As we approach the end of a very difficult week, my thoughts are firmly with the young people, staff and parents of Plymouth Studio School. As people will know, I have invested personally in maintaining and helping this school. I am therefore very disappointed to see it close. I have met with Ministers every day this week, spoken to the Chief Executive of Plymouth City Council regularly and spoken to Mr Cahill, the Headteacher who continues to do an extraordinary job in seriously tough times on his watch. This school has had fundamental failings for some time – not all on his watch, and he must be commended for how he has handled himself, his school and his young people through this enormously difficult week.
Whilst I will never want to see a school close, my primary mission in this job remains improving the life chances of everybody who lives on our City regardless of the circumstances of their birth; in no area is this more important than secondary schooling. 10% of young people achieving Grades A-C at GCSE at the Studio School is just one of the results that are not good enough for our young people and neither should we accept they are. I would encourage all parents to read the latest OFSTED report released shortly.
There are deep challenges in secondary education in this City right now. It is simply not good enough for our young people at present, and I am determined to work hard with the Local Authority, Regional Schools Commissioner and Department for Education over the coming year. I will lay out how we do this in due course.
I appreciate the worry that parents will now have. There remains a surplus of around 20% of secondary school places in Plymouth – this is not sustainable. We must work hard to make sure that every child and family is individually looked after, and I would encourage anyone who feels this is not the case to contact me. The school have reached out in a number of meetings now to parents and I am assured that all families are now involved in the school’s admission process to find another school.
I want to give everybody a chance to have their say on this. We must learn lessons for the future, both in Plymouth and the wider region. In the consultation phase that the school is now in, before a final decision is taken, I will hold an event at the school. I will make sure that trustees, governors, local authorities, a minister and the Regional Schools Commissioner are there to front up. I of course will be there and will chair it. I will publish details of this meeting imminently.
This is a mutual decision by the Plymouth Studio School and the Regional Schools Commissioner. I have worked tirelessly to – and been successful in – improving funding for our schools across our City – not a single school in Plymouth will now lose money from this Government. I have also supported individual specific projects to receive extra Government funding for specific projects – money IS NOT the issue here: £4.2m has been spent trying to make this a success. We must answer deeper questions around the mix of education offers we have in Plymouth; how many different schools we have for our City, and how we do better at getting the pockets of excellent practice we have, disseminated across the City. I will announce how I intend to help in all these areas in the next few days.