A Bournemouth councillor expressed concern last night that children from other schools may have pre-set ideas about former Townsend pupils joining them and said he had already heard the words “Townsend scum” being used.
Councillor John Trickett spoke out at a public meeting held at the school to discuss possible arrangements should Townsend face closure in August 2008.
In December, Bournemouth councillors voted in favour of a recommendation to close the failing school, which has been in special measures for 27 months. The meeting came in what is now the third week of a legally binding public consultation on the council’s decision. Bournemouth people have until March 14 to contribute their opinions.
Queen’s Park Infant and Junior Schools, King’s Park Primary and Malmesbury Park Primary were pinpointed as the main alternatives for Townsend’s pupils at the meeting. There was widespread concern about how well the families of the existing children at these schools would receive the newcomers.
Marilyn Chatwood, a Townsend resident whose granddaughter travels from West Howe to go to the school said: “If [the other schools] go down after our children go there, they will be blamed for it and I don’t think that’s fair.”
Meanwhile, Bournemouth council’s governor services and access manager Felicity Draper denied that moving children from Townsend to other schools in the borough could take places away from families living in the schools’ catchment areas.
The chairman of Townsend community centre Simon Northover asked: “Why, if the school is closing because children’s education is a priority, is one of the [alternative] schools banded around one step away from special measures itself?” Queen’s Park Junior School was given notice to improve by Ofsted last year and went under a further full inspection a couple of weeks ago.
The council’s senior inspector for inclusion and achievement Lynda Clarke replied that the latest Ofsted results would be available by the time parents might have to choose other schools. Ms Clarke added that the council intended to talk to every single child at Townsend, as well as pupils in the four alternative schools proposed.
Unsatisfied, Strouden Park ward councillor Michael Weinhonig called for some description of the impact that closure could have on the community, including the emotional impact on families. Councillor Weinhonig emphasised: “The community needs assurance that this building and facilities will not be derelict.” The council’s director for families services Jane Portman reassured him that a report on the decline of community facilities as a result of losing the school would be included alongside the consultation.
“Children need continuity and this school does not have continuity, that is why it is failing,” said school governor Peter Storm. He argued that they had had three head teachers in four years, 34 per cent of the pupils had special needs and that paying for supply teachers to cover staff on maternity leave had drained the school of its resources. Mr Storm added that in a first, non-legally binding consultation run by the council, 700 people responded against the closure of the school and only three for, but the cabinet still chose to support shutting it.
Yet Robin Thomas, the independent consultant managing the Townsend debate who also chaired the meeting, encouraged the crowd to consider things from the council’s point of view. “When you get into a situation like [the one that] has existed at Townsend (…) there has been either a plateaux or a spiral downwards, parents taking their children elsewhere, teachers leaving; it is unbelievably difficult to break.”
Another public meeting will be held at Townsend school, 2pm, on Thursday, February 14.