Posted: 04.03.20 at 19:21 by Nick Hudson
Hundreds of pupils from Atherstone and surrounding villages are being taught in some of the “worst conditions” in the country, government ministers are to be told.
Head teacher Maura Favell made an impassioned plea to town planners to approve pulling down five existing buildings to make way for a new teaching block at North Warwickshire’s biggest school.
Only last week one of the them was condemned by a surveyor as a “significant health and safety concern” due to its state of repair, the Polesworth School principal told councillors.
And Ms Favell also urged the Planning and Development Board on North Warwickshire Council to act – in order to help settle a ‘Community v Education’ accommodation impasse on the school site.
For 30 years, the 1,600-pupil establishment has thrown open its doors to non-school users ¬– with a community wing being home to a county-funded youth club, a marching band and the Boys’ Brigade and the Girls’ Brigade on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
But the proposed replacement block puts future community use in doubt, according to David Harris, pastor to the Fellowship Church at St John’s in Birchmoor and chaplain to the brigades.
In 2014, Polesworth applied for funding for improvements through the Priority Schools Building Programme.
Three years later a Building Condition Survey recognised the need for urgent improvements to be made to allow the school to deliver on its core purpose of education.
The survey concluded a number of buildings included in the community wing were in such a “poor state of repair” that refurbishment would not be an economically viable option, and new building was required.
Ms Favell told the planning board this week that the Dordon Road school’s science and design technology teams work in sub-standard buildings with defects including roof leaks, damp, structural distortion, draining issues, damaged external cladding, rot on the walls, and rotten windows.
She went on: “As a proud and aspirational head teacher, my core purpose and primary aim must be to provide as high quality a teaching environment and resources as possible to nearly 1,600 pupils.”
The head explained the school – which caters for Atherstone pupils and includes Grendon, Baddesley and Baxterley within is core catchment area – is “highly successful and oversubscribed”. The next academic year has seen 437 applications for 240 available places.
“But the school houses buildings which are among some of the worst in the country in terms of their condition and do not meet modern teaching requirements,” she said.
The problem for the school in the replacement teaching block application is –from an educational perspective – the community wing is considered surplus to requirements and as such demolition is a condition of PSBP funding.
No funding is available to provide new or refurbished space specially for community uses.
And the income to the school from the brigades is “very modest” £600 a year and “would not come close to meeting the upkeep costs of retaining the buildings”, she said.
The school has worked closely with brigade leaders since September to ensure the organisations continue to function within the community with alternative accommodation identified.
She added: “We have done everything within our power to accommodate the needs of the brigades offering the school hall, an adjacent foyer area, toilets and a kitchen for their use.
“But young people who attend the school deserve to be educated in buildings fit for purpose and inspire a thirst for knowledge.
“My committed, experienced and dedicated teaching staff deserve an environment that does not stifle their creativity or limit their experiences they can offer students.
“Priority must be to provide an education of the highest standard to allow our students to achieve more than they ever thought possible.”
Pastor Harris told Nub News the community wing at the school has been a “long standing feature of village life” – and that the brigades had enjoyed support and a good relationship with the school over a 30-year period.
He suggested a community interest company be formed to take responsibility for the two remaining buildings – the coffee bar and toilet block.
He told councillors : “As a former governor at the school, it is not my intention to hinder the approval of the proposed new building,
“I see the role of the school and brigades as complimentary with both organisations working effectively to prepare future generations for the experiences they will face in adult life.”
He called on councillors to consider the “immediate approval” for the new school building but asked for the long-term use of the community wing to be discussed without the threat of demolition hanging over it.
Pastor Harris added: “The community needs more buildings, and this council is well aware of it.
“Take the community buildings out of the equation and let the school get on with their new buildings.
“It would be a tragedy if in haste to gain approval of the new building another valued community facility was lost and two long standing and well supported youth organisations had to close.”
The brigades’ chaplain said their leaders felt the offer of a school hall for meetings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays was not a “viable proposition”.
He told Nub News: “The school hall is impersonal and excessively spacious and this will make interaction and behaviour management between leaders and youngsters very difficult.
“But we have no option but to accept it in the short term. But long term plans for the brigades up in the air.”
North Warwickshire Councillor Charles Hayfield noted at the planning meeting: “Polesworth is providing the school hall and some storage.
“The school is choosing to do this out of goodwill to the community. It has bent over backwards to accommodate the brigades.”
Board chairman Mark Simpson concluded: “There is a multiplicity of winners here.
“Existing community use can continue until it is resolved. The greater good is here in a consent and allowing the building work to carry on.”
Councillors, who held a site meeting at the school last month, approved the application but the matter has been referred to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick to him to “determine” if he see fits.
The planning board also included a caveat that development won’t start until full details of alternative accommodation on the existing school campus for non-community users has been provided and approved by town planners.
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