WE HAVE a great story to tell about new school buildings in our Borough.
Many fantastic new facilities which have created a first class learning environment for so many of our young people in recent times.
Clearly it takes more than just a shiny new building to provide good education.
But poor quality buildings can also hamper good teaching and learning, especially in terms of getting from classroom to classroom.
Oldham did well from the previous PFI and Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programmes which gave us new schools at Failsworth, Radcliffe, Oldham North Academy, Oasis Academy, Blessed John Henry Newman, Waterhead Academy and at North Chadderton.
But that now leaves Hathershaw, Saddleworth and Royton & Crompton without new facilities due to the cancellation of the BSF programme mid-stream.
Worse than that it leaves two of those schools with completely substandard buildings. Great teaching and aspiration being let down by poor facilities.
We now have a chance with Saddleworth School to right that wrong.
Is this without challenges? No.
We have a number of important issues to address to make sure the scheme works, but it is interesting to see how the supporters and objectors are beginning to settle.
I pay tribute to those Councillors, residents and the school itself for riding the storm of initial objection to get behind the scheme although clearly – given Saddleworth Parish Council’s decision this week to back a group of opposing residents – much still remains to be done to forge a united front.
I wouldn’t say that those people opposed to these proposals don’t have genuine concerns, because they do.
Clearly there are issues about the impact of the school on Diggle, including highways and transport concerns as well as other practical considerations.
Concerns have also been raised about the funding being made available by Government and we take those comments on board too.
It has been a difficult process for all concerned and it is far from over.
The timescales have been tight and until we had secured an option to purchase the Diggle site we were caught up in commercial negotiations which restricted our ability to publicly confirm the site.
It did feel odd a few weeks ago to be attending a public meeting about the new school when we couldn’t confirm the site – and where most of the questions, understandably, were directly related to the suitability of the site.
It hasn’t been easy to get to this stage.
It’s taken a great deal of Council resources to get Saddleworth School onto the Government list for consideration. We’re now within months of final approval and must remain united in doing what is right for our young people.
Any suggestion that we can wait for more money to magically appear, or that a change of government might transform the situation, or that we can just ‘make do’ with the current site would be a failure too far.
If you need proof of that you need only look at the local example of Royton & Crompton.
This is a fantastic school for teaching and learning but is set in a building which lets the Borough down.
It was due to be replaced as part of the BSF programme but fell victim to government cutbacks.
Now the Borough is dealing with the real cost of that: a building that requires £2m of urgent works just to repair the roof and electrical system.
All of that £2m spend will be hidden, of course. It will do the minimum required to keep the building usable but for the young people and teachers the school will look and feel exactly the same – and that just isn’t good enough.
We need to fight for a new school for Royton & Crompton and this Council is committed to securing the best deal for all our young people.
Education is the greatest investment any community can make in its future.
We’ve made good progress to date but there is still much to do and – as we create the new Oldham – first-class schools and education are central to that vision.
Thanks for listening,