Political storm blows up over education

Boston Spa School.  7 dec 2005  strike
Boston Spa School. 7 dec 2005 strike

David Lloyd George once said “there are greater storms in politics than you’ll ever find at sea”, writes Wetherby MP Alec Shelbrooke.

One such storm hit our area last week when parents at Boston Spa High School were alerted to an embryonic proposal by the Labour-run Leeds City Council to merge Boston Spa and Wetherby High schools, and to construct one new purpose-built academy in Wetherby.

News of this proposal came as a surprise to parents, pupils and staff in Boston Spa, many of whom had previously given their support to the school’s application to become an academy, sponsored by the Gorse Academies Trust.

For the avoidance of doubt, I support the academisation of Boston Spa school.

I voted for the Academies Act in 2010 and since then the academy programme has helped raise standards and improve outcomes for pupils across my constituency. So much so, since 2010 more pupils are now being taught in good or outstanding schools than ever before.

It is my hope that all schools will make the same decision as governors at Boston Spa and seek to convert to academies, providing greater autonomy to school leaders and freeing themselves from the restrictions of local authority control.

But amid the flood of online content, social media posts and emails circulating last week, one very sad theme ran throughout. The way in which this saga came into the public domain pitched Boston Spa against Wetherby: village against town, school against school, parents against parents.

What makes me proud to represent my home constituency of Elmet & Rothwell in Parliament - above all the great schools we have or all the fantastic local high streets or market towns – is that we are a community of shared values.

We all want the best start in life for our children and grandchildren, we want them to receive the best possible education and gain good grades so they can go on to world-class universities or start promising careers in trade and industry.

These shared values should bring our school communities together to support one another.

It is always a privilege for me to visit both Wetherby and Boston Spa schools, and I know that both have positive futures ahead of them.

It is my hope that Boston Spa is granted permission to academise so it can continue to raise standards as an academy that parents remain proud to send their children to.

Likewise, the governors and staff at Wetherby High School have done a sterling job in raising standards over recent years and I am confident that if they were to be inspected by Ofsted today then the school would be rated as ‘good’.

My vision for both schools is not to be just good schools. I want to see both schools continue to improve so our area can boast two of the city’s best ‘outstanding’ academies; improving results, bettering outcomes and making our kids fighting fit for the global workplace.

So, let us not be blown off course by unexpected storms.

Instead, let us redouble our efforts to secure investment for a new school building at Wetherby High School, support the academisation of Boston Spa, and come together as a community to deliver two really great local high schools at the heart of each community.