Greenfield Community College Executive Headteacher, David Priestley, has told staff that “it is no longer viable for us to work across two sites” and is set to pass on the same message to Bishop Auckland constituency MP, Dehenna Davison when she visits the school’s Newton Aycliffe campus later this week.
The Town Crier has seen a staff bulletin dated 3rd September in which Mr Priestley discloses his opinion that the Shildon site should be closed and his intention to lobby Ms Davision, who has previously spoken in parliament in support of saving Shildon’s Sunnydale School.
The disclosure has provoked an angry response among Shildon Town and County Councillors who point out that there is currently an options appraisal being undertaken by Durham County Council and question whether Mr Priestley’s comments suggest that a decision has already been taken behind closed doors, ahead of a legally required public consultation.
An emergency item was added to Monday evening’s meeting of Shildon Town Council after the Crier contacted local councillors for comment.
At the meeting, councillors agreed to convene a further meeting, tentatively scheduled for Tuesday 5th October, to discuss the revelations in detail ahead of a meeting to be arranged with the Director of Education later in October.
Meanwhile, Shildon’s three elected County Councillors collectively confirmed that thay have not been told of any decisions having been taken with regards to the site.
“Yes, there is currently an options appraisal taking place to determine next steps,” said Cllr Samantha Townsend.
“I am told that the data and analysis produced by Shildon Town Council (Greenfield School Report) is being fed into the ‘options appraisal’ and therefore we have secured through the hard work of Shildon Town and County Councillors a voice for the people of Shildon which would not have otherwise been included.
“We are told that no decisions have been made and my understanding is that, by law, permanent closure of the Shildon site is not a decision that can be made unilaterally by the council, or by the headteacher.
“Full closure requires a statutory consultation.”
“The people of Shildon and Dene Valley are sick and tired of feeling like their lives are at the mercy of backroom deals being made over crucial services.
“Whatever Mr Priestley’s intention with this meeting, it does nothing for the public’s faith in the leaders who are meant to serve the people and uphold values of openness, accountability and objectivity.
“This government has pledged to rebuild 100 schools across the UK, the fact that Greenfield’s Shildon campus is not one of them shows that promises of “Levelling up” are nothing but empty words.”
Current legislation, say councillors, means that legally it would be very difficult to set up a ‘new’ school in Shildon should the Greenfield site close.
That too would require a statutory consultation and the local authority would have to prove that there’s demand, and prove that the need cannot be met through a free school or an academy.
It feels as though placing the custodianship of the education of our young people in Shildon into the hands of Greenfield Community College has been a grave mistake – this proud and populous town deserves betterCllr David Reynolds
Town Councillor, David Reynolds added: “This information seems to confirm what the visual evidence has led us to suspect.
“The school and county education department have repeatedly advised Shildon Town Council that no decision has been made concerning the future of Sunnydale Campus, though that decision making process feels as though it has been taking unfeasibly long time and that surely a preferred strategy would have been identified by now.
“It now seems that outcome is certainly clear enough in the mind of the Head of Greenfield Community College.
“I am left wondering when the school and the local education authority intended to officially reveal this seemingly leaked intention and why they have been so reluctant to do so.
“I’m also keen to understand why the Head intends to explain the outcome to our local MP before advising the community that Greenfield Community College serves.
“I’m certain, from the evidence that we gathered in our Town Council’s own consultative survey of Shildon families, that this news will be both unpopular and disappointing and that many current and future parents will feel deeply let down by all concerned.
“Most of all, I’m disturbed by the expressed opinion that a multi-campus school is deemed unviable and would question whether this has been their opinion since Sunnydale Campus was first absorbed into Greenfield Community College, and if so why the school and education authority have never been open and honest about a plan for removal of secondary education provision from Shildon.
“It feels as though placing the custodianship of the education of our young people in Shildon into the hands of Greenfield Community College has been a grave mistake – this proud and populous town deserves better and its parents and people have voiced that they, at least, know this.”
County Councillor, Matt Johnson added his voice to the criticism, pointing out that locally elected representatives have had no sight of the appranently ongoing options appraisal: “As my colleague, Cllr Townsend has stated, full closure of the Shildon site would require a full statutory consultation.
“No such consultation has been proposed to my knowledge.
“I am repeatedly told that no decisions have been made about the future of the Sunnydale site.
“Frankly, I share the frustrations of many others in wondering how long this matter must rumble on without any information being shared with the people of Shildon.
“The biggest question I’m asked is: ‘What is going on?’
“And to be honest, I don’t have a good answer to that.
“The school closed temporarily and has never reopened. What is going on?
“It seems from his words that Mr Priestley has made his mind up that the Shildon site is unviable.
“Quite happily, that isn’t his decision to make, nor indeed is it the decision of any individual MP or councillor.
“Some of us want there to be a secondary school in Shildon.
“Until we have clarity on the options being appraised, it would be irresponsible to suggest that any decisions have been made.”
Town Councillor, Luan Deakin of the Shildon and Dene Valley Independent Party pointed out that, as a growing town, a new high school should be considered essential and invited Mr Priestley to expand on his comments: “While I’m happy Greenfields School is a thriving academic institution, it does not take away the fact that Shildon is a rapidly growing town needing a new educational facility.
“Ms Davison MP is rightly supporting our need for a new school as we are part of her constituency and I’m sure she understands the need for Shildon to have a strong infrastructure in order to prosper.
“I would be interested to hear why Mr Priestley feels it is no longer an option to work between the two sites.”
Cllr Ted Henderson, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “We are continuing to explore sustainable long term options for secondary education in the Shildon area.
“We will ensure any proposals brought forward are communicated to interested parties when it is appropriate to do so and that they are subject to full public consultation.”
Mr Priestley and Ms Davison were also contacted for comment.