Save Selsted School Action Group submit views to KCC

Contributed by editor on Jul 01, 2006 - 12:12 AM


I'm Robin Baldwin, a member of the Save Selsted School Action Group.  Thank you for allowing us to make our points o­n behalf of Selsted School.  We understand the process that KCC has initiated and also accept to a degree that such a review needs to take place.  We hope that you can consider the views that you hear this evening in your further consideration.  There are mixed views as to how genuine the consultation process is, and how fairly Selsted's case will be considered, given some of the past actions of KCC in respect of Selsted.  We hope you can take this opportunity to demonstrate that this is more than a paper exercise and that the views of all stakeholders are being taken into account.

The Action Group has been formed primarily by parents of current pupils of Selsted, who are angry at the proposal to close what we believe is a highly successful school.  It is worth making the point that our over-riding concern is for the pupils of the school.  We are not campaigning because we believe the teaching staff of the school deserves our support, although they very definitely do.  We are not campaigning because the school has a long and proud history of serving the children of the rural area, although it very definitely has.  We are campaigning because we think the proposal to close the school is misinformed, inconsistent and, most importantly, simply wrong as far as the pupils are concerned.

It may well be that some Kent primary schools will close as part of this process, where no-one objects to the proposals.  There may be some schools that will close having objected to the proposals out of a sense of duty.  But please understand the position of Selsted's Action Group "we are not here to object to the proposal because we think it is the expected course of action.  We are not here so that when a decision is made to close the school we can shrug our shoulders, pat each other o­n the back and console ourselves with the thought that “at least we tried.  We are here to ensure that Selsted School remains open, now and in the future.

Other members of the Action Group will be addressing some specific strengths of Selsted and how closure would affect our children, prospective pupils and the community as a whole.  I am very confident that other parents, local residents and other interested parties here tonight will also let you know their views o­n this proposal.  But I would like to take a few minutes to address some of the decisions already made and assumptions still being made by KCC.

Firstly, I would like to address the issue of costs and budgets, which undoubtedly lies at the heart of the proposals to close so many primary schools across Kent.  There is an assumption that falling rolls mean increased costs.  THIS IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE.  Falling rolls do NOT result in increased costs, just an increased cost per head.  Although it portrays the link between budgets and headcount as something written in tablets of stone, KCC has chosen to allocate it budget this way.  An alternative course of action, and o­ne we believe could have been adopted by an enlightened and forward-thinking Council, would have been to leave the education budget the same not even increased but use that same budget to provide an even better education for ALL children across Kent.   My child, and our children are not numbers o­n a balance sheet, or entries o­n a Profit and Loss account they are the future of this region and their education should be something upon which we are trying to spend more, not less. 

Sadly, these proposals reinforce the view that funds are being withdrawn from education to prop up other areas of KCC's budget.

If education budgets are to be reduced to match falling rolls, it means o­ne of two things:  EITHER KCC intends to raise less money from the taxpayers of Kent; OR money previously spent o­n education of our children is being allocated elsewhere.  If it is the former, then speaking as a taxpayer, please don’t do so o­n my account!  I'm happy to keep contributing the same amount of tax to provide a better education for a slightly smaller number of pupils.  If it’s the latter, KCC need to be very open and honest with everyone over which specific areas of expenditure it considers to be more important than primary school education.   

Based upon the costs per child supplied by KCC, education of each child at Selsted costs just under £800 per year more than the county average.  With a roll of 70 pupils, the total cost saving of closing the school would be £56,000 per annum.  While that sum might seem like a lot taken in isolation, it can be represented in the following ways:-

· Less than 0.005% of KCC's Education budget· Just 5% of the amount spent by KCC o­n the Turner Contemporary Arts Centre development in Thanet during 2006/06 Less that two thirds of the amount of KCC's Education budget spent “developing international partnerships, whatever that might involve. Less than the average salary of o­ne senior Civil Servant

KCC spent a net figure of £788,000 in 2005/06 o­n Encouraging regeneration of rural areas.  How that can possibly fit with closing rural primary schools is beyond comprehension.

Secondly, we believe passionately that Selsted School should remain open, but we do not believe that Selsted School should remain open at the expense of other local primary schools.  Different schools offer different environments and different learning styles.  If parental preference is to be a meaningful concept rather than an over-used clich, there needs to be a range of different schools available.  Parental preference becomes meaningless if the choice open to parents is merely o­ne of the location of the identikit school.  We do not have identikit children - different schools have different strengths and weaknesses Selsted is not the right school for ALL children, but as parents we believe it is right for OUR children.  It is at best disheartening and at worst, arrogant and condescending of KCC to say that they know what is best for each individual child.

Thirdly, decisions made in respect of Selsted are inevitably going to involve the numbers of pupils.  In any small school, the impact in percentage terms can often be very exaggerated.  Since the closure proposal has been made, we have lost several pupils who have transferred to other local schools.  It would be wrong to comment o­n the reasons why those parents have chosen to transfer their children, and it would be equally wrong to condemn them for doing so. 

But a sad repercussion of these transfers is that it makes Selsted's overcapacity appear to be more acute.  A cynic might draw the conclusion that this is part of a plan by KCC announce school closure proposal, wait until a few more pupils leave, and then say and it's getting worse.  I hope you can give us a clear assurance that any decisions will be taken o­n the school roll at the time the closure proposal was announced, not at the time a further decision is considered.

Finally, the Primary Strategy is being used as justification for the current review.  Let's remember that this is KCC's own strategy, driven and shaped by KCC's choices and decisions.  Slavishly following the strategy is not an excuse for the outcome of the closure review.  The points within the strategy are not legal requirements, they are not absolutes, and are o­nly recommendations.  But however the points are arrived at, we hope we can demonstrate to you that Selsted School should remain open.

I would like to finish by referring you to Recommendation 28 of the primary strategy, under the heading Falling Rolls and Surplus Capacity and I quote: In making any proposal for closure, the capacity of a school to provide effective educational and social provision for each child should be the prime consideration. 

Not an important factor, not something to be taken into account.  THE PRIME CONSIDERATION.

We know that Selsted provides more than effective provision for both of these areas.  I hope that the SOAB is able to take this requirement into account in considering the proposal to close the school that is so important to all of us. 

Thank you.