Saturday, 12 October 2013

Schools merger vote could be on a knife-edge



the3towns understands plans by North Ayrshire Council to merge two local secondary schools and two facilities for children with additional needs could meet substantial opposition when the proposal is put before a future meeting of councillors.

Council sources who asked not be named have told the3towns they believe the SNP minority administration could struggle to secure a majority for its plan to merge Ardrossan Academy with Stevenston’s Auchenharvie Academy on an Ardrossan site that would also accommodate pupils from James McFarlane School and Haysholm School. 

The SNP has 12 councillors but would require at least 15 votes from a total of 30, at which point the SNP Provost would have an additional casting vote.  A Labour councillor told the3towns that all but one of their 11-strong group was likely to vote against a merger.  Ardrossan Labour councillor Peter McNamara is believed to be the member who could break ranks with the group of which he is currently leader.  However, even if Cllr McNamara did support the SNP proposal, that would still leave the administration requiring a further two votes from six Independent councillors and the one Tory.

Last Tuesday (October 1) the3towns reported [on the the3towns Facebook page] that the schools merger proposal had been overwhelmingly rejected by the public.

In response to the Council’s public consultation, 77% said they did not agree with the plan to merge the two Academies and two schools for children with additional needs.  Only 16% agreed, with 7% stating they had no preference.

In total 806 members of the public completed and returned consultation documents, in which they were asked, “Do you agree with the proposal to create a new educational campus in Ardrossan by amalgamating Auchenharvie and Ardrossan academies and Haysholm and James McFarlane schools.

When responses were broken down, 85% of people associated with Auchenharvie Academy and its feeder primary schools rejected the proposal, with 8% supporting the merger and 7% expressing no preference.

A majority of respondents associated with Ardrossan Academy and its feeder primaries were also against the plan – 56%, with 39% in support and 5% indicating no preference.

Respondents from Irvine’s Haysholm School rejected the plan too – 60% disagreed with the question posed in the consultation, 29% agreed and 13% had no preference.

Only respondents associated with James McFarlane School in Ardrossan backed the merger – 67% agreed, 29% disagreed and 4% stated no preference.

Those who responded positively to the public consultation highlighted their belief that there is a need for new facilities, with the merger proposal offering educational opportunities, increased pupil choice and integration of additional support-needs-facilities leading towards greater inclusion.

However, respondents who oppose the merger listed objections, such as to the identified preferred site in Ardrossan, the potential educational impact on pupils, transportation issues, concerns for pupils with additional support needs being located within a mainstream campus, the possible impact on educational standards due to the size of the proposed new school and the shared use of facilities with St Matthew’s Academy.

Veron Maneely, Chair of the Auchenharvie Academy Parent Council, which strongly opposes the Council’s merger plan said, “The great majority of people I have spoken to from all of the Three Towns area are unhappy with the idea of a new campus, and in particular the chosen site.”

Ms Maneely flagged-up just a few of the concerns the Parent group has raised with North Ayrshire Council, “Historically, a drop in educational attainment has been evident when schools merge, and if a child is unhappy or bullied at the new school, there is no option to move to the next nearest secondary.”

Of the Council’s claim that a merger would produce cost-savings, the Parent Council Chair said, “In fact, it will take 25 years to break even due to the Council borrowing £20-million to add to the Government’s £22.5-million. How can NAC justify borrowing this money in this financial climate when the condition of both schools does not warrant knockdown?”

Other issues included transport and roads congestion, the cost of Stevenston pupils having to travel to a merged facility in Ardrossan, and the impact on the Stevenston community of losing its secondary school.

The results of the public consultation on the planned schools merger are expected to be discussed by the Council’s ruling SNP Cabinet before any proposal is put to a future meeting of the full Council.

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