Greenwich Council decides to shut Blackheath Bluecoat school

January 18, 2012 by  

Greenwich Council's cabinet last night voted unanimously to close down Blackheath Bluecoat school despite overwhelming opposition from staff and pupils.

The school has failed to reverse a decline in pupil numbers in recent years, in spite of improving exam results.

It will close its doors for the final time in August 2014, with some year groups leaving in 2013.

Council leader Chris Roberts blamed the school's troubled reputation for their decision, saying that "popular mythology" about pupil behaviour was keeping new admissions away.

He also said that the increasing financial deficit racked up by the school, could not be maintained:

"The question is, could the school sustain the improvements it has made with the level of cuts that would be necessary? My view is that it could not."

Decreasing numbers of pupils have not been matched by cuts in staff numbers, leading to the school accumulating a £1.5 million deficit.

Cllr Jackie Smith, the cabinet member with responsibility for schools, said it was unfair for this deficit to continue to impact on other schools in the area.

But in a passionate speech, executive headteacher Jeffrey Risbridger defended his decision to maintain staff numbers, pointing out that results had improved at double the rate of other schools in the borough:

"There has been funding coming to the school that was in excess of funding that we would otherwise have received. But all that has done is allowed us to build confidence and to appoint exceptionally talented, hard-working committed staff who have delivered the goods in the classroom and improved the life chances of pupils as a result. Yes that has costs but was it worth it? You bet your life it was."

He also attacked the council for ignoring the results of their own consultation, which found 91% of respondents opposed to closing the school:

"It could not be clearer that there is no community will in this borough to close Blackheath Bluecoat School. To continue with the closure despite of this is therefore perverse and undemocratic."

He urged councillors to give him more time to turn around the school, and said that the three year window afforded to him by the council had not been a "realistic" period in which to reverse its decline.

The council’s decision means that Greenwich borough will no longer have a Church of England secondary school. CofE schools in neighbouring boroughs are currently oversubscribed.

Chris Roberts admitted that this situation was "not sustainable" and floated the possibility of a new CofE school to be built on the Greenwich peninsula.

However, officers said that there was "no funding stream" currently available for such a school.

Around a hundred pupils and staff marched on the town hall last night to protest against the expected closure of the school and there were chants of “shame on you” as councillors left the building.

Speaking to after the meeting, executive headteacher Jeffrey Risbridger said:

"I'm shocked and disappointed because it seems clear that the cabinet members didn't listen to any of the points that were put forward either in the consultation or in what was said this evening and have made a decision that is not right for the pupils in the school and for the future of Church of England education in the borough. I accept that these are constrained financial times but I think that children's education is more important than short term financial loss."

He conceded that the council's decision to close the school was "unlikely" to be reversed but said that they were "considering our options."

He also congratulated staff and pupils on a hard fought campaign:

"I think they've done superbly and I'm proud of the very mature, controlled and sensible way in which they've handled themselves. I want the pupils and staff to continue to work as hard as they have to achieve the very best public examination outcomes that they possibly can do, not only for themselves but to demonstrate to the council just how wrong they were to close the school."


5 Responses to “Greenwich Council decides to shut Blackheath Bluecoat school”

  1. Paul Webbewood on January 18th, 2012 12:17 pm

    In some ways everybody emerged with credit last night. The acoustics worked and there was exactly the right amount of audience participation (during the meeting at least). Director of Education Gillian Palmer presented the Council’s case excellently and was countered by a quite brilliant speech from Jeffrey Risbridger. Chris Roberts chaired the meeting capably and emolliently (apart from an interesting little spat with Councillor Fahy) and the other Cabinet members managed not to disgrace themselves.

    I went away though thinking that an Executive Cabinet is not really the place to make this type of decision. At one point Cllr Roberts announced that the Cabinet would now debate the points made. This in fact meant the councillors queuing up to agree with each other. If the decision had been taken by Full Council the outcome would have been equally predictable but there would have at least been a proper debate with different views heard.

    The Council’s best point was that Bluecoat’s recent improvement has been on the back of it getting an unfeasibly large slice of resources and that to continue the status quo would be unfair on other schools in the Borough. Possibly though people might prefer the Council to subsidise Bluecoat by £500k a year for a little longer rather than spend £3 million on the Shooters Hill equestrian centre.

  2. Indigo on January 18th, 2012 4:30 pm

    “Possibly though people might prefer the Council to subsidise Bluecoat by £500k a year for a little longer rather than spend £3 million on the Shooters Hill equestrian centre.”

    Well, quite, but are we going to get a chance to say so? Not on your nelly.

  3. Andrew on January 18th, 2012 11:19 pm

    ‘It was unfair for this deficit to continue to impact on other schools in the area.’

    Indeed, closing Blackheath Bluecoat was the fairest decision for other schools in the area. What about the people from Blackheath Bluecoat?

    If anythings failing, it’s Greenwich council.

  4. Andrew Leigh on January 19th, 2012 3:05 pm

    It was clear that Greenwich Council had decided to close the school down a few months ago, at the public “Consultation” (or announcement more like). The school’s results have improved, despite the council telling everyone how bad it was. Can you really expect pupil numbers to rise in a school that the council has threatened to close? Shame on you Greenwich Council! I guess there’s no point in suggesting a “BBCS (political) party” (like Charlton Athletic back in the halcyon days of my youth!)

  5. Democracy Greenwich campaign targets council leader « 853 on April 16th, 2012 11:04 pm

    […] aren’t beings scrutinised properly – such as the switch to being a royal borough, the decision to close Blackheath Bluecoat school, giving £3m to the Shooters Hill equestrian centre, the funding of festivals around the Olympics […]