Birkenhead MP – Proposed school mergers will ‘harm our communities’

“Not only is this school of valuable importance to the children. It has been at the heart of the community for 30 plus years.”

“By golly, this school is a vital asset to this community.”

The above quotes are from letters received by the Member of Parliament for Birkenhead, Mick Whitley, from parents at schools on the Beechwood and Noctorum Estates that are currently threatened with “amalgamation.”

There is a planned Council consultation for all stakeholders at Hillside and St Peter’s schools on the Noctorum and Manor and St Paul’s school on the Beechwood over whether these schools should be merged taking the total number of schools down from four to two.

The Council is proposing that Manor and Hillside become one school while the Catholic Diocese is being asked to agree to the merger of St Peter’s and St Paul’s.

On hearing of these proposals, Mick Whitley responded, “Amalgamation is a sugar-coated word for closure. This is a proposal to close two schools and I am totally opposed to it. We are talking about stripping away vital resources from some of the most deprived areas of Birkenhead.

“The closure of a school on either estate benefits no one. Children and parents will be faced with a 68-minute round trip twice a day to get their children to and from school, longer with prams and dangerous with a main road separating the two estates. There is no reliable bus service between the estates, so how does this merger help parents? It doesn’t – it will just make their everyday lives a lot more difficult.

“As for the children, being forced to learn further away from their home communities will disrupt their education. Good schools are not just exam factories. They are the hub for a community to come together – they run all sorts of activities that benefit the whole community, from support for single parents through to emergency food provision.

“Take the school away and, as the parents who have written to me stress, you are taking the community’s heart away.”

The argument put forward in the papers from Council Officers proposing the mergers-cum-closures is that there are falling school numbers. There are no budget problems and in the case of Manor, for example, pupil numbers have increased. They are set to increase further because of the number of early years children moving up through the schools.

Mr Whitley said that precicely because of the pupil staff ratio at these schools many of the most vulnerable children receive quality one-to-one education, dramatically improving their life chances. This is about education, not number crunching.

The MP for Birkenhead concluded, “These schools are well run. They are in the process of working hard to improve their standards following Ofsted inspections. They are staffed by dedicated teams of teachers, teaching assistants and others, including the governors.

“By contrast, the closure of any of them will mean educational disruption, the exacerbation of social problems, redundancies and major problems for hard-pressed parents. We really don’t need an elaborate consultation to understand this. We just needed to listen to the people who will be negatively affected. I believe the Council need to think again.”

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