Grange School closure due to be rubberstamped next week amid calls for an inquiry

grange signThe decision to close the Grange School & Sports College at Warmley at the end of August 2017 is expected to be rubberstamped this week.

South Gloucestershire Council’s Children & Young People Committee voted in December to close the school and a statutory notice was published in January to give the public one last chance to comment.

The final decision will be taken by the committee on Wednesday (4th March). The closure will pave the way for the Cabot Learning Federation’s proposed £4m Digitech Studio School to be built on the Grange campus.

The federation began running the Grange after the failing school was placed into special measures by Ofsted in April 2013.

The Department for Education has said that funding for the new school is predicated on the closure of the Grange.

Due to open in September, there will be 75 places for Year 10 students and 60 for Year 12. It will be the first Studio School in the South West to specialise in creative, digital and hi-tech industries.

Applications are being welcomed although a planning application has yet to be submitted to the council.

The special measures status was recently removed but council officers says the fundamental concerns which led to the decision to propose closure still remain, with its overall position described as “fragile” and its long-term viability and sustainability “very uncertain”.

The school has a surplus of around 600 places and the buildings need urgent works of more than £8.3m, plus £2m of non-priority works. On top of that, mechanical and electrical services could “potentially fail at any time” which could cost up to £3m.

The closure of the Grange is supported by all secondary headteachers in South Gloucestershire but there has been condemnation at the way the process has been handled from some parents, senior staff, teaching unions and Labour politicians.

Concern has been raised about the role of the council’s interim head of education, Susanna Hills, who is lead officer for the proposals for the closure of the Grange, and sits on the board of trustees at the Cabot Learning Federation, while Martina Veale, the headteacher at the Grange, has already been already appointed as the new Studio School’s principal.

A report going to Wednesday’s meeting of the Children & Young People Committee includes letters from the final wave of consultation. One parent demands  “a thorough, independent review of the legality of the consultation process given the concerns about conflict of interest, non-existent tendering and the council not following its own consultation process that so many parents have expressed anger about”.

Another says: “Your council panicked people into leaving the Grange by telling the press and public and anyone who phoned your education department that the Grange was closing before the decision had even been taken or gone to a council vote…You started a consultation to close and then halted it. You should not therefore have given this message out to people as you put people off making that choice. The reason you halted it was because you could not expect people to send children to another failing school which thwarted your plans (Sir Bernard Lovell).”

The council is adamant, however, that the correct legal process has been followed .

Pupils currently in Years 9, 10 and 11 at the Grange will be able to complete their studies up to GCSE at the school if they want. Pupils currently in Years 7 and 8 will have the option to transfer to alternative provision either this September or in September 2016.

Meanwhile the redundancy bill at the Grange looks set to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. There are currently 55 employees in full or part-time teaching and support staff positions and the council report says “a substantial number of staff redundancies” are expected. In 2013/14 the average cost of a making a secondary school teacher was £31,000.