School fencing “unnecessary,wasteful and morally wrong”

Date: Friday 24th March 2017

A PARENT with children at Penrith’s Queen Elizabeth Grammar School has expressed her astonishment that its governors are planning to spend up to £50,000 on fencing on the site, following damning Ofsted judgements about security at other schools.

The decision has been taken following judgements against other secondary schools, with Kirkby Stephen Grammar School and Queen Katherine, Kendal, both deemed to be inadequate and placed in special measures, with site security cited as a contributory factor. Similar comments about security had been made in an earlier Ofsted report about Penrith’s Ullswater Community College, though it was not deemed inadequate.

However, Nicola Hartley, who has two children at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, said pre-empting any Ofsted judgement was a step too far. “Just two weeks after all parents were asked by the head to write to Rory Stewart about the unfairness of the new funding formula, for £50,000 to suddenly be found for a perimeter fence suggests that funding is not quite as dire as we are led to believe.

“Friends of QEGS have been fund-raising for a new school minibus for the past two years, and are only just half way towards the £26,000 required. If £50,000 can be found instantly for a fence, out of fear of Ofsted reprisals, we are wondering why we are bothering.”

Headteacher Paul Buckland told the Herald that security at the site had long been a concern of his, and he had introduced measures such as passes for sixth formers, but there was now the added concern over Ofsted’s recent judgements to consider and the school was keen to keep its “outstanding” rating, from when it was last inspected in 2009.

He said: “The local authority has agreed to us moving the footpath which crosses the site away from the main building and we have been exploring other options for making the site secure. The governors have decided that this is a priority and we will have to find the money from our budget. £30-50,000 is an estimate I gave of how much it could cost. We are in the process of getting prices at the moment.”

Mr. Buckland said no guidelines were published by Ofsted or the Department for Education on site security, so schools were in a position where they simply had to make their site as secure as possible. “Inevitably, there will be a cost to this,” he said. “It is a question of putting the students’ safety first.”

However, Ms Hartley said many parents remained unconvinced and there was a strength of public feeling nationally against “fencing in” pupils.

She said: “There has been a strong public reaction in both Kendal and Kirkby Stephen to these draconian judgements — a feeling that in these times of desperate shortage of funding for schools, the compulsion to spend tens of thousands of pounds on perimeter fencing is unnecessary in Cumbria, wasteful and morally wrong when that money could be spent on a teacher’s salary, books and so on.

“I feel sure there would be similar public feeling in Penrith against the school spending £50,000 on fencing and barriers. If this Government really does stand for localism, then the wishes of the community should be respected. In view of the amount of media coverage there has been, if the school community did decide that £50,000 on fencing was unnecessary, then Ofsted would have to listen when they came to inspect. The Common Inspection Framework does say that local context should be taken into account.

“I am as concerned as all other parents that our children should be safe while at school, and that sensible precautions should be taken. However, I feel that there is simply no case for spending vast sums on fences.”