The future of education in Whitby remains in doubt with concerns over falling pupil numbers, decreasing budgets and fall outs between the town’s three providers of secondary education.
At an extra-ordinary meeting of Whitby Town Council on Wednesday night, called to discuss the state of education in the town, it was revealed that there are 573 surplus school places.
That figure is more than the capacity at either Eskdale or Caedmon school.
The boss of education for the county, Pete Dwyer, said he couldn’t see those figures and pupil numbers increasing or improving and that there could be cost implications across the two schools and also Whitby Community College of up to £600,000.
This is because individual school budgets are largely determined by the number of names on the registers.
He warned that a shake-up of education provision in the town was needed but there are still concerns over what direction that will take.
The meeting had been called originally to discuss Eskdale School’s plans to become an Academy so it would be independent of North Yorkshire County Council and make subsequent plans to increase the leaving age to 16.
But since then, Caedmon School and Whitby Community College have announced plans to merge themselves and create one school operating across both sites.
It had been hoped, prior to Eskdale pursuing the Academy route, that all three schools would merge to form one school operating across all three sites and discussions to do this were taking place as recently as September.
North Yorkshire County Council believed it would avoid a situation where redundancies amongst school staff, including teachers, would have to be made to combat funding issues.
After the meeting Mr Dwyer said: “I am disappointed there is no solution that can have been made between the three schools together.
“The funding of schools increasingly is less based on overheads and buildings but more on the number of pupils that they have.
“Across the three schools, if they were full there would be 1985. On role currently there are 1412. It is not that anyone has floundered but this is basically the demographics have been reducing across the county - there are less teenagers around. Primary schools are filling up but not in Whitby.”
If pupil numbers at secondary schools continue to fall the funding shortfall would equate to over £600,000 and that tab would have to be picked up by all three schools.
My Dwyer added: “They would need to find significant savings and that led to the need to do something together. Most school budgets are taken up with workforce and staffing costs. When faced with funding pressures, as individual schools they would review staffing and be making redundancies.
“There might have been alternative solutions between the three together sharing staff across the three sites. In doing that we are providing a better education with the resources that are available.
“We could have done that better with a single structure but if all three schools handled the funding cut on their own, we would see education suffer.”
Figures revealed at the meeting show the capacity of Caedmon School is 552 but there only 347 pupils - leaving 205 surplus places. For Eskdale, the capacity is 438 but with only 289 pupils on roll there are 149 spare places. At Whitby Community College there are 219 spare places because there are only 776 pupils but the capacity is 995.
Mr Dwyer said he was disappointed that Eskdale were not in agreement with the merger plans and had separate concerns about the direction the school was pursuing but ruled out the fear that the falling numbers would see a school having to close.
He said: “I don’t think that will be an issue. But, my concern is for a school that has been judged as requiring improvement expanding to 11-16 education in isolation from the other two schools.”
Coun Joyce Stangoe raised the possibility of doing away with Eskdale, Caedmon and the community college and creating one separate ‘superschool’.
She said: “It looks like we have got one school too many. If we had one large school there would be a much better breadth of education and range of teachers.
“Why is it not possible to sell the land of two schools and build one brand new school in line with the rest of the country. Nothing has been done for quite a lot of years now.”
The possibility of building a single ‘superschool’ in Whitby, which would cover GCSE and A-Level provision, has been ruled out because it would cost at least £30 million to build and the capital funds are simply not available.
Mr Dwyer added: “When we started these discussions about a single school for Whitby we were considering that capital funding was limited and we believed we would need three sites as they are. I don’t think the investment is there.”
Whitby Town Council voted in favour of scrapping the 11-14 system and removing the transition that pupils make at a vital stage in their education.
See next week’s Gazette for more reaction from councillors and parents on plans to merge Caedmon and the community college.