that it is reasonable to expect them to report to a new school at the beginning of next term without more time to be informed about the arrangements.

21. I have not been satisfied that implementation should be delayed until September 2008. There are many good reasons for such a delay. By then, the large classes in both schools would have gone on to secondary schools and there would have been some adaptations to buildings. All the pupils could be accommodated on the Oak Meadow site. On the other hand, I am concerned about the loss of momentum if two Head Teachers and two Governing Bodies remain in place for the whole year. Relations between the two schools have suffered during the debate about the future and it may be asking too much to expect productive collaboration for a whole year. I have decided that the proposals should be modified to change the implementation date to 1 January 2008.

Determination
22. Under the powers conferred on me by The School Organisation (Transitional Provisions) (England) Regulations 2007 I hereby approve the proposals with the modification that the implementation date be changed to 1 January 2008.

Dated: 16 July 2007

Signed:


Schools Adjudicator: Dr Philip Hunter

Author: Phil Bateman

Article Date: 16th July 2007