SPECIAL REPORT: The multi-million pound school that nobody wants

NADV 1209036AM1 Foremost School. (1209036AM1)
NADV 1209036AM1 Foremost School. (1209036AM1)

North Yorkshire County Council have been unable to find a provider to take over the running of Foremost School in Darley. LAURA HILL looks at what is next for the troubled school and its vulnerable pupils.

The future of Foremost School for boys with behavioural and emotional issues looks more uncertain than ever after North Yorkshire County Council failed to find a provider to take over the school.

NADV 1209036AM2 Foremost School. (1209036AM2)

NADV 1209036AM2 Foremost School. (1209036AM2)

The council decided to seek an independent provider to take over the running of the school, which educates some of the county’s most vulnerable young people, in December 2013, however six months on they have failed to find a suitable contractor.

Despite three education providers attending an open day at the Darley school, just one tender was put forward, which did not meet the council’s quality standards, leaving the future of Foremost School uncertain.

Executive member County Coun Don Mackenzie (Harrogate Saltergate) said: “It was very disappointing when only one provider came forward for running the school, and even that one applicant didn’t pass the criteria. Effectively we were left with a choice of none.”

The school has been blighted with problems since it opened in February 2012, losing two head teachers and at least five governors.

Crisis talks between the local authorities and teaching unions took place in January 2013 and the school was placed into special measures by Ofsted in May 2013.

Critics say staff at the school are demoralised and there is a lack of accountability at the local authority.

Morris Charlton, former head of Netherside School, has criticised the local authorities handling of the establishment of Foremost School, which saw his former School and Baliol School in Cumbria closed down with pupils transferred to Foremost School at a cost of £11million.

He said: “I think that the council came up with a plan they hoped would succeed and didn’t have a back up plan and that is a worry.

“I would be interested to see the criteria for the tenders, I suspect it was an almost impossible criteria to meet. There must be a reason that firms which are in this line of business, did not put a tender in, they didn’t want to take it on.”

The County Council have now said they are looking at alternative options for the schools future.

“We have to put the education and care needs of the children already in the school first ,that is our overriding concern,” said County Coun Arthur Barker, Executive member for Schools.

“We want secure provision of the highest standards for these students, some of the most vulnerable young people in the county, and we are working to that end. We are now giving very careful consideration to a range of plans to deliver such provision.”

Coun Mackenzie said the council were likely to try and re-tender the school and try to attract more applications.

He said: “Closing the school has always been an option but its not something that we want to do. What would happen with the pupils? We don’t want to be sending students out of county.”

Mr Charlton has now criticised the authority for focussing on the procurement exercise, rather than on improving the school.

He said: “They could look at re-tendering it, they could look at it becoming an academy or they could pull their fingers out and actually run the school.

“They could appoint a head and take on staff and get the school sorted out.”

He added: “The aim of the local authority should be to run the school, but they haven’t been doing that for a while, their focus has been looking for someone else to come in and the problem disappears.”

Mr Charlton said he worried the local authority could try to close the school by stealth and hope no-one notices.

“I worry they will just stop taking on any students.”

Initial plans had been for the school to accommodate 60 students, currently just 17 pupils are enrolled at Foremost School, down from 26 in October 2012.

Students were consulted by the council over plans for the future of the school earlier this year. One student blasted the local authority and said: “It’s not the pupil’s fault that you can’t get a head teacher and the ones you have had haven’t stayed. All the inconsistency in the school causes an unsettled environment.”

Another student said to the council: “You should be ashamed of yourselves and embarrassed for letting us down. The council promised staff and students it would be a good school, but the council are shutting the door on us and just walking away and aren’t bothered, it feels like there is no respect for all of us.”

The school cost £11million to establish in 2012 and running costs have topped £1.5million a year, coming in at £153,900 over budget in 2012/2013 and an estimated £180,332 over budget for 2013/14.

County Coun John Fort (Pateley Bridge) said the pupils are of paramount importance to the council.

He said: “North Yorkshire is the only authority in the north of England which has opened a new premises in the last 20 years.

“The money that has been spent is money well spent, it is a wonderful facility. The latest Ofsted report shows that the school is improving.”

He added: “When it comes to the idea of selling it off you can never say never, but the County Council made a considerable investment in some magnificent facilitates so that should be the very, very last option.”

Foremost School - The Costs

North Yorkshire County Council bought the former Naval site which houses the school for £4,790,000 and spent £7,490,423 developing the site into a school.

The council say the sales of Baliol School and Netherside Hall will raise £2,350,000 to offset the cost of establishing Foremost.

It has cost almost £2million per year to run the school. Mr Charlton said the school had cost huge amounts of money: “In times of austerity that money could be have been spent on other schools, libraries, care homes for the elderly.”

2012/2013 2013/2014

Staffing £1,311,243 £1,258,409

Premises £293,511 £239,999

Learning resources £134,579 £146,409

Other expenditure £180,885 £163,111

Total £1,920,218 £1,807,928

Foremost School - Timeline

Spring 2012 - Foremost School based at former naval site, HMS Forest Moor, near Darley opens following the closure of both Netherside Hall in Skipton and Baliol School in Cumbria.

September 2012 - The County Council rejected a Summerbridge woman’s plans for a social enterprise at the site after she invested £50,000 in the project. Alison Lowndes said the council has supported her plans to create a dirt bike track at the school, even going as far as buying eight motorbikes. However the council rejected the proposals, leaving five staff at KO2 Adventures facing redundancy.

January 2013 - Crisis talks were called between teaching unions and North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) after staff raised concerns over the building’s security. At the time National Union of Teachers (NUT) North Yorkshire secretary, Paul Busby said: “This is not about failing teachers, this is about a failing building.” Issues have been raised over the buildings suitability, and it has been reported that pupils have been able to escape the classrooms and the buildings, and run away from staff in the school’s wide corridors.

First year - In the school’s first year three members of teaching staff, including the former head teacher and five governors have resigned.

May 2013 - Ofsted inspectors issued a damning report and put the school into special measures. The report said: “Leaders, managers and governors have failed to get the school established. They do not demonstrate the capacity to bring about necessary improvements in teaching and behaviour quickly enough or without considerable support.”

September 2013 - Figures revealed that staff had been assaulted 67 times at the school in the past 18 months. Yorkshire regional officer for the Voice union, Morris Charlton said the figures were ‘disturbing’ and that the council needed to put in regulations to change the atmosphere to a more stable and safe environment.”

November 2013 - The school’s second head teacher, Andy Dawson, leaved after just nine months in the job.

December 2013 - North Yorkshire County Council Executive decided to start looking for an independent provider to take over the running of the school and maintenance of the site. The council has hoped to find a contractor to take over from October 2014.

January to March 2014 - A full public consultation was held into the future of Foremost School, including a public meeting in Darley.

February 2014 - MP Julian Smith wrote to NYCC’s chief executive, Richard Flinton calling for a full inquiry into problems at the school.

April 2014 - A report by the corporate director of children and young people’s services NYCC revealed the results of public consultation. The Menwith and Darley Parish Council said: “Foremost could have been a real jewel in the crown and an asset to the parish, whereas it has been more of an embarrassment.” The report also revealed the council had no plans for an inquiry and that just one tender had been put forward.

May 2014 - NYCC executive were unable to accept the single tender and the council have been forced to carry out a ‘further options appraisal’.