LETTER: Future of Horsham school provision

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The responsibility for education in our county rests with West Sussex County Council (WSCC) where elected county councillors make up the ‘Children and Young People Services Select Committee’.

Horsham District Council (HDC) does not have an education committee but elected district councillors will, no doubt, take a keen interest in the concerns of their electors in the provision of education for their children at both primary and secondary level.

Imagine my surprise therefore when as a result of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to both WSCC and HDC it was revealed that there have been no less than five meetings between unelected officials of HDC regarding the placement and type of new secondary school for Horsham town.

These meetings involved HDC’s chief executive and HDC’s strategic planning officers and local school head teachers to discuss the future of secondary and sixth form education in Horsham and what type the new school should be, ie, a ‘free school’ or an ‘academy’.

There were no elected district or county councillors present apart from HDC leader Cllr Ray Dawe who attended on two occasions on 24 May 2012 and 3 July 2012 when consideration at that time was being given to a ‘free school’ in Southwater.

However, since July 2013 when Cllr Ray Dawe and his Cabinet published their Preferred Housing Strategy there have been a further two meetings on 1 October 2013 and 25 November 2013 which Cllr Ray Dawe hasn’t attended.

Why? Is it because the politically motivated job of moving the secondary school eight miles north of Southwater (where it is needed) and onto our ‘green belt’ in North Horsham, is done?

Equally worrying is that although we know who attended these meetings and the dates, there was no agenda and no minutes taken.

Secrecy continues to mask the workings of HDC. Only one set of handwritten notes from a meeting on 1 October 2013 exist from an officer at HDC with the following comments recorded: ‘new secondary school is way forward… need more ‘flexibility’ and ‘diversity’ ….two single sex and one joint at moment… diversity school, church school, free school etc’.

Exactly what is a ‘diversity school’? Local families work hard to fund huge mortgages to buy a home in the catchment areas for two excellent single sex schools – Forest and Millais as well as the co-educational Tanbridge House.

But are these unelected officials criticising our two single sex schools? And why are they having secret conversations with HDC chief executive Mr Crowley and leader Cllr Ray Dawe about education policy with no agendas and no minutes taken?

Is this another of Cllr Ray Dawe’s many areas of expertise (eg, the cost of our gas bills, Scottish Devolution) that he writes about regularly in this newspaper’s column?

He hasn’t used his fortnightly column to discuss ‘diversity schools’ nor the flawed logic in placing the secondary school in North Horsham meaning the school catchment area will take in pupils from Bewbush, Crawley, resulting in further coalescence of the town of Horsham and Crawley and the ongoing annual cost to the tax payer of £250,000 per annum in bussing children out of Southwater to schools in Horsham.

Cllr Ray Dawe’s fortnightly articles filibuster on issues over which he has no control, but on one of the key local issues of the day in Horsham such as where a new secondary school should go and what type that secondary school should be (a ‘free school’ or not) he has absolutely nothing to say despite being the sole elected councillor at these secret meetings.

The people of Horsham have a right to know about the future of secondary school provision in our town – where it should go and what type it should be. So when will Cllr Dawe, Vickers, Croft and Rae come clean and tell us exactly what they have planed?

Dr GEOFFREY RICHARDSON

Tennyson Close, Horsham