The Headteacher suggests in her letter to parents dated 14 December that, without a fence at Stoke Lodge, Cotham School risks being put into special measures. We thought it might be helpful to set out some facts to help parents and others understand the real comparison here.
And just to correct a couple of other points in Ms Butler's letter - there is one open vehicular access to the Stoke Lodge site (the only other vehicle gates are kept locked except for contractor use; the University holds the keys). The drive only goes as far as the car park for the adult learning centre, not through the middle of the playing fields as at Coombe Dingle, and it too has a lockable gate.
Please see our statement issued today for more details of the proposals we have set out for strengthening boundaries to reduce entry points, and for improving safeguarding and controlling dogs at Stoke Lodge: https://bit.ly/2GmNd9o
Below are some extracts from a letter by Mr Froy to local residents dated December 2014, demonstrating his collaborative approach. Perhaps the real comparison between Cotham School and Newmarket Academy relates to the benefits of partnership working?
Re Safeguarding the Academy Site
As you know we have been working with you and your fellow residents to come up with a plan for the safeguarding of the site which meets our need to safeguard our students without excluding the local community. We have listened to the views of the community who attended our meeting on 17 November 2014, those who have come into the school to talk to me or contacted me by telephone and those who were able to come to the Local Council meeting... We have worked with PCH Associates to draw up plans to reflect the majority views. With this in mind we have come up with two final options and we would ask you to come again to a meeting... to allow us to explain these two options.'
'We have... created a number of gates onto the field both for maintenance purposes but also as we feel that the idea proposed at the Local Council meeting to set up a community group and to give local residents access to the field has lots of potential. Clearly this will need further discussion with some representatives of the community but I am absolutely convinced that this is an excellent model for school–community partnerships and one of which I would be proud to be a part of.
I would like to end by reassuring you that we have not made our decision... and the decision will be determined by the majority vote.'
When I was growing up my Mum always taught me that the most important question you can ever ask is ‘Why?’ That has been rumbling round in my head since Friday’s meeting with Cotham and I keep coming back to this ..
Why do they think it is even remotely acceptable to ask us to give up our democratic voice in exchange for a vague promise to join the ‘grown up table’?
Why do they think they have the right to silence nearly 1000 members of the local community who will be significantly affected by their plans for Stoke Lodge? Why do they think it is their place to overturn 70 years of peaceful coexistence? Why do they find it so hard to understand that the local community want to keep using Stoke Lodge in the exact same way as we have for that time – no narrow walkway, no being forced to enter and exit through one gate (which may or may not be unlocked) and no unreasonable restrictions on the things we can do?
I wish I had an answer, but I don’t think there is any way to explain the sheer arrogance of a Governing Body who - for the last 8 years - has done nothing but bully everyone they come into opposition with. It seems to me that they will stop at nothing until they see their fence around the entire perimeter of Stoke Lodge. But why?
They have spent over £200k of taxpayers’ money in challenging the Town and Village Green application, and in planning costs, all in pursuit of the fence, why? And why does no one in authority or the local media seem to be concerned by this apparent misuse of funding?
The only logical conclusion for me is that there must be bigger forces at play – bigger plans that will result in a sizeable income stream. Why else is Cotham shooting down every single logical alternative solution? We have made multiple suggestions that address the concerns raised in their flawed risk assessment whilst keeping Stoke Lodge accessible to the local community. Their response – to order another ‘tougher’ risk assessment to be carried out. But they have already decided that it will identify the need for a fence. So why waste yet more money if they already know the outcome will be the same?
Money that they can ill afford. Which perhaps explains why they repeatedly attempted to imply that the fence was an Ofsted requirement. And why are they so scared of an Ofsted inspection? Because a poor Ofsted rating means fewer parents will want to send their children there, which in turn means less funding. They have repeatedly accused the local community of being only interested in money, in the impact this will have on the value of their houses. Perhaps we can level the same accusation at them – that this simply comes down to the bottom line?
Whatever the answer I know that I am proud of each and every person in this group for joining together as a community to say, NO! We have successfully campaigned against the ill-thought-out planning application for the pavilion. We have expressed our unhappiness about the illegal signs that were installed over the summer with good humour and grace. We have come together to go for walks, to play games, to clear weeds and to enjoy the open space to its fullest. We have successfully stopped the school fencing Stoke Lodge over the summer holidays.
So, what next?
We need to keep asking ‘Why?’
A 'why' about the Risk Assessment
It has always bugged me this ‘Risk Assessment’ (RA) for Stoke Lodge and the more we dig, the more it bugs! ....why?
So we are back to why....Why if all experts do not see the same level of risk as the school does in ‘attack’ from dogs and the public can the school justify spending so much time, effort and money fighting for a fence let alone the cost of building one?
According to experts the risks are low to medium, not high and therefore the school should be ‘implementing measures that aren't too costly or troublesome' so why did they dismiss our sensenotfence# proposals out of hand? Really hope that we can get back to having sensenotfence discussions in the future with the school rather than sat here ranting and asking why !
Why the Governor at Cotham School was so upset with the “excessive work” created by our Freedom of Information Requests I am not sure – they have mostly come back to say that they don’t have /won’t give the information we asked for, such as:
1. No records of incidents at the Lodge – their published policy is to retain incident reports for twenty years so where are details of the incidents in 12/13/14 that are so often referred to as the reason they need a fence?
2. No records in any financial risk register (since 2014) for the monies they spent (circa £150K) on planning and TVG costs. They have detailed policies for managing financial risks via a financial risk register so assumed SL would be listed in it. If the £ they have spent and lost to date, and now continue to spend on Stoke Lodge isn’t a financial risk, what is?
3. No old risk assessments prior to 2014. We were keen to understand the measures used to manage risks for the 12 years they used SL for Physical Ed and see what changed in 2014. As a reminder, the 2014 risk assessment (which we do hold) is the one done shortly after receipt of a consultant’s report which clearly cites that safeguarding issues support grant funding applications.
4. They don’t have a cost benefit analysis completed to decide if it worth spending c. £700 K of tax payers money building facilities such as a fence and pavilion rather than renting significantly better, accessible under-utilised facilities elsewhere for a lower cost. I am surprised that neither Cotham or the ESFA (Education and Skills Funding Agency) can show us a document (or anything at all) that demonstrates how this is best value.
So I suppose its guess work: If they pay c.25K a year to the Uni to look after SL in its current state I assume that to add heating the pavilion, pitches, opening and closing the gate ! etc it will cost a min of £30K a year to run. They can rent better facilities elsewhere for 25K so are 5K a year down even before they spend the £700K ESFA grant to build the Pavilion and fence. So how will they ever realise a return on this investment? Naturally they are also already 150K in the red today as they have spent this in legal and planning costs and still don’t have permission for a fence or pavilion. Are there really that many clubs and schools who will pay good money regularly for sloping pitches when they can’t park?
The list goes on ….but rant over !
If they could/would give us these documents it maybe would have taken an hour or two to dig about and send them but given they don’t have them it seems strange we were told it was causing huge amounts of work and ‘MUST STOP’ Any ideas? Confused of BS9
In the post above it refers to information we've obtained under FOI, one of the other points in that FOI response was that the school tried to bolster its risk assessment by saying that the Inspector's Report in 2016 had accepted that if Stoke Lodge was granted TVG status, this would 'evidently preclude the school from using the land for physical education'.
That isn't the first time the school has made that statement, so I'm going to tackle it.
The key word is 'evidently' - yes, that was the evidence that the school gave to the inquiry. Just one problem: it wasn't true. It was never true that Ofsted required a perimeter fence. It was never true that other schools had been put into special measures because they had no fence around their playing field. And the school's evidence on this was never tested as part of the inquiry because it wasn't an issue in relation to the TVG. The Inspector also said that in any case they would be able to find other facilities even if they could no longer use Stoke Lodge/Coombe Dingle.
But the main point is - that statement was based on evidence that wasn't true. Every time I see the school say it, I'll be pointing that out. Feel free to do the same!
... I know we live in the age of Trump but it is a terrible shame when a school - a SCHOOL - relies more on alternative facts than actual ones.
The Cotham governors often cite other schools 'going into special measures' because they don't have a perimeter fence. They cite Kirkby Stephen Grammar school in Cumbria. Google it - the school went into special measures and then came out again, without putting up a perimeter fence. They cite Queen Katherine School in Kendal - the school went into special measures and they did put up a fence on their actual school site (i.e. stopping people getting into the school grounds/building) - but even Ofsted says a failure in one area won't get a school put into special measures. At Queen Katherine, the other issues included teachers having basic literacy problems, bullying and excessive exclusions. It's not just about a fence.
You would think that Ofsted's confirmation that they do not require perimeter fencing would have nailed this argument for good - but the school still cites 'Ofsted risk' (or the governors' perception of it) to justify their demand to restrict access to Stoke Lodge. So spread the word - it's not true and it never has been. Question everything. Keep asking 'why'?
The head at Cotham School has issued a newsletter to parents. It says "I am doing this in the hope that you can spread the word about what our intentions are for the playing fields (and what they have always been) to help stop the school being misrepresented"
It includes the below:
"Without the introduction of a fence, the site poses a risk of someone entering the space at any time without permission. This ability to enter the site puts students, staff and other users at risk of interruption or attack."
(The newsletter doesn’t cite any other risks/reasons why)
So we continue to ask why ... why is it okay for Cothams Kids to play sport 500 yards away at Coombe Dingle with NO RISK ASSESMENT where there is open public access and anyone can enter at any time on foot , by car or coach ? Why do other schools in higher crime areas happily use open access playing fields ?
They go onto say :
"The school have always expressed an intention to want to work with the community, to find an agreed way of being able to share the playing fields more widely with the local residents, whilst maintaining its duty of care to its students and staff. Despite a number of attempts to engage positively with representatives of the local population over the years, this has been met with anger and refusal."
Why has this group NEVER received any request to engage? We attended two meetings kindly arranged by our MP and at the last one we were told to shut down our Facebook group , stop campaigning and placing information requests or we would not be invited to further meetings that the school were planning...In all of our dealings with the school we have been friendly , never angry and have never refused to listen. I cannot say we have been shown the same courtesy. We asked the Head for a meeting last Monday (3rd Dec) and haven't had a response....as of 10th December