|4||The Chairman welcomed all participants to the meeting and members of public.|
He explained the purpose of the meeting was to deal with a call-in request relating to a decision made by Cllr K Meeson, Cabinet Member for Education, Children and Young People on 6th October 2008 in respect of Bosworth Wood and Kingfisher Primary Schools. He also explained, for the benefit of participants and the audience, the Council's Executive/ Scrutiny functions and how they complement each other in policy and decision making.
He reminded the Committee that its role was to consider whether, in the context of the grounds contained in the Call-In Notice, all relevant factors were taken into account by the Cabinet Member in reaching his decision and that the decision was a reasonable one, in the circumstances.
The Chairman read out the decision that had been called-in, namely: -
"The Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Education, Children and Young People:
(i) Received the recommendations of the Education, Children and Young People Scrutiny Board of 2 October 2008;
(ii)Agreed to bring the pupils of both Bosworth Wood and Kingfisher Primary Schools together through the technical closure of Kingfisher Primary School and the relocation of Bosworth Wood Primary School to the new school building in North Arran Way. The change to take effect from the end of the 2008/2009 academic year; and
(iii) Agreed that during the consultation, the views of all sectors of the community should be sought regarding all aspects of the proposal and a particular question regarding the name of the school. The consultation should also consider changes to the schools catchment areas."
He also read out the list of documents that had been supplied with the agenda and referred to the following statements that had subsequently been sent to Members from: -
Cllr J Hamilton in support of the grounds to the Call-In Notice
Cllr S Slater in support of the grounds to the Call-In Notice
Cllr G Craig
Kingfisher Primary School
The Chairman then called upon the signatories to the Call-In Notice to address the Committee.
Cllr Nash contended that this proposal had emerged only recently and that schools affected had not been consulted properly. He challenged the assumptions made in the reports submitted to the Cabinet Member in respect of the future projected pupil population and questioned how the decision could have been taken on this basis.
In the absence of Cllrs Hamilton and Slater (who attended later), the Chairman read out their statements.
The Chairman then invited the Cabinet Member to respond to the grounds of the Call-in Notice and any other comments made by the signatories.
Cllr Meeson commented that he did not think that any of the signatories to the Call-In Notice were present at his decision making session so they would not have heard the extensive discussion and clarification that had taken place on these issues. He outlined the four options that had been placed before him at his original decision making session in September and that, following pressure from opposition groups, he decided to remit the matter to Overview & Scrutiny with a mind to accept any recommendations forthcoming from that process.
At the 6th October decision making session he had received the Education, Children and Young People Scrutiny Board recommendations by which in effect options 1 and 2 had been rejected and had agreed that a school needed to close. What scrutiny had failed to do was suggest which one. He had decided, based on precedent, to consult on the technical closure of Kingfisher School, it being the smaller of the two schools.
The Cabinet Member then addressed the specific grounds to the call-in.
Ground 1 - The recommendation from scrutiny had cross party support and its accuracy was not recently challenged at the Full Council meeting. Equally spokespersons attending his decision making session had the opportunity to challenge the veracity of the recommendations.
Ground 2 - With regard to the claim that scrutiny had not taken into account the full effect of the regeneration programme, the Cabinet Member stated that the estimated school population statistics had been challenged at his original decision making session, at the scrutiny meeting and again at his decision session on 6th October. Each time officers had responded to that challenge and at his decision sessions he had been satisfied with those responses. In fact, since then he had received further information from Solihull Community Housing which supported the argument that the majority of new social housing in the area will be occupied by people already living in the area rather than families new to the area. He re-iterated the fact that he had taken the decision based on the best available information.
Ground 3 - The Cabinet Member referred to the assertion made that little weight had been placed on the contextual added value provided by Kingfisher School. He referred to the statements made by him at his decision session recognising the fact that both schools had records to be proud of, achieved through challenging circumstances and, as such, there was no suggestion in his decision that one school was better than the other. Based on officer advice and on precedent, his decision was on the basis of the smaller school merging with the larger one.
The Cabinet Member then answered questions from the Committee, as follows: -
He confirmed that had his decision been to close Bosworth Wood School the process now being followed would have been exactly the same, e.g. a period of statutory consultation.
On the point of there being limited notice of the proposals given to the schools with the attendant difficulties in getting the Governing body together to consider it, he commented that the decision he had taken was to consult. The submissions supplied as part of this process to date could be seen as a response to consultation that had not yet started.
His decision would not be influenced by simply the strength of feeling expressed, and given the basis of his decision to date, he felt comfortable with it. Obviously he would have regard to any new material information that may arise during the course of the consultation exercise.
There would be a place in the new school for children from both Kingfisher and Bosworth Wood. Hence, there was a need to consider the name of the new school as part of the consultation exercise, in order to provide a fresh start.
Officers advised that they could not be specific as to when the children from each school would move into the new school building. However, it was certain that both sets of pupils would be accommodated in the school by September 2009.
The Cabinet Member re-iterated that the consultation would include changes to school catchment areas.
Scrutiny had considered in some detail the issues around school population projections and had made its recommendations based on that consideration.
There was some debate around the "perceived misunderstanding" of the recommendations from the Education, Children and Young People Scrutiny Board, and the subsequent lack of challenge that could have been raised in other fora.
The Chairman then invited Sue Vyvyan, Head teacher of Kingfisher School to address the Committee. She acknowledged that this meeting was not a re-run of the previous Scrutiny meeting. She commented on the earlier point made over limited notice of the proposals which amounted to a notification two days before the proposal was in the public domain.
She referred to the officer report to the Cabinet Member which she argued was unfavourably balanced against Kingfisher School and pointed to specific paragraphs that compared the weaknesses of the two schools but mentioned none of the improvements at that School. She also commented that the report had not mentioned the impact of the regeneration activities and hardships endured by pupils and staff at Kingfisher School. Bosworth Wood School had not had to endure such upset. Given this background, the proposals had outraged parents and risked undermining the successes made at the School.
She advised that since September 2008 the school had taken an additional 25 pupils on the school roll, i.e. the basis for an extra class; it is possible that the prospect of a new school would attract further pupils and turnaround the situation of Kingfisher being the smaller of the two schools.
She then circulated a table showing the potential population of the new school, combining the current numbers at the two schools and other children in the area that may transfer. This potential number would outstrip the available places at the new school and this did not take into account any children from new housing in the area which would only exacerbate the situation.
Ms Vyvyan argued that the Cabinet Member's decision was flawed in view of the uncertainties outlined above.
Having listened to the head teacher and posed a couple of questions in clarification, the Committee started to debate some of the issues, including some further questions to the Cabinet Member around pupil migration, school vacancies, the availability of the new school building and contextual added value.
The Committee then debated specifically the grounds to the Call-In Notice. In the case of ground 1, whilst some Members felt that there was apparent confusion around the recommendations made from the Education, Children and Young People Scrutiny Board the majority view (5 votes to 2) was that the outcome was clear and that other opportunities were available to Members to have clarified or questioned the recommendations made by the Scrutiny Board.
As for ground 2, some Members had concern over the apparent uncertainty of the pupil projections, supplemented by the figures submitted to this meeting. Other Members who were in the majority (4 votes to 3) felt that the Cabinet Member had made his decision on the basis of the best information available to him and that any further information that comes to light in this regard, including that presented at this meeting, would be considered as part of the consultation exercise.
In the case of ground 3, the Committee had regard to the fact that the Cabinet Member's decision included the launching of a consultation exercise and his decision was based on the precedent that the smaller of the two schools should close rather than any reference to performance or contextual added value. The vote on this ground was unanimously against.
(Cllr S Slater entered the meeting at 7 pm during questions to the Cabinet Member)