Backbench Councillors on the Children and Families Scrutiny Board have released the decision to spend almost £7 million on extending Cockburn School, which will now be implemented.
The original decision was made by the Executive Board on 24 June 2020 by Conservative Councillors ‘called it in’ for scrutiny. The Board met yesterday (8 July 2020) and after three and half hours of debate the Board opted to allow the plans to go ahead by 11 votes to 4.
The main areas debate included the cost per school place created by the plans and whether other options had been properly considered.
Cllr Ryan Stephenson (Conservative, Harewood) argued that £6.83 million was disproportionately high figure to create space for 60 pupils. He compared it to the estimated costs of rebuilding Royds School, a 1500 place secondary school at £20-25m and various other schemes to allow schools to take extra numbers of pupils. He also queried why Leeds’ record of creating extra school places was so much higher than other core cities such as Manchester and Birmingham, according to DfE figures.
Cllr Jonathan Pryor (Labour, Headingley and Hyde Park) the Executive Member for Learning, Skills and Employment, said these were not appropriate comparisons. The Council talked to schools individually to see if they could take extra pupils and what assistance they would need to make it happen. Many schools have enough space to take a ‘bulge’ of extra pupils without requiring new buildings.
The situation at Cockburn was that the school had been short of space since its rebuild in 2008. The council undertook an audit of space and compared to DfE guidance the school was short of ten classrooms for its existing pupil numbers.
Cllr Pryor also said that the building costs at Cockburn were actually cheaper at Cockburn compared with other schemes in the city, in terms of cost per m2.
Cllr Stephenson asked the Board to consider other secondary schools in South Leeds including Royds, Rodillian, Morley and Bruntcliffe. He queried why options to expand these schools had not been considered and were not discussed in the Executive Board report.
Cllr Pryor countered that the Council had been in discussions with all the secondary schools in south Leeds over the last few years as the shortage of places became apparent. All had been asked to take extra pupils and many had agreed to. The Cockburn plan was the only viable option left, he said.
Cllr Stephenson summed up his case for referring the decision back to Executive Board for reconsideration.
“I want to stress the scale of the money involved in this decision.
“Is £6.83m proportionate to the desired outcome? The DfE’s own protocols show it’s not. Is it appropriate to use Basic Needs grant funding to address historic undersizing? The DfE suggests it’s not.
“Is using £800,000 Basic Needs grant funding and transferring the freehold ownership of the land at South Leeds golf course required, appropriate and proportionate? Well the community of Middleton and Beeston certainly think they’ve got queries around that.”
Cllr Pryor summed up the Council’s position:
“I think there are five key points. The first one that this is not more expensive than other schemes around the city. (Secondly) the expansion scheme is based on specific DfE guidance about what size a school needs to be to educate children. Thirdly, this was the only option in the south of Leeds. We explored many others and in fact did expand others and that just shows the scale of what we are working with.
“The fourth point is this would not be needed at all if Laurence Calvert had been delivered by the DfE, but they have delayed and delayed. The fifth point is that these children need these school places.”
In a statement Cockburn School commented:
“We are extremely pleased that this decision has now been approved by the scrutiny board and that Leeds City Council can now move forward with their plans. The additional accommodation and sports facilities will enable us to meet the needs of students from south Leeds and allow us to give local young people an excellent education in their local area. The permanent car park will lead to huge reduction of cars being parked on Gipsy Lane during the school day which is something we have worked hard on alongside the local residents in order to ease congestion and make the road a safer place for all.”
Councillor Andrew Scopes (Beeston & Holbeck) said:
“I welcome the much needed provision on extra secondary school places for people on our area and hope the Government moves forward plans for the new school in Middleton. However, I also recognise there is still much work to do to ensure the wider public get sufficient access to the land that school is being given for sports facilities and to develop plans for the remaining land that used to be the golf course to ensure the maximum benefit for our community.”
The Scrutiny Board meeting was live streamed and a video of the whole discussion will be available in due course at: leeds.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcasts
A planning application for the first phase of the expansion, within the existing site boundary of the school, has been submitted, ref: 20/03547/FU. You can read it in full on the Council’s planning portal by clicking here. Comments can be made in support of against the application until Friday 7 August 2020.