Cabinet turns its back on threatened schoolBy Pete Castle
September 25, 2008
Oak Farm Community School was dealt a fatal blow this week as Rushmoor Borough Council leaders effectively backed plans to close the school.
The decision, made by members of the borough council’s Tory-run cabinet, means that Hampshire County Council can shut down the struggling Farnborough secondary school without opposition from the borough’s political leaders.
Campaigners called the decision “disappointing”.
Falling pupil numbers at the school, blamed on less children in the area and parents choosing to send their children elsewhere, led education planners to begin an official “consultation on closure” in May.
The public consultation, which has sought opinions on a plan to shut down Oak Farm by 2010, closes on September 30.
The borough council’s official response is likely to have a strong influence on the final decision due to be made by county council leaders in December.
Gren Earney, headteacher of the Mayfield Road school, said: “Unfortunately the cabinet were unaware, when making their decision, of some of the most recent developments involving the school as they had not previously received a complete briefing.
“However they like the community the school serves and want the best for the students in the area, and their backing for ongoing community work added to the opportunities for the school to continue to play an important role in 14-19 vocational delivery is important.
“This is very significant as this very much mirrors the views of the school governors and staff. In order for this to be achieved the school does not need to close but rather, through a clear process defined by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, can change its essential character.
"In doing so it retains the skills and expertise that exist among staff that have enabled recent improvements in examination outcomes to be made.”
At a meeting of the borough council’s cabinet on Tuesday, the council’s chief executive Andrew Lloyd claimed it was in the best interests of pupils for the school to close.
“I say this with a great sense of sadness, and there may be those in the school who have a different view,” Mr Lloyd told cabinet members.
“I am no educationalist, but based on the evidence in the paper [prepared by county education bosses] I find it very hard to argue with. It seems to me a very simple statement of fact.”
Mr Lloyd acknowledged the successes of the school, praising its work serving the wider community in one of the poorest areas of the region.
Deputy borough council leader Cllr Roland Dibbs said more should have been done earlier to keep up the school’s standards.
“I would have liked to see earlier remedial action taken,” Cllr Dibbs added. “It has happened in other parts of the country. But it is too late for that now.
“A few years ago Oak Farm School was considered one of the best schools in Farnborough, if not one of the best in Rushmoor.”
Borough council leaders resolved to ask county council chiefs to keep the site for learning and community use, particularly for new diploma qualifications as part of the borough council’s official response to the consultation on closure.
The response would also ask the county council to allow existing pupils to transfer to a school of their choice, carry on special needs provision, expand the range of community facilities, and carry on consulting the local community on plans for the future.
Borough council leader Cllr Peter Moyle praised the school for its success in helping to reduce inequalities in one of the poorest areas of Farnborough but played down the school’s success in the ‘value added’ measure of academic improvement.
Speaking afterwards, he denied that the borough council’s decision would be seen as a betrayal by campaigners fighting to save the school.
“The borough council has supported them,” he said. “The decision has not yet been made, but we are putting a marker in the sand and saying this is the only thing that is acceptable.”