Reform – Letters

Letters Received Concerning the Structure of Education Delivery in Gloucester.

From Derek Austin, Parent

(The Citizen, 1st October, 2003)

It is with much concern and alarm that I read in The Citizen (Sept 24) about the proposed changes to secondary education in Gloucester.

For all public services, the Government has rightly placed emphasis on getting value for money and results from those running those services whether as a private company or public agency.

So much so that for example, at least one health trust has had its management board sacked. Well-run NHS Trusts on the other the hand, are being rewarded “Foundation” status. Rail companies not performing have not had their contracts renewed. Why is it then that well-run schools with good results and good financial management should be forced to closed because some schools don’t meet the need of the community ?

A good school is a good community and a good community cannot be manufactured in a few years; the few short years that any pupil attends.

It seems that it’s a political choice and not a democratic choice; choice is being taken away from parents and prospective pupils, not just those who would attend a grammar school. It seems that a child would only be able to attend the nearest school. The argument that it stops the ridiculous amount of bussing pupils that goes on, will only provide a temporary “improvement”; in the future people will be moving to the area of the better schools and so create a monoculture and not the diversity I believe most people enjoy in a neighbourhood.

People need more choice; its not grammar or comprehensive; it should be a wide range of schools specialising in various areas. Yes , share facilities, but don’t merge identities.

Let the teachers decide what the educational future should hold in Gloucester, not politicians; this will mean that there is not a wholesale exodus of good teachers in a period of change.

Let some of the senior staff from well-run schools be selected to run new management boards of schools that don’t “provide for certain children” and be the agents for change; not the reverse: retire before their age, because administrators think they know better.

There needs to be guarantees that pupils will continue to receive the education that the school was chosen for and that parents such as myself will be assured that this will be the case.

Back to top

A Statement by Howard Allen,
President of the Old Cryptians’ Club

(Received 4th October, 2003)

The emotional ties of the members of the committee and the members of the Old Cryptians’ Club, founded in 1901, towards the Crypt School run very deep. Understandably, therefore, the recent announcement in the Draft Proposals that The Crypt School will face dismemberment or closure, has touched a raw nerve. We have been dismayed, rendered incredulous, saddened and angered by this news.

We are most conscious of our own debt of gratitude to the School. For so many of us, as for thousands of young persons over the past 460 years, The Crypt School has opened windows of opportunity and given a flying start to its pupils towards the establishment of successful careers.

We cherish the rich heritage of the School, the oldest educational foundation in the city of Gloucester, through its fine record in producing persons who have shaped the spiritual, professional, commercial and cultural life of the city and of other communities around the world. Not least, The Crypt has made an enormous contribution in the creation of a balanced and skilful work force in Gloucester.

I write as a retired educationalist with a broad experience of working within the private and maintained sectors of education. During the latter 19 years of my career, I was successively headmaster of a maintained selective and then of a maintained non selective secondary school. During these years and before, I came to appreciate that in the best schools and therefore the most popular ones, could be found comparable or recurrent features or yardsticks, by which their effectiveness could be gauged.

Above all, such schools will flourish because of the presence and existence of the strong leadership of the head teacher; a well managed senior management team; harmonious relationships between the staff and their students; a stimulating learning environment with a creative lead from inspirational teachers; a wide range of activity beyond the classroom; a sensitive and caring pastoral provision; the support of an active parents’ association, as well as the approval and vote of confidence placed within it by its immediate community and former pupils.

In The Crypt School of today such features will be found in abundance. The School is confident about its role and in its strategic plan for the next 5 years. This is a school community that knows where it is going and how it is going to get there. The head teacher, staff and governors are justly proud of their recent achievements, viz, the placement in the top 25 of the most improved schools in the country; the attainment of Special Science status and the opening of the Grahame Parker Sports hall. The school community seeks to keep this impetus going forward.

The authors of the Draft Review have stated that they are seeking the development of schools “of character and with a distinctive ethos and identity.” It is my belief that the Crypt School matches up admirably to these noble ideals.

As Old Cryptians, we are most proud to be in association with the school. At the same time we are ever mindful of one of the major aims, stated in the constitution of The Old Cryptians’ Club, namely for members to commit themselves to the enhancement of the well being and welfare of the current and future groups of cryptians.

We contest and reject the strategic goal of the planners, of “limiting the selective intake to levels which impact less on non selective schools.” Under this scheme The Crypt School becomes, it seems, the nominated sacrificial lamb.

We urge that further thought be given to how in the best practise to be found present in The Crypt School at this time can be utilised to the advantage of the young persons of Gloucester. We find it inconceivable that the best way forward must lie in placing the Crypt School into the dustbin of history. The community of Gloucester can not afford to lose such a rare and precious educational resource as The Crypt School.

Postscript.

Vivat Cryptiensis, Vivat in Perpetuum.

Long Live The Crypt School, May it live for ever.

These are key words in the School’s Song, sung on all public occasions at the School and by the Old Cyptians’ at their gatherings. We are justly proud of our heritage and traditions and above all confident in the School as a viable unit in the future.

Back to top

A Letter From Brian Jones

(Received 15th October, 2003)

Thank you for the copy of our presidents reply to the Strategic Review. I am glad that our concerns are expressed so lucidly and so magnificently. However I too would like to add my voice to the increasing clamour, protesting at the outrageous suggestions contained within the proposals.

Those with long memories will recall that there has been for over fifty years a long running battle to preserve not only our Grammar schools in Gloucester but also to preserve the fine historic institutions which both the Crypt School and Sir Thomas Riches School represent. It is ironic that it was only due to their foresight and desire to improve the lot of the less privileged that John and Joan Cook, both politicians of their day, saw fit to endow the Crypt School. They put their own money in and founded a school which has stood the test of time for four hundred and sixty four years. In its time it has produced great citizens for both our country and the city of Gloucester. It continues so to do and should not be allowed to be destroyed by politicians who are incapable of following the magnificent example of our founders. We cannot allow a school which has such a magnificent history and which is still bang up to date in its approach to the good education of Gloucester’s future citizens, to be cast on the scrap heap, on the whim of part-time educationists who arguably for political reasons are prepared to gamble with that which works in order to improve that which doesn’t.

Why, why, why, do these people have to stir up a hornets nest in this way. God knows that Headmasters, teachers, parents and pupils have had to put up with an absolutely intolerable level of interference from politicians in the way in which the education system is run. I dread to think what the bureaucratic cost of these latest proposals will be, taking much needed money from the system, money which would be much better spent in the schools themselves.

It is not just Old Cryptians, who run probably one of the strongest Old Boys Clubs in the country (proof that the influence of the school has run strongly through our veins throughout our lives), who should be uniting in a protest which will vigorously defend the existing grammar schools. It needs the support of the citizens of Gloucester and beyond to demonstrate that politicians cannot run roughshod through our history. Current pupils of the Crypt are inspired and helped by the achievements of their predecessors, as I was. Whilst I did not go on to achieve great things, the influence on my sense of ambition and desire to acquit myself well was enormous. As a child I went to watch the Old Cryptians on the rugby and cricket fields, I attended services in Gloucester Cathedral at which an Old Cryptian preached as the Dean of Gloucester. I came from a humble background and because of the Crypt School was influenced in the most positive of ways.

In writing this I find it difficult not to become emotional, difficult not to allow the arguments to become too passionate, difficult not to want to strike out at those who can so wantonly, lightly and so indiscriminately strike out an institution which has done so much down the centuries as an instrument for good.

May I echo the voice of our president Howard Allen and that of all Old Cryptians when I say Floreat Schola Cryptiensis.

Old Cryptians and everyone with an interest in the future of the school – STAND UP AND FIGHT THESE INIQUITOUS PROPOSALS

Sincerely yours
Brian A Jones (1945-1953)

Back to top

From The Chairman of The London Old Cryptians Club,
John Goodridge

(Received 31st October, 2003)

I write on behalf of the London Old Cryptians Club, which represents former pupils of The Crypt School who reside or work in London and the South East and who retain an interest in the affairs of the School.

The recent announcement, in the Draft Proposals for Gloucestershire’s education system, that The Crypt School will face closure shocked us and we are profoundly disturbed by this news. As a former School Governor in Kingston-on-Thames I have some knowledge of the level of interference that Head teachers, teachers, parents and pupils have had to endure over many years on how the education system is run.

The Crypt School has been an important institution in the life of Gloucester for some four hundred and sixty four years. During this period it has produced great citizens for both our City and the Country as a whole. It would be an ignominious act to close such a school on the misplaced ideology of some educationalists who are prepared to cause immense disruption, uncertainty and unease to staff, parents and pupils in the name of their idea of progress. I would be interested to know the financial implications of these proposals on the citizens of Gloucester.

The aim of all politicians of whatever party should be to improve standards of education for all our children no matter what their background. However I fail to see the logic in proposing to close higher achieving schools because of the failure of some other schools. The consequence, if carried out, will be the lowering of standards to the detriment of all pupils, the exact opposite of the supposed aims of this strategic review. The Government, through the Qualification and Curriculum Authority, has recently announced the supposed end of the comprehensive experiment which has lasted 30 years whilst the Gloucestershire County Council still seeks to achieve a levelling out of educational standards with the threat of the closure of grammar schools in Gloucester.

I implore all Old Cryptians and everyone with an interest in the future education of their children to stand up and fight these inequitable proposals. The London Old Crytians Annual Dinner will be held on Saturday 22nd November when, as usual, the school song will be sung to close the proceedings; the key words of this song being:

Long Live The Crypt School, May it live for ever.

Back to top

From Peter Arnold, (1944-49)
Past Vice Chairman of School Governors,
and 500th Mayor of Gloucester

(Received 30th October, 2003)

As you would expect, I agree with virtually every word you have received from OC’s opposed to the proposed closure of the School. But the question then arises – what are we going to do about it?

Appeals made on purley emotional grounds are not going to cut any ice at all. We need reasons why the School should remain an entity in its own right, not simply based on the feelings that the memories of the place engender in all of us. We need a great deal of support from outside the Crypt School community itself.

One way to go might be to emphasise the unique position that the Crypt holds in the whole fabric of the good old City of Gloucester.

Technically, the School is older than the Cathedral, which didn’t achieve that status until two years after the Crypt was founded. Since then, it would be hard to think of any important development in the City which did not involve Cryptians or old Cryptians.

Old Cryptians manned the walls during the Seige of Gloucester where Crypt boys acted as runners for the defending forces.

You could also point out that there were Old Cryptians at Waterloo, in the Crimea, at the Somme, in the Battle of Britain, and driving tanks at El Alamein. I suspect that there must have been a few at the Imjin River.

I’m sure that the historians among us could amplify and add to these bare bones.

What I am getting around to is that destruction of the Crypt would not just be an act of crass educational vandalism, but an attack on the very heritage of the City, which has been diluted enough, goodness knows, over the past half century or so.

This is not a time when this should be allowed. With inpending movement (at last) on such projects as Blackfriars, the Quays and the cattle market, further erosion of our heritage would be like removing an anchor from an oil rig under construction.

By going down the heritage route, we might achieve the support of such bodies as the Civic Trust, and even, hopefully, of the City Council itself. We would certainly give people like Paul James and Andrew Gravells a hook to hang their hats on in making appeals to the Council.

I’ve probably said enough for now. I could say more.

For example, when are the next County Council Elections ? We could create mayhem among the candidates at that time.

Anyway….keep on keeping on. I’m not as mobile or fit as I used to be, but anything I can do…

Back to top

From Andy Watts
(Received 4th November, 2003)

I thought that I would check the validity of the Bristol case as a comparison and telephoned the Bristol LEA. I spoke to Mr O’Shea who was very helpful. Two Bristol selective schools changed status in 1999, although the process began in 1998, possibly before the 1998 Act came into force, he couldn’t quite remember. The system was different then apparently and each year parents were surveyed. In the case of the two selective schools, the majority of the parents with children at those schools and Governors for those schools had voted for the schools to become community schools. There was a clear majority in favour. There was a small campaign but they had little difficulty because there was such a clear majority in favour of the change and there was no legal challenge. Therefore there is no legal precedent. They did not use Section 29 because they did not need to then. The matter was not referred to the SOC but to the Secretary of State.

Clearly there is no comparison to the current situation where there is no majority of parents at any of the Grammar schools clamouring for them to be turned into comprehensives, there is no support from school governors for this action, Bristol did not close any schools, merge any schools or refer the matter to the SOC under section 29 of the 1998 Act. The change in status of the Bristol schools is therefore irrelevant and is being used as a Red Herring to divert people away from the fact that there is no legal standing for these proposals.

Sections 28 and 29 of the Act outline the mechanism for schools to be closed. There is no mention of Grammar schools in the sections at all. Grammar schools have a separate section later in the Act (104-108 from memory) which outlines the petition/ballot procedure. It was evidently one of the intentions of the Act for there to be a degree of protection for Grammar schools from political attack. If Grammar schools could be closed under sections 28/29 there would be no protection at all because an authority could change the selection procedure simply by closing a Grammar school under that section and reopen the next day as a comprehensive. This would clearly be a misuse of process and I believe is challengeable in court, particularly as there is no legal precedent.

I am currently trying to get an answer from the DFES on this, but it is slow going. I do not get the impression that they are totally impartial but they support Gloucestershire LEA.

I hope you can use this information to help save our Grammar schools and if there is any way that I can assist, please let me know. My connections are with Tommies and Denmark Road, but I totally oppose any closure/merger or whatever to Crypt and Ribston as well.

Andy Watts

Sent on behalf of Geoff Black:

Dear Mr Watts,

I was aware we had corresponded previously and hope this will be helpful in answering some earlier questions.

At the meeting with Peter Clarke, you questioned whether there was legal backing for the closure of grammar schools without a parental ballot. I offered to give chapter and verse.

It may be helpful to say first of all that the Authority, as you would expect, had sought clarification from DfES in London about the possible scope of any proposals that it might wish to make. We then returned to the DfES at the stage when the review group had met and made certain proposals. Again, we went through these specific options with DfES and they assured us that all were possible to implement in the way we had anticipated. Specifically, they confirm that it is possible to close a grammar school and reopen it in a different form, including as a comprehensive. The act in question is the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, sections 28 and 29 dealing with proposals to establish, alter or discontinue a maintained school. The interpretation of this Act by DfES has been confirmed by our own legal advice.

The selective admission arrangements of a grammar school may be terminated in one of two ways:

(i) By means of a ballot requested by parents
(ii) By the publication of proposals by the Governing Body of the school.

The above deals only with termination of the selective arrangements and at the end of the process the school continues in existence with the same pupils, staff and governing body.

The alternative approach is to use Section 29 of the SSFA and publish proposals for the closure of the school, subsequently proposing the creation of a new and different school in its place. This procedure involves the LEA submitting its proposals to the School Organisation Committee or, if there is no decision, to the independent Schools Adjudicator. As far as I understand it from DfES, Bristol went through this procedure within the last 3 years with two grammar schools.

I hope this is helpful.

Best wishes.
Geoff Black
Head of Planning & Development
Education Department

Back to top

From Adrian Smith

(2nd October, 2003)

With reference to the ongoing debate about education in Gloucester , I call on the fellow electors in Gloucester to sit up and take notice of the comments made by our MP Parmjit Dhanda in which he states “The important thing is that we actually get the best possible education for our children”.

Well Mr Dhanda, I am in agreement with you on exactly that point and demand that the status quo IS retained because I want my son to get the best possible education which should not be jeopardised by these ill-timed proposals. I am also concerned at our MP’s superficial comments when he states “it would also be very irresponsible to turn this into a political football” – perhaps he should be reminded that being an MP is a political role and it is the politicians who are turning this into a political football !

Mr Dhanda further demonstrates a lack of awareness about the constituency he is supposed to represent when he is quoted as saying “It would be irresponsible for me to be making remarks about protecting individual schools for historic reasons” – a pretty crass generalisation, I feel, about ignoring the 465-year history of the Crypt School which has produced many outstanding scholars, business leaders , sportsmen and even politicians who have benefited Gloucestershire and beyond.

And finally….. for now….. Mr Dhanda and the local politicians – just remember that we, the electorate, have your future in our hands and the silent majority will get more vociferous if things are made worse by ruining the education of thousands of young people in and around Gloucester. We are already dreading the announcement of next year’s council tax rises and with imminent tax increases due on fuel, thousands of ordinary voters are ready to say “enough is enough” and demand a change of local and national government. So, Mr Dhanda and our local councils, put your own houses in order before even starting to think about closing schools with a record of high performance !

Back to top

From Simon Griffiths

(The Citizen, 30th September, 2003)

Could you please explain to the people in the Gloucester area who are going to be devastatingly affected by the shake-up of the education system why your paper’s reports are showing such huge bias towards this terribly thought-out Labour/Lib Dem notion that Gloucester’s schooling system needs to be changed.

As a local paper of your type there should be no bias and straight, simple reporting. There are many ideas as to why there will be reform, none of which make an iota of sense to half of this city’s residents.

Idea 1: Drop in numbers coming into schools in future years. Doesn’t this actually mean that Labour would eventually manage to keep a pre-election promise – reducing class sizes?

Also, why do you need to get rid of small, over-subscribed grammar schools?
Make the comprehensives smaller and if totally necessary combine single sex comprehensives, thereby having the least damaging affect on the schooling system.

Idea 2: Some schools are achieving too highly(!?) and others too low.

Combining schools won’t make a bit of difference. Those who can’t (or won’t) still won’t be able/willing too and the achievers will be pulled down by the extra disruptions/less nurturing caused by disruptions from pupils who don’t want to learn.

Nothing will change to help those who already struggle as some of the “better” teachers at grammar schools simply can’t handle the types of children some comprehensives have to accommodate.

Another problem arises when you consider the difference in courses available at grammars and comprehensives.

Grammars are more academic due to the type of pupils and comprehensives have more vocational courses, also because of the type and interests of the pupils.

Mixing these will result in pupils not having the courses they require on offer.

Lack of vocational courses is of no concern to grammar schools, while comprehensives have all the subjects covered at GCSE anyway.

As the famous saying goes: “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!”

Gloucestershire’s LEA is the seventh best in the country so something must be going right. Combining grammars with comprehensives will only drag us down from our high position.

SIMON GRIFFITHS

Save The Crypt

Back to top

From Howard Allen,
President of the Old Cryptians’ Club

(Received 5th December, 2003)

Introduction.

At the A.G.M. of the London Branch of The Old Cryptians’ Club on the 22nd of November, I promised to provide an update on the issue of school reorganisation, and in particular, of the potential impact on the current status of the School.

Background.

The Gloucestershire County Council embarked upon a major consultative exercise with the publication of the document, Review of Gloucester Secondary Schools, in October 2003. Their declared intention was to invite views on how secondary education in Gloucester and sixth forms throughout the county could be improved.

The issues that the review claims need to be addressed in summary are; the wide variation in the performance of some schools; the rising levels of surplus places that will develop by 2100 in the schools; the over provision of grammar school places in the four selective schools; and the excessive movement of pupils on a daily basis in and out of the city.

Options for Change.

In the review document the authors have proposed a wide range of options for the reform of the structure of the 13 secondary schools in the city. I t is claimed that here will be found the solutions to the problems that have been identified.

In the summary of the options for the southern end of the city-Cluster 1, it is proposed that The Crypt School is closed and subsumed or amalgamated to form one of the following:

– a new coeducational grammar school with Ribston Hall of 600 places with a sixth form.
– a new boys’ 11 to 16 comprehensive school of 750 places by amalgamation of The Crypt and Central School. Without a sixth form.
– one of two new coeducational 11 to 16 comprehensive schools each of 750 places by amalgamations with Ribston Hall, Barnwood Park and Central. Without sixth forms.

Note. It is stated also that ‘no change is an option’.

The Old Cryptian Response.

Predictably, in one of several ways, all of the options as these relate to changes in the status of the The Crypt School, have been opposed. To date, positive action has been taken place in the following manner.

The President, on behalf of the Old Cryptians’ Club, at the behest of the committee, has written a letter to The Citizen, and also to Tim Yeo, MP, the conservative party spokesman on education. The President has despatched also a paper to the Senior Educational Planning Officer at Shire Hall.

The President has also discussed with Old Cryptian, David Lane, QC, the advisability of seeking a judicial review of the administration of the consultation process by Gloucester County Council. Judge Lane advised against such action , in particular, on the grounds of the prohibitive costs of such a review. The President also wrote to the chairman of the Gloucester Schools’ Charity, Peter Robbins. He was able to confirm that The Crypt School owns the buildings and land at Podsmead. He also has stated publicly his support for the retention of the grammar schools in Gloucester. This is a view shared by the majority of the Trustees of the Charity.

Letters have been sent by past presidents, Dr Graham Russell, Gordon and Brian Jones; vice president, Peter Butler; the chairman of The London Branch, John Goodridge; and by other Old Cryptians; to The Citizen and/or The Daily Telegraph or The Times.

Past president, Ian Williamson, has written to his constituency MP, and a former headmaster of The Crypt and a past president, Michael Holmes, has written to Tim Yeo. Both MP’s have agreed in their replies to draw the issues of Gloucester, and not least The Crypt, to the attention of the Schools’ Minister.

The parents have set up their own organisation to combat the closure of the School. This is the Review Action Group for Education (RAGE). Together with representatives of the parents’ associations and of the organisations of former pupils of the four grammar schools, a group has been formed to resist the perceived threat to the status of the selective schools. This is SOS, save our schools. To date the group has organised petitions and composed sets of questions for use at the several consultative meetings in each of the schools under review. In turn, both of these organisations have been in discussion with regard to the implementation of more militant actions, e.g. a march to Shire Hall through the streets of Gloucester before Christmas.

Two public meetings took place in The School Hall on the evenings of Monday 24th November. The Hall was very full for both of these meetings. The officers of the Gloucestershire County Council were bombarded by a wide range of statements and questions from parents, pupils and former pupils, and members of the public. The structural options were rejected unanimously and with considerable passion by those present in either meeting. At the commencement of both meetings, there were excellent statements presented by the headmaster, David Lamper, and by Martin Kennedy, a parent governor, as the representative of the governors, in which the strong case was made on the grounds of the School’s current excellent performance, for the retention of its present status.

The Next Stage.

Assurances were given at the Public Meetings that no decisions had been taken and that there was no hidden agenda. There was a reiteration of the message that the Cabinet/Council would determine the next steps only after due consideration of the results of the consultation.

In February 2004, the Cabinet could decide to choose a preferred option and begin an implementation process. If proposals were approved, in September 2005, the legal closure of The Crypt School could take place and the opening of a new school with a new status could be implemented.

Therefore, it is imperative that Old Cryptians continue to write to and lobby any of the following; your local MP; Mr Blair and Mr Howard(emphasising choice); The Citizen, The Times, The Daily Telegraph; your local town/county councillor if you reside in the Gloucester catchment area.

I believe it is most important that in our communications, we emphasise the current quality of the School, as stated by the Ofsted Inspectors (1998). Namely, The Crypt School, ‘offered a distinctive, broad and challenging education which enables all pupils to grow intellectually and socially.’ Furthermore, most recently, through its enlightened programmes of improving performance, the School has won two School Achievement awards. The governors have been most successful in winning the considerable support of the community and parents. This enabled them to raise the essential funding for the attainment of the prestigious award of Science College status.

Indeed, the School provides the distinctive ethos and quality of all round education, that the authors of the Review Document claim, they are seeking in the schools of Gloucester. Certainly, The Crypt School, with the fine leadership of David Lamper and the commitment of its staff, is well placed to provide opportunities of high quality education for the young people of Gloucester and district. We must do all in our power to prevent The Crypt School being cast aside on the whim of councillors or planners.

I trust that my update has been informative. I remain hopeful that our School will be left to pursue the lines of development that would win your approval and support.

Vivat Schola Cryptiensis.

Vivat in Perpetuum.

Back to top