School closure battle is lost

A closure-threatened Wigan high school has lost its battle for survival – despite an impassioned plea from its head teacher.

Councillors last night voted to axe PEMBEC@Kingsdown High School, ignoring a last-ditch appeal from Michele Buras-Stubbs that the Metro stop treating her pupils "as numbers" who could be easily and painlessly accommodated in classrooms elsewhere.

And the chairman of the board of governors, Adrian Hardy, a council chief himself until his early retirement at Christmas, slammed official talks with the Wigan Local Education Authority for becoming a "self-fulfilling prophecy."

Members of the Cabinet agreed to approve plans to move the controversial proposals to close the school in three years on to the final stage of consultation.

Director of Children and Young People's Services Nick Hudson told the meeting:

"Small schools with declining numbers face considerable financial difficulty along with an inevitable impact on standards."

The Metro wants to close PEMBEC, formerly Pemberton High School, as part of a reorganisation caused by falling rolls. They will stop taking Year Seven pupils from autumn next year.

Pupils joining this September will eventually move to Abraham Guest and Shevington High School by the end of their Year Nine.

The closure proposals now move into the six-week "representation" period when statutory notices have to be published.

The final decision, pending possible appeals by the CE Diocese, the Catholic Diocese and the Learning and Skills Council, is now likely in August.

Cabinet members heard that PEMBEC's current allocation of 563 pupils was likely to fall below 400 by 2011.

More than half the places would be surplus, putting it below the figure

which would guarantee central government funding.

But Ms Buras-Stubbs, who has already announced her intention to quit, insisted closure was "most emphatically" not in the best interests of her pupils.

She said Kingsdown had been transformed in recent years. In 2000 only 7% of children left with the GCSE benchmark of five or more A* to Cs.

This year it was 44%, and the school, which had been involved in pioneering work offering more vocational courses in hairdressing and bricklaying, remained in the top 5% in the country for improving children.

She said: "There has been much emphasis on buildings and numbers, there has been much excitement about funding and procurement but there has been little talk about children, communities and learning.

"The proposals for alternative provision for PEMBEC pupils don't even consider how our niche curriculum opportunities will be replicated elsewhere, let alone take into account the transport and social issues.

Adrian Hardy, chairman of the PEMBEC governors, said they were "extremely angered" to find that retaining the school was not one of the options open for discussion.

The school, he said, serviced the most deprived community in the borough and staff often had to visit and collect pupils from their homes to ensure attendance. He said: "This level of attention isn't likely to continue."