at the loss of their secondary school, primarily because of the poor management of Walmer Science College in recent years. Parents believe that the rationale for the merger, the falling numbers of children in the area is being reversed and that shortly there will be sufficient numbers to run two viable schools again. There is also a widespread belief that KCC, which owns the land, will sell it off for housing after the rationalisation. There is a protest group whose website is to be found here, however they suffer from working to save a school which has failed, against one which recently had an Outstanding OFSTED, a major grant to rebuild, and is an academy with the security that is inbuilt. However, it is not so long ago that Walmer Science College had its own investment of £15 million for new buildings, which will of course now be written off. The Walmer School Protest Group is arguing that KCC has got its numbers wrong, and that there are two alternatives, neither of which was considered by the Cabinet Committee - one a stand alone school, or secondly, a single school across the two sites, making best use of the new money and the Walmer premises. My own view is that the protest movement is unlikely to stop the school closure unless they can gain more momentum, although they appear to be considering challenging the legality of the KCC decision.
Ironically, the area is probably the scene of the greatest capital investment of any in the county with, just down the road Duke of York's academy, a state boarding school, being awarded a modernisation grant of £24,817,416 for modernisation of teaching and boarding, although assurances were given when it became a state school that any funds for boarding accommodation would not come out of the education budget. In fact this award is nearly 30% of the total fund, another £11 million going to Dover Christchurch Academy - the three projects together demonstrating that there is plenty of money still available for academies!
The Governors of Castle Community College, in Deal, and Walmer Science College, in conjunction with Kent County Council, are proposing to merge the two schools with effect from September 2013. If this is approved, then applications for the two schools will be considered as one for the 2013 admission, and parents need to establish, if the proposal goes ahead, whether these will be initially for places at the named site on the application form, or whether the merged school will treat them as one, allocating children as it sees fit. The schools have published a Consultation Paper on the proposal in conjunction with KCC.
Over the years, the two schools have see-sawed in popularity, partly reflecting the quality of leadership at each, and at present Castle Community has the upper hand. The biggest issue in the area is falling numbers of children, and back in March, on allocation day, Walmer Science College was half empty, a position that will have worsened considerably as children secured places in other more popular schools. Castle Community had 127 first choices of which 13 were turned away, well up from the previous year's 98, all of who were offered places, as parents have rejected Walmer, which was placed in Special Measures in July 2011. Clearly between them there are not now enough children to fill two smallish schools, Castle with its intake of 120 (reckoned to be the smallest viable number to run secondary school and offer a full curriculum) and Walmer with 143, but an actual intake of fewer than 70. Combined they make a single school of 6-7 forms of entry.
This is the second time the two schools have tried to merge, the previous attempt perishing through the withdrawal of the Building Schools for the Future project. However, it is clear from the Consultation Paper that, thanks to a government grant discussed previously on this website, there is funding to develop the new school on the Castle Community site for September 2014 if agreement on the proposal happens according to the timetable. Projected figures suggest the school would be built for seven forms of entry.
I have had emails from a number of concerned parents living in Walmer, who see this as a take-over by Castle, and I am afraid it appears that is precisely what it is. However, I am not sure what alternative there could be with the falling numbers of children. If the levels of success of the two schools had been different in recent years, the new school could presumably have gone to Walmer, but Castle Community is currently an OFSTED Outstanding School, and so able to give the lead. Parents are concerned the new school will be an Academy with lack of local accountability. I share their concerns but, as explained in several articles on this website, this is the future for most of Kent's secondary schools, and Castle Community College is already an academy. Other parents are worried about Special Needs provision. Again I have no comfort, but a larger school should be able to provide better support for children with SEN, even if this is not always the reality. It all depends on the school's priorities, and if they are primarily academic standards for the majority then SEN can suffer. We must wait and see. A concern about poor Sixth Form provision in the area is probably valid, although the two Dover grammar schools may offer opportunities for the more able students. However the two schools are already working closely together and have a joint sixth form so it should not deteriorate further and once again additional numbers and resources should lead to a better offering. There is already an Executive Principal who oversees both schools.
I have great sympathy for the people of Walmer who see the loss of a secondary school in the town (although Walmer and Deal run together) but frankly can see no alternative. Walmer Science College is paying the price of failing its OFSTED so badly. I was involved with an issue there several years ago and was surprised by the lack of awareness that governors had at the time for what was going on in the school. Certainly the larger unit should be able to operate more effectively than Walmer on its own, offer a wider curriculum and be more cost effective, enabling resources to be spent better for the good of the students.
A consultation meeting last evening does not appear to have impressed many parents. One report includes: "It kicked off at 7 p.m. with 45 minutes non-stop repetitive lecturing from top table worthies followed by a bevy of well-scripted supportive plants and a handful of mostly flustered, unprepared opposers who, while passionate about things like housing development, burgeoning birth rates, unfair treatment of Walmer staff, SEN, parental choice and ‘small is beautiful’, could offer no real ways it would be paid for. Other opposers seemed there to re-fight old battles from the days of primary reorganisation. Intended ‘speakers’ had to book in before the start and there was no opportunity for general questions and answers from the floor. It was admitted by KCC from the outset that this is a closure of Walmer Science College, not a merger with Castle Community College, who hold all the cards. And nobody believed that the surplus land won’t be sold off, but who gains the proceeds? The chairman bullishly closed the meeting at about 9.30, with people still anxious to ask questions and ‘the public’ feeling bullied and I don’t think much wiser". Hardly inspiring!
This is clearly the other side of the case for additional provision in other parts of the county; the closure of a school always proving immensely difficult. This "merger" appears to avoid all these pitfalls.