Full Cabinet today was enthralling. The decision we had to make over the future of Gamlingay Village College meant that it was one of those meetings where there was a clear feeling that there was extremely important. It wasn't helped by the fact that I had dreadful toothache today.
The history of this is extremely important to the decision. After 18 months of the Local Authority trying to get the school to change its ways and failing because of a lack of co-operation from the leadership in the school, the County Council issued the school with a warning notice which was copied to OFSTED and resulted in a devastating inspection. Often described as one of the worst inspection reports that our very experienced officers could remember.
One of the options in front of us was to close Gamlingay Village College and move the students to nearby Bassingbourn,whilst also expanding the lower school into a traditional (for Cambridgeshire) 4-11 Primary school. The other serious option was to keep the school open as a Middle School and to federate it with nearby Bedfordshire School, Stratton Upper (which is the school most Gamlingay students move on to).
There was an extremely vociferous campaign from parents to keep the Village College open. An interesting one that seemed (to me) to include a strong element of denial about the circumstances of the school and which seemed to pay insufficient detail about the need for a rapid turnaround in standards. It made the decision all the more difficult; it is OK to listen to a voice of protest - but that voice has to accept where things are, and in my view there was not sufficient acceptance of that. Indeed if I had made a decision solely on the quality of the campaigning (as opposed to numbers) I would have voted for closure. In the end however, I did agree with the option of keeping GVC open - not because of the protests but because I was convinced by a number of speakers that the Federation with Stratton could turn the school around quickly. Given that I felt this was possible I agreed that it was the best long term education and community solution. This was supported by all but one of the Cabinet, but - the arguments were extremely close and, if things don't turn out as I hope and believe they will, then I will be amongst the first to ask for a rethink.
I would urge all of the parents who have supported the campaign to keep the school open to switch their focus onto making sure the solution they have supported creates the first class education that their children deserve. If their enthusiasm can be harnessed towards improving education it could make a huge difference. But I have to say I found myself supporting their wishes despite of their campaign, not because if it.
We spent two and a half hours on this issue this morning - the longest discussion we have ever had on a single issue. It deserved that sort of airing and our Leader Nick Clarke deserves credit for the way he has handled this, as do our Officers and the Cabinet Member David Harty.