Academy plan 'scuppered' by politicians

Issue 481

CONTROVERSIAL plans to move a primary school to the site of Birkenshaw Middle are a deliberate bid to block a proposed new academy, councillors claim.
Kirklees Council’s Labour cabinet will consider the idea of officers as a way to rescue a failed rebuilding scheme, on Tuesday. It involves moving Birkenshaw First and Nursery from Station Lane to Birkenshaw Middle on Bradford Road from 2013.
The plan for an allthrough primary on the site would cost up to £2m – compared to the £12m needed to create the academy.
Kirklees Council’s £200m Building Schools for the Future (BSF) bid, from which the £12m would have come, was axed by the Government.
Officers are trying to salvage one of BSF’s main aims, which was to abolish middle schools and have a twotier system of primaries and secondaries.
But the proposal, announced by schools reorganisation chief Warwick Firmin on Monday, has caused a political storm.
The ward’s three Tory councillors condemned it as a blocking tactic to stop parents developing their own secondary.
Campaign group the Birkenshaw, Birstall and Gomersal Parents Alliance (BBGA) earmarked it for a 750pupil academy.    
Lib Dem leader Kath Pinnock (Cleckheaton) who backed the Labour cabinet meanwhile, called on BBGPA to either abandon their plans or find a site in Birstall. She believes the only justification to continue is its potential to solve Birstall’s complicated mixed sex places row.
Children from around Birstall and Birkenshaw were to go to a coeducational academy at Howden Clough under the BSF plans.
It was axed when BSF was cancelled. Batley Girls’ High is to remain there and stay single sex, which has upset some parents in Birstall.
Coun Pinnock said: “The BBG academy came about because parents in Birkenshaw didn’t want to travel to Howden Clough.
“The latest proposal allows all the children to stay in Birkenshaw, which is what parents in the village said they wanted. It means they’ve won the argument without spending a penny. But the council didn’t have a choice as the £12m isn’t there anymore.”
Mr Firmin denied the proposal was politically motivated and said: “We want to get the best for youngsters within the constraints we have.”
Birstall and Birkenshaw’s three Tory councillors, Robert Light, Andrew Palfreeman and Liz Smaje, disagreed and  accused Kirklees of wanting to sell the Birkenshaw First site for housing to stop BBGPA from using that site also.
It is believed BBGPA have a second site somewhere near Cleckheaton in mind but it would cost millions more to build from scratch.  
In a joint statement they said: “We believe the proposal is a clear attack on the whole community of Birstall, Birkenshaw and East Bierley.
“We are shocked that a huge campaign by parents and the community for coed secondary school provision has been totally ignored.
“At no point in the council’s report is there any mention of alternative coed provision through expansion at Batley Grammar or BBG High.
“Their failure to propose any solutions to resolve the need for coed provision is a failure to address the needs of all children.
“Our support for the BBG academy will not waver. We understand BBGPA will continue to progress plans to develop their school on an alternative site.
“They will also continue to discuss the middle school site with the council and Department for Education.”

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