Ilminster and Crewkerne schools issue politicised
School funding in the Crewkerne and Ilminster area is in crisis. That is not in doubt. There are issues with the three tier education system. They need fixing. It is hardly a trade secret. These issues have been reported routinely in The Leveller for the past 6 months.
The officers in the education team have run at least two public consultations. And they have shown every sign of being happy to ignore the feedback. Almost no-one appears to want the solutions they propose.
These broadly boil down to:
- converting Wadham School into a regular secondary school
- Creating one new primary school for Ilminster
- Closing Misterton first school
- Maiden Beech, Merriott and Haslebury Plucknett would all become primary schools.
And both LibDem, Mike Best and Conservative Linda Vijeh had been working co-operatively. Working in the best cross-party tradition to find a solution for the area where both are councillors.
That has now changed. The LibDems chose to politicise the issue. Oliver Patrick, a LibDem councillor at South Somerset District Council (SSDSC) started a petition. It was not a petition to save the schools. It was a LibDem petition to save the schools. The difference is important. Which is perhaps why it only attracted 350 signatures.
The petition was presented to the Scrutiny or Policies, Children and Families Committee. This will have been an unfamiliar experience for LibDem councillors from SSDC. In Somerset County Council members of the opposition can chair Scrutiny Committees, in this case Labour’s Leigh Redman. This is unheard of in South Somerset. Here whether it is audit or scrutiny, the LibDems are firmly in charge of any scrutiny of er, themselves.
There are plenty of things wrong with the attempts to reorganise Ilminster and Crewkerne Schools. Not least the way the views of residents, students and teacher shave been ignored. Oliver Patrick says: “Let’s talk in plain English: schools in Crewkerne and Ilminster don’t have the funding they need to educate our children, and every year many of them are forced into budget overspends to make sure their students get the education they deserve. This in itself ought to be the story. It’s a scandal in 21st Century Britain“. It is hard not to agree. Many of the points he makes have merit and deserve consideration.
But what has happened here is also a scandal. The issue has been seized on for political advantage by the LibDems. Why not choose to continue working in a collaborative, cross party fashion? Why not simply have a non-political petition raising awareness. It would have attracted many more signatures. Did they not realise the cynicism the public have for politicians out to score political points? A non political petition would have been simple to do. It would have expressed far more succinctly the anger many local people feel.
What happens next?
This is The Leveller® view of where the issue is going. We have seen it happen so many times before. The LibDems do not have a majority on SCC. As a result of this politicisation of the issue, we now expect that the parties will close ranks.
That means that whatever the Education Team backed by Cabinet Member put forward, will be voted through. Will this serve the interests of parents, students and teachers of Ilminster and Crewkerne? Probably not.
But it has allowed the LibDems to create an issue and make some noise.
If you would like to sign a non political petition, one titled ‘Crewkerne/Ilminster demand a better and less disruptive solution than SCC’s school plans’ – you can access it here http://chng.it/sPVLN2Cy