A parent’s perspective
Story: Mrs Grace Love
St Catherine’s R/C School is the only Roman Catholic (Voluntary Aided) School in the area, which has always been popular and unique, as many parents will agree. It has always supported and nurtured a ‘small- community’ environment, which can be seen in its outstanding educational achievements compared to other primary schools in the area, working in conjunction with St Catherine’s Church and Diocese. It has a positive relationship with the parents and the local community. Teaching staff foster a caring relationship with all its pupils and the school has strong leadership. It is a faith school with a Catholic ethos, but practices and teaches appreciation and tolerance of other faiths to all its pupils.
Many of us with children, living in the Burngreave and Firvale areas will have had recent copies of the proposals put forward by the Planning and Development Team (Education Authority). This document puts into perspectives of how the Education Authority plans to cater for the growing population of children in our area with consultation from various parties, and how local schools need to plan ahead to meet this growth in the delivery of local education provision.
A feasibility study has already been compiled and one of the options put forward is to look at expanding St.Catherines from a 1 Form Entry to 2 form entry from 2009 to meet this need. St Catherine’s has temporarily expanded its intake as a ‘stop- gap’ to help out the education authority and deal with the current increase in children numbers, but will obviously end in 2009. Thus, I attended one of the series of meetings organized by the P&D team at St. Catherine’s Roman Catholic Primary School, as I have three children there and want to know how this will impact on their education and future. The meeting proved lively. I was not entirely disappointed.
The meeting was headed by Tricia Slater (Planning & Project Manager from the P&D Team, Young People’s Services) and attended by the School’s Board of Governors, Father Macnee from the Diocese, Mrs Rigby, the school’s Head Teacher, and about 25 parents, rather a small group, and not ethnically representational, I thought, considering how many children from different ethnic backgrounds go to the school.
Play space affected?
The meeting was interesting and parents raised many valid concerns which will be reported back as part of the consultation process. Because the school has already had to expand, two large port cabins (4 class rooms) have been erected at one end of the playing field in the junior yard. Parents were concerned as to ‘where’ and ‘how’ the school would meet the expansion without further compromising ‘playing space’. One parent, Mr Tony Wolmesley, who has two children at the school, had made enquiries into the recommended space for children, as recommended by the education department and the expansion would fall short of this, but Ms Slater did not seem to be aware of this fact. Questions were also raised as to how the expansion would be met from a building stance i.e. where would be expanded and would the children and staff lose any classroom/hall space as a result, and who would be responsible for it once it was built, but these issues was too early to foresee and would be further discussed later in the process. For those not familiar with St, Cath’s, a contribution from all parents is requested to help towards the upkeep of the school.
The importance of religion
Tricia Slater expressed that the government ‘best practice’ recommendation was for primary schools to support a 2Form Entry, as it would helps young children intergrate better as part of their growth and development. St Cath’s, which has always supported a 1 F.E. until recently, may be in a vulnerable position in the future, should there be a decline in the children population attending the school. However, this may not be the case, as one parent,Ms Sarah Kassim, who has a child in Reception, stated. She wanted her child to come to St. Cath’s, even though she wasn’t a Catholic and her views were echoed by an asian mum with a child at the school. This indicates that the importance of religion does have a place in some families. At present, many parents, with children at the school, are from outside the local area and are willing to travel the distance. However, Sarah raised a valid point that the expansion might have the opposite effect- that parents, who did not want their children to come to the school, may have not choice. How would this affect the pupils, staff and parents in the future. Would we see a fall in standards for our children in the future, after all, we do not want to have another local ‘sink’ school in Burngreave, and subject our future generation to further poverty and deprivation.
Being a Catholic school, there were reservations, as expressed by Mrs Dawn Kelly with a child in year 6, that the school’s ethos would be diluted and eroded over time, with the falling Catholic population, but there some assurances from the Diocese that this would not happen anytime soon.
Why not the old Pye Bank school?
I asked Ms Slater why an empty school like the ‘old Pye Bank School Site’ would not be a viable option, but was told that it was neither suitable as a building or in its location, as a ‘central location’ was needed. Ms Slater could not give assurances of how the expansion, once in full swing, would react if the children numbers showed a sudden reverse trend. No one would know what to do with the extra staff or empty space.
Roads already choc-a-block
This is only the beginning, and there are still lots of questions yet to be answered… The expansion would definitely raise parking issues to already ‘choc-a-block’ roads, as Ingrid Gillson-Taylor whispered beside me.
‘I can’t see local residents being very happy about the increase in car volume, despite local traffic wardens in operation and school initiatives to encourage walking to school’, she said.
Parents need safety guarantees for their children, but this hasn’t even been looked at as yet. What about staffing issues- it’s not just extra teachers that’s needed. What future impact would the expansion bring to the already ethnically diverse mix of its pupils- we don’t want to see an imbalance. Would the admission criteria have to be reviewed? What does the teaching staff think? Have they even got a say in it?
One parent asked Ms Slater what benefits the expansion would bring to everyone concerned, barring the council. Rather disappointingly, she couldn’t think of any, after all she is only ‘playing the piper’s tune’.