As the initial stage of the consultation on the future of Skerton CHS draws to a close, we reflect on certain aspects of this process and examine whether indeed this was a genuine attempt to consult on the school’s future or a deliberately contrived plan to facilitate the school’s closure.
The announcement on the proposed consultation from Lancashire County Council was quite unexpected and came two days before the school broke up for the summer.
It would appear on the face of it that the announcement was deliberately timed to curtail any initial reactions while promoting panic amongst students, parents and teaching staff, during what should have been a relaxing summer break. Feeling somewhat powerless, everyone involved with the school spent a worrying six weeks wondering what would happen next.
It could so easily have slipped under the radar and become yet another example of a failing school that was forced into closure after failing to meet the ever changing framework from OFSTED.
Crucially, though, it soon became apparent that LCC had somewhat misjudged the strength of feeling about the school, and both the immediate and the wider community stood up, and fought back.
A well-orchestrated campaign followed which incorporated many traditional aspects of any good campaign, as well as a few rather innovative ideas. It was generally assumed that there would be a public meeting, at which any interested party could have a say and input into the process.
However, LCC had ideas of their own and refused to entertain the idea of any such meeting, favouring an alternative appointment led “event”.
This somewhat bizarre process involved people submitting their questions beforehand and being given an appointment to discuss their point with a designated officer(s).
On the day of the “event”, the merry band of men and women from the county council turned up some two hours ahead of the proposed start time, with a police escort.
With nothing better to do, this poor man then stood guard outside the main school entrance until 5pm when mercifully his shift came to an end.
A steady stream of people filed into the main hall, to be met by a well-rehearsed team of professionals, equipped with graphs and charts, cleverly designed to convince the listener that the school must close.
I was lucky enough to get an appointment (many people didn’t) and as self assured as I am, I found the whole process rather intimidating and grossly impersonal.
To be sat on the opposite side of a desk with up to five people firing statistics at you and rebuffing any comment that you make is extremely frustrating and designed to wear you down quickly and effectively.
I found myself at loggerheads with people refuting facts and figures that I have in black and white.
I was told that I could not possibly have been advised that neighbouring schools would not engage me because I was a Skerton parent.
The fact that six schools all wrote to me and told me that exact information did not seem to be what they wanted to hear.
People were fed deliberately false information, designed to shock and show the school in a bad light.
Amongst these outrageous claims were allegations around the school squandering money and a lack of suitable teaching staff; both completely untrue and cleverly engineered to push an already fragile group of people to breaking point.
Thankfully, because of the overwhelming support shown during our campaign, the amazing staff at this incredible school have somehow carried on doing what they always do so well, teaching and nurturing our precious children.
Their resolve is testament to their passion and is one of the many reasons why our children love their school (and their teachers).
David Morris MP came into school to talk to the children and a group of us are taking the petition to Downing Street during the half-term break.
This will be an amazing opportunity for the children to experience first hand just how far sheer determination can get you. Skerton CHS has gone from relative obscurity to Prime Minister’s Questions in a mere six weeks.
I want to personally thank everyone who has helped us along the way. In our darkest moments, it is this support that has kept us going and we are truly grateful for everyone’s input.
While this part of the process is almost over, we will continue to fight to ensure that our children get the education that they are entitled to, in the environment best suited to their needs.
The question of whether LCC deliberately set out to undermine the school remains and will no doubt be debated for some time to come.
When all is said and done though, the children’s well-being has always been at the heart of this campaign and we hope will be at the forefront of Mr Tomlinson’s mind when he makes his decision about the school’s future.
Chair of the Skerton Parents’ Forum.
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Wrong M6 link legacy
The destruction of many parts of this historic city by the planners in the 1960s is now finally to be surpassed by the construction, in its surrounding areas, of the most ineffective, inefficient, costly and downright destructive 3.5 miles of tarmac ever to be laid in this country.
The alternative Lancaster Bypass Link road (LBL), for which I was one of the proponents, considered and rejected by the Inspector at the recent Public Enquiry was the only hope for the future of this city.
Starting with a new junction at Ovangle Road and finishing immediately south of the university, a new bridge some 2/3rds of a mile further upstream from the original, environmentally flawed, Western route bridge, would have taken commuters between Morecambe and Lancaster directly on to the Quay with immediate access to the city centre.
In addition, it would have provided easy access to the M6 from the university and diverted lorries from Heysham port and the peninsula away from all built-up areas on to the M6 with greater efficiency.
The Inspector agreed with Natural England, without any challenge whatsoever to their unsubstantiated statements, that our route would have had the same impact as the original Western route on the estuary.
That conclusion was utterly impossible to justify, and, given that the inspector demanded that Lancaster and Morecambe College had better hurry up and reach agreement with Lancashire County Council at one of the public hearings, long before all the presentations had been heard, is conclusive evidence that the public enquiry was a complete waste of time and money and was indeed a ‘done deal’ of outrageous proportions from the outset.
Lancashire County Council has created a transport mess over the last 30 years, as they have erected some 22 sets of traffic lights around our city centre.
The Northern route will simply add to this ‘mess’, solving absolutely nothing in the city centre, as Lancaster City Council’s 17 proposed development sites, including all of the Quay area, come on stream during the next 15 years, with nowhere for the additional traffic generated to go, other than through the city centre to the north, or Galgate to the south.
Gridlock will continue in and around the city centre.
Morecambe Town Council, representing more than 50,000 people, voted consistently and by substantial majorities, to reject the Northern route.
Its voice, along with individual voices heard by the Inspector at the public hearings, fell on deaf ears. Indeed his report to the Secretary of State was so rickety that it consistently offended our intelligence.
There will be no winners in the building of the Northern route, simply misery for all concerned, including Lancashire County Council, which will continue to be haunted by this route into the foreseeable future as costs continue to escalate.
The electorate of this area is now in for a very rough ride indeed as building gets under way.
The transport outlook for this historic city is now bleaker than ever.
Full address supplied
Local blame for the cuts
Coun Eileen Blamire has let it be known she blames the Government for the reductions in services she expects to introduce in the city council’s budget next year.
She is absolutely right: as we all know, it was the Labour Government that once again left the finances of the country in such a fine mess.
Coun Blamire needs to remember that her Labour-led administration’s responses to the ending of Council Tax Benefit and to the financial problems afflicting Storey Creative Industries Centre Limited are just two of the issues where her own local decisions have added to the local pressure on finances.
As the current consultation by the city council points out: “In order to keep the cost of the Council Tax Support Scheme in line with funding expectations, the total support bill would need to reduce by about £1.1 million each year”.
There is a temptation for Coun Blamire to cut popular front-line services in the forthcoming budget to give emphasis to the austerity measures of the current Government.
The responsibility of local government is to minimise the impact of reductions in government grants on local services, but a politically motivated budget looks to be a possibility.
Coun J R Mace
Labour bad behaviour
I am highly offended and almost ashamed to call myself a Labour party member in this community after some of the letters that have been posted in this paper from other ‘so called’ Labour members.
I thought Labour members were suppose to stick together, support each other and support the working class?
In my opinion to be an outstanding MP you need to know the constituents more than just ‘being fond of Morecambe’.
As a Labour party member I am not judging the chosen candidate but I do not tolerate this petty childish behaviour and if people in the Labour party put all their effort into canvassing, sorting out local issues and being professional instead of back stabbing then maybe we would have a fighting chance.
Name and address supplied