Proposal must be questioned

IT was supposed to herald a new dawn in education for Stevenage. Thomas Alleyne School in the Old Town was to be relocated in a new £24m state-of-the-art building in the north of the town. This was the key selling point of a £145m Government and Hertfords

IT was supposed to herald a new dawn in education for Stevenage.

Thomas Alleyne School in the Old Town was to be relocated in a new £24m state-of-the-art building in the north of the town.

This was the key selling point of a £145m Government and Hertfordshire County Council investment called Building Schools for the Future which would also see money poured into enlarging and refurbishing other schools around the town.

Heathcote School, in the south, was to be used as cannon fodder and closed for good but this was a sacrifice worth making, said the council, as it would enable school places to be evenly distributed across the town. It was all about demographics.

A consultation document went to thousands of parents, teachers and governors last summer but these people have just been hoodwinked by the authority.

The council has just announced in an agenda for next Monday's Cabinet meeting that it cannot actually afford the school and the land it wanted to build it on and instead Thomas Alleyne will remain where it is and be improved.

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The quiet announcement caught some by surprise including, Heathcote School, who could be affected by this, which found out not from the council but from The Comet.

But the lack of communication is not the issue here.

There is something much more important; something which should be a very big deal for the people of Stevenage.

By choosing the option of keeping Thomas Alleyne where it is, the council is;

(a) Proposing something which was never on the consultation document sent out to thousands of people. The council is going ahead with a proposal without taking on public opinion and is ignoring last year's entire consultation process.

(b) Not giving Great Ashby its own school, despite the council's own top officers repeating time and time again how important this was.

(c) Opting for a preference to keep both Thomas Alleyne and the nearby Barclay School on their current sites which the council's own top officials - the very people behind the whole project - have rubbished time and time again saying: "We believe we need one school to serve this part of the town" and also "it's not possible to expand this school and to expand Barclay School because there isn't enough land to do that." They also said: "If all we did was to remodel the existing schools we wouldn't get that pattern of places where the demography demands them."

(d) Going back on what it told the public in all but one of the 13 public meetings held as part of the consultation that if the council cannot acquire the land at the north of Stevenage they would close Thomas Alleyne School. This was also on the consultation document.

The author of the document going to Cabinet on Monday is Lindsey Martin, the man behind the council's BSF project. In it he says: "As the proposed move is not a prescribed alteration requiring consultation or the publication of statutory notices, there are no legal implications of this change".

This is the same Lindsey Martin who said at a public meeting at Heathcote School on June 7 that if the council could not acquire the land to the north of Stevenage, "then we would have to re-consult because we would have to work out some new proposals, that's the honest answer."

If re-consulting is the "honest answer" why isn't the council sticking to its word?

I don't want people to think I want Thomas Alleyne to close, I don't. What I am doing is pointing out the discrepancies between what the council told the public and what it is now telling its own councillors.

Discrepancies which deem it necessary to re-consult especially as all of this affects the one school due for closure - Heathcote.

The council said Heathcote should shut because the relocating of Thomas Alleyne would spread schools evenly across the town. It also said Stevenage did not need two schools in the south.

But haven't we heard this somewhere before?

The council told residents it didn't need two schools in the Old Town, but has now decided that Thomas Alleyne and Barclay can co-exist after all.

The council should show Heathcote the respect it deserves and review its position because the whole process is inherently flawed.

It's the least the parents, pupils and teachers of Heathcote deserve.

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