The councillors heard that even though the school is likely to come out of special measures soon and GCSE results are better than some other local schools, it is ailing, with a growing budget deficit and a rapidly falling roll. It is so run down that repair work has been put at over £10m.
Will Roberts, headteacher of Downend School, who represents 17 secondary heads across the county, was heckled from the public gallery when he spoke at the meeting. He said that all the headteachers, who have been tasked with raising standards in secondary education across South Gloucestershire, supported the closure of the Grange as it was “not viable”.
There is a large surplus of secondary school places across the county which affects resources.
Mr Roberts said he understood the frustration and anger of the Grange supporters and that the closure of a school in an election year was “always controversial” but that keeping the Grange open was to the detriment of other schools. He said that Grange students amounted to fewer than two per cent of the county’s student population and propping up the school meant thousands of pounds being diverted away from other schools.
The closure of the Grange paves the way for a Government-funded Studio School to open on the site.
The Department for Education has said the closure of the Grange is a precondition for the Studio School opening. A refurbished block on the campus is earmarked for the new school which will draw students from a 15-mile radius.
But there is no firm guarantee of a place at the new Studio School for Grange pupils, and some parents say it would not necessarily be the right school for their children and they fear there may be no spaces at other schools close by.
Jo McCarron, Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for Kingswood at the next election, told last night’s meeting: “We have never seen this (the Studio School) as a replacement for The Grange. The Studio School does not solve the problem of potentially losing the Grange. It will serve fewer children and a different age group. And there is now no guarantee that pupils at the Grange will be offered a place at the studio school.
“At no point was it made clear that the provision of the Studio School was only on the condition that The Grange would close. The council’s report claims that the ‘proposal for the Studio School was made on the assumption that The Grange School and Sports College would be closed’. Well, that wasn’t the assumption made by parents – parents asked explicitly in the consultation whether they could have the Grange and the Studio School open at the same time.”
Labour councillor Terry Walker (Kings Chase) called for “thorough investigation” into the way the council’s education department had handled the closure process.
And Nigel Varley, from the NUT, told the meeting that the Grange had been treated in an “appalling and shambolic” way, the likes of which he had not seen before in his 44-year career. He said the numbers at the school had fallen because of the way the school had been “undermined”.
The Grange’s recently retired deputy head John Allister said: “Please keep the Grange open. It has a real place in the community. It has sustainability.”
Teacher Caroline Bungay also asked for the council to invest in its future while assistant head Katherine Wilson praised the staff for their dedication to their students despite the uncertainty that has surrounded the school’s future.
Year 11 pupil Gemma Slocombe said the Grange site was a large one and suggested the council sell off some of it for housing and invest the money in the improvements the Grange needs.
Labour’s Lead Member for Children’s Services Cllr Gareth Manson (Woodstock) failed to get approval from the other parties for his amendment which called for officers to investigate how the Grange could co-exist with the new Studio School and be made sustainable with a reduced capacity and footprint.
He said the pre-condition of the Grange having to close to release the funding for the Studio School was “blackmail”. He added: “The school has been sacrificed for a new initiative. The council has been hell-bent on closure from day one.”
Cllr Jon Hunt (Con, Downend) said that not closing the Grange would mean losing the money for the Studio School and not tackling the large surplus of secondary places across the county: “We would show weak leadership.”
Cllr Alan Lawrence (Lib Dem, Dodington) said closure of the Grange had also been considered at the beginning of the century, when the council’s then Cabinet had decided not to proceed but to give the Grange a chance. He said: “The decision then was ruled by our hearts. Sadly tonight our decision must be ruled by our heads.”
Lib Dem education spokesman Cllr Ian Blair (Yate North) said: “This action has been taken in the best interests of local children. The Grange has been struggling for some years, with poor grades, dilapidated buildings, and high staff turnover. Despite the best efforts of many teachers at the Grange, children are being let down by the current situation. I agree with headteachers that replacing the Grange with a new Studio School is in the best interests of local children.
“A new Studio School will offer a new start for the Grange site – with renovated buildings and a revised curriculum offering better prospects for children. Just under 300 children currently attend the Grange. The admissions criteria for the new Studio School are set to be the same for other South Gloucestershire secondaries, so it looks likely that all Grange pupils who wish to move on to the studio school will be able to do so.”
A public notice on the closure will be issued in the New Year with a final decision in March.
Some parents and pupils left the council chamber in Kingswood in tears after last night’s meeting. Parent Tracey Flinn, whose daughter Hannah had pleaded with councillors to keep her school open, said they were all “gutted”.
Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore campaigned for the Studio School for the Grange site. Yesterday in the House of Commons he asked Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to meet with him to ensure that all pupils at the Grange who wish to attend the Studio School “have the place at the new school that they deserve.”