The town of Maidenhead in Berkshire has a population of 86,000. The Parliamentary constituency is listed as having 74,000 eligible voters. There are around 10,000 young people attending state schools in the town aged between 4 and 18 years plus a number in the independent sector and a smaller number who attend schools outside of the Royal Borough in adjacent education authorities. Yet, only 165 Maidenhead residents completed a council run consultation on the future of secondary education in the Borough in late 2014 and of them only 107 indicated they were in favour of investigating other options for providing more secondary school places.
The question posed was: “proposal 3b and 3c: Should the borough investigate other option for providing more secondary school places, including new schools and satellite grammar schools?”
It is notable that just 36 provided positive comments on the notion of investigating a Satellite Grammar School being introduced in Maidenhead. Just 36! That’s only 22% of those Maidenhead residents who completed the questionnaire.
But let’s delve deeper. 107 represents 0.6% of the target consultation group, whilst 36 is under 0.2% of those residents targeted by. And the approval was not entirely for the grammar school option because the multiple question covered “new schools” and “satellite grammar schools”.
Or put another way: 0.05% of the electorate of Maidenhead or only 0.04% of the population of Maidenhead registered a positive comment! And still the report to the council prepared by the Children’s Services directorate chose to declare the response rate to be “significant” and our MP “welcomed the consultation”.
Against the 107 Maidonians who ticked ‘yes’, 34 ticked ‘no’ and 24 who did not know (possibly because this was the first time the idea had ever been floated by the council, the question was a confusing multiple question and the explanatory notes gave little detail). Elsewhere in the Borough, Ascot registered 69 ‘yes’ responses, and in Windsor there were 89. And the whole survey attracted just 396 responses across the whole Borough.
36 Maidenhead respondents who commented positively were countered by 26 survey participants given reasons why they did not support the idea.
Yet – RBWM took this response to have given them a mandate to go ahead and approve a budget of £200,000 to allow a grammar school in Marlow, Buckinghamshire – six miles away, to research and investigate the possibility of creating an annexe or satellite to its school somewhere within Maidenhead in order to allow Maidenhead children to access selective education. This is in the same time period as £11million has been slashed from RBWM Education budgets, a move justified by the Chair of the Education Committee as “everyone needs to pull their belt in”.
36 – it is not many more than one vote per elected RBWM Conservative Member representing Maidenhead wards. In fact, we could fit them all into one school classroom.
So how can 107 people create a council policy when in the last year a 1617 strong petition to change the council’s decision to hand £480,000 developer funding to a new Free School (whose founder/Chair of Governors is the council’s Deputy Leader) failed, as did a further petition of 1392 signatories to save a meadow, where toads breed, from becoming a building site. With just 107 in favour RBWM are proceeding on the flimsiest of mandates.
A much more wide-ranging, clear and honest consultation needs to be held before any funds are committed outside the Borough to advancing this project. The justification for selective education needs to be proven and the need for extra capacity needs to be demonstrated. And before that happens the legal status of cross-education authorities’ satellites needs to be fully explored as the entire notion may be unlawful: whatever the councillors, supported by 107 others, would like to believe.
See the our article ‘Timeline’ for references to the consultation document, various council reports and Press comment used in the piece above.