MP opposes council schools plan

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MP Alec Shelbrooke has accused Leeds City Council of “pitching one community against the other” in his formal response to a consultation on the future of secondary school provision in Wetherby and Boston Spa.

The authority unveiled plans last month to demolish Boston Spa School, sell off the land for development and merge it with nearby Wetherby High as it said pupil numbers were too low to sustain two secondary schools.

Mr Shelbrooke told the Wetherby News: “The way in which Leeds City Council has acted to date seeks to pitch one community against the other.

“As a Member of Parliament it is my role to bring communities together, not to drive them apart.

“It is the desire of my constituents to retain two secondary schools in the Outer North East, both delivering outstanding education and supporting parental choice.

“In contrast, it is the desire of Leeds City Council to close Boston Spa School and relocate pupils to Wetherby.”

The MP for Elmet and Rothwell added: “The council’s Community Engagement Survey has been designed to persuade consultees that there is only need for one school in the Outer North East, it provides no discussion on alternative options.

“Leeds City Council’s proposal is to manage decline instead of setting a vision to attract more pupils or deal with future increases in pupil numbers as a result of the council’s Local Plan, which aims to deliver 70,000 new dwellings across the city.

“Disappointingly, the council’s proposal seems to avoid the issue of how the authority proposes to raised standards and outcomes for children in the Outer North East. Instead the supportive documents talk mainly of financial assets and estate management.”

Leeds City Council’s plans sparked outrage in Boston Spa, with residents launching a campaign and head teacher Chris Walsh publicly criticising the move, arguing the school is in the process of applying to become part of The Gorse Academies Trust.

Supporters of Wetherby High have defended their school’s education standards and results.

Mr Shelbrooke’s report sets out a number of options to make a two-school solution viable.

These include re-evaluating Leeds City Council’s plan to build a new school on the A58 Wetherby Road in order to accommodate expected population growth in the area; a strategy to retain pupils who currently attend the school from outside the Wetherby area; supporting both schools to deliver new school places for increased pupil numbers generated from the construction of thousands of new homes in the area as a result of Leeds City Council’s Local Plan; allowing Boston Spa High School to become an academy sponsored by the Gorse Academies Trust; giving Wetherby High the chance to continue on its current trajectory towards a ‘Good’ Ofsted judgment; and initiating separate talks on a joint strategy to deliver a new model for post-16 provision in the Outer North East.

Commenting on his view of what the future may bring for both Boston Spa and Wetherby High School, Mr Shelbrooke said: “It is my belief that both Boston Spa School and Wetherby High have positive futures ahead.

“Both schools have delivered improving standards and results. The schools must now be given time to achieve their own ambitions to become good or outstanding schools, which will in turn attract pupils back from North Yorkshire, retain pupils from the wider catchment area and attract new pupils generated from the large scale housing building programme proposed by Leeds City Council.”

And yesterday Wetherby Ward Councillors Alan Lamb and Gerald Wilkinson declared that, following consultations with residents throughout the area, two schools should be retained.

In a statement to the News they said: “We believe that Boston Spa should be allowed to join The Gorse Academies Trust without further delay and that Leeds City Council should commit to making significant investment in Wetherby High School, delivering the objectives set out in the Wetherby Neighbourhood Plan.

“Crucially, this would leave the future of both schools in the hands of their current governing bodies.”

Leeds City Council declined to comment.