Regarding the proposal to amalgamate Caedmon College Whitby and Eskdale School from 1 September 2024. This is an opinion piece by David Bradley, former Eskdale Headteacher, directed at Mr Stuart Carlton (Corporate Director, CYPS), Cllr Annabel Wilkinson (Exec Cllr for Education) and Strategic Planning at NYCC, following on from his original letter previously posted. The views expressed are those of the author.
I risk obloquy, because I attended both Consultation Meetings earlier this week, and this is my second letter to Strategic Planning about the above proposal. I realise that this letter repeats some of the themes in my first letter but the strength of feeling in the town is such that I feel it is my duty to advise you of a potentially unpleasant situation here in Whitby. Some of the comments in the meeting were unfair and too personalised. My congratulations to Councillor Wilkinson for handling the difficult evening meeting so well. I have also taken this step because far too many questions were left unanswered at the ‘Consultation Meetings’ and the process to date by the Federated Governing Body, has become a masterclass in how to manage significant educational change.
For the sake of clarity, I have divided my letter into two parts and numbered the questions and points I wish to make.
Part 1 : The Proposal
- Four members of the Federated Governing Body made the decision to put the proposal to amalgamate the Whitby secondary schools to NYCC. When was this decision made? Where was this decision made? Do four members make a quorum? Was the Clerk to the Governors present?
- Good practice in the management of change usually involves important stakeholders (e.g. students, parents and teachers) a proposal is tabled. The above proposal was announced at the start of the Spring Term and completely ‘out of the blue’. Year 6 students and their parents/carers had chosen a secondary school and Year 9 students were in the throes of making decisions about subject choices at 14+. The announcement included ‘the technical closure of Eskdale School’. So, no school for the Year 6s; no courses for Year 9s and a void for everyone else. Is this fair on students and parents? How are the staff supposed to handle this?
- At the Consultation Meetings the Executive Headteacher outlined the progression routes for students and an aspirational curriculum within a new amalgamated school on two sites. As far as I know, this was the first time that any stakeholders, other than the governors, had seen this information. It was predicated on the belief that student numbers in the sixth form could be significantly increased in the future. This belief flies in the face of a trend where increasing numbers of sixth form students have chosen to travel to Scarborough, Pickering, Guisborough and Teesside. In 2011/12, there were 324 students in the sixth form, now there are 136. Financial data for the sixth form was not available at the meeting but we were assured that an attractive range of courses could be offered. Will a newly amalgamated school in Whitby really be able to compete with a UTC, TEC, Sixth Form College, and a range of specialist colleges elsewhere?
- The Federation currently operates two separate budgets. Operating two schools across three sites brings a significant financial cost.” (page3 of NYCC Consultation Document) The Whitby Sixth Form occupies the Scoresby Site buildings (former Caedmon School) but who manages/operates the sixth form budget? Is it sensible for 136 students to occupy the second largest set of buildings out of the three sites? At the first Consultation Meeting many people were under the impression that the Sixth Form was being financially ‘propped up’ by money from the 11-16 budgets. At the second meeting it was stated categorically that none of the budgets for 11-16s was being used for the Sixth Form. However, we still do not know how healthy the Sixth Form budget is? I understand that £250,000 was provided by the Opportunities Fund and this was matched by NYCC. If this is correct, how has this money (£500K) been spent and what has been the impact? Councillor Abbott also indicated that £10 million had been successfully secured for the maritime hub.
- For local people, the so-called ‘amalgamation’ of the two schools appears to be nothing more than a euphemism for the reorganisation of secondary education and post 16 education in Whitby. They are going to lose the 3G pitch they fought so hard for; they are going to lose the freedom to choose a secondary school and the cherished idea of keeping small schools open, wisely championed by NYCC for so long, appears not to apply in Whitby once you reach eleven years of age! What happened to, choice, diversity, and every child matters? The amalgam in this proposal seems little better than a ‘temporary filling’ – will it fall out before we reach home?
- Discussions about one new secondary school in Whitby have been ongoing since 1972/3 when Whitby was last reorganised. I know from my work in Darlington that such an enterprise would cost between £25 and £30 million to achieve. If this money were to be ‘found’, I very much doubt that it would be built on the former Whitby Grammar School site because the access is very poor, it is wedged between two main roads, the playing fields are extremely limited, there is no access for buses or coaches, and importantly it is very close to the centre of an increasingly busy coastal resort. I am, therefore, staggered that the proposal by the Federated Governing Body is to move most of the the amalgamated school’s population to this potentially hazardous, congested, and dangerous site. Even more concerning, is the fact that an even greater number of students will have to cross the Mayfield Road to access the playing fields and astroturf facilities. This not only puts the students at risk, but it places unnecessary pressure on teachers and support staff who must manage this movement. It also reduces the learning time for students in PE and Games at a time when the Government is, quite rightly, highlighting the need for greater investment and involvement following the success of women in sport.
- The student populations of Whitby secondary schools have been smaller than the national averages for the last fifty years. Members of the Federated Governing Body seemed to be suggesting at the consultations that increasing the student population to be nearer the national average for schools would be a good thing. This is not necessarily the case. Much depends on how the school curriculum is organised and taught. I accept that it is easier to offer a broader range of subjects at 14+ in a larger school but many students thrive in a smaller population where they are known, valued, and cherished. In my opinion, meeting the needs of every learner is a much more important ‘imperative’ (page 3 Consultation Document) than developing a broader choice of options at 14+. In school, developing the learner’s confidence and skills between the ages of four and fourteen is crucial. Examination requirements should not dictate the school ethos.
- The proposal for the amalgamated school is firmly rooted in the current student figures for the area. It was suggested that the new housing developments would only attract about another sixty students. If this is the case, the aspiration for a larger sixth form population in the future seems even more doubtful. Admittedly, some houses remain unsold, and some contractors have moved to other sites for the time being. However, the economic climate will hopefully improve; house prices have reduced in the last few months; the Covid pandemic has encouraged some families to work from home and some of these will re-locate to the coast. We have also been assured that the new mine will bring a surge of workers and their families. The developers clearly believe this, because of the number of three and four-bedroomed houses being built – these are unlikely to be holiday homes. Will the amalgamated school on a split site be able to accommodate an influx of new students? Has any consideration been given to future-proofing the new arrangements?
- This proposal has caused a lot of real concern and damage within the community. I know that many teachers are considering moving or retiring; some parents are considering moving and a significant number are applying to private schools. The possible closure of a school is always upsetting but there has also been a complete disregard for the fact that the schools are amongst biggest employers in the area. Other members of the community are concerned about the possible reduction in green space, the money which has been spent on the 3G pitch, the costs associated with the appointment of an Executive Headteacher and most importantly the loss of choice at 11+. The original timescale for the change was ridiculous and the amended date of September 2024 leaves little time for planning and sensitive briefing for students and parents – moving a student in the middle of a two-year examination course is not acceptable. I urge elected members to reject this proposal and require the Federated Governing Body to consult widely with all stakeholders before preparing a series of proposals with a completion/delivery date of September 2025. In the event of this not being possible, I would humbly suggest that an Interim Management Board be formed under the leadership of the Corporate Director for CYPS. The Board must include people with experience of the management of change, and a wide skill set so that the mistakes of the recent past are not repeated.
Part 2 : Another Proposal
- Develop two 11-16 schools on the Eskdale and former Caedmon School sites under the strategic direction of two separate Governing Bodies and two separate headteachers. The schools should be allowed to develop their own ethos and curriculum. A ‘soft’ partnership or ‘confederation’ could be formed so that human and material resources can be shared where appropriate.
- The former Whitby Grammar School site (Normanby Site) should be ‘put on the market’ for sheltered accommodation and a range of affordable housing because of its proximity to the town, harbour, bus, and railway station. Hopefully, some of the money from this can be directed to the two schools? A lockable parking area for residents, play area, gardens and a small satellite hub for maritime studies/training and some vocational courses (Health and Beauty, Tourism and Hospitality and Care) under the direction of the TEC or UTC could be included, particularly for students who do not wish to travel to Scarborough or Teesside. Perhaps the promised £10million could also be used on this site?
In the ideal world, one brand new 11-18 comprehensive school is my preferred option. However, I do not believe that this is possible nor likely in the present economic climate. I think that my proposal would be more acceptable to the local community, particularly if the façade of the Whitby Grammar School could be retained. I honestly do not think that a large Whitby Sixth Form will ever materialise because of the competition in Scarborough and Teesside. Having said that, we do need to provide a limited facility for more vulnerable students who will be unable/unwilling to travel. Hopefully others will have even better and more acceptable proposals to offer.
Clearly, as a former Headteacher of Eskdale School I am very saddened that it is threatened once again with closure. However, I would be writing much the same if the former Caedmon School were threatened with closure.