My nuclear family did not move to Watford Bridge until I was about 12 years old, and I attended The Berkeley Institute for high school. Consequently, I never attended school in Somerset.
My father had family and friends all over Somerset, so I ended up making teenage friends from White Hill all the way to Dockyard Terrace. Although I ran up and down Somerset as a teenager, and have lived in Somerset for about 30 years in total, I would not claim to be a true Somerset native like those who attended school in Somerset Central.
One thing this outsider learnt really quick about Somerset was that West End Primary was deemed to be “the Black primary school”, and Somerset Primary School was deemed to be “the White primary school”. I had Black and White friends from both schools, and this was just one of the blatantly obvious things you noticed when growing up. What I was completely oblivious to was the long and painful history behind the two schools.
Like many, I’ve read or seen the vitriol expressed over the proposal to close West End Primary. But without knowledge of the school’s history, it was all too easy to dismiss this behaviour as resentment towards the past or resistance to change. It was only after doing some research over the past week that I began to understand the West End Warriors’ fury.
During my research, I managed to find two key pieces of information about West End Primary. The first was a school history page on the Ministry of Education’s website. This provided me with a basic understanding of how the school came to be. The second piece of information was a January 2021 Letter to the Editor by West End Warrior champion Cecile Snaith-Simmons. In this letter, Mrs Snaith Simmons goes into great detail about the trials and tribulations of establishing the school. After reading these two pieces of information, I was left dumbfounded about why the Government has proposed shutting it.
Curiosity led me to look into the school evaluation matrix (December 2020). I also reviewed the Parish Primary School Consultation Report (July 2021). It is in this second document that you will find the Government’s responses to feedback received from the community. Regarding the historical matters that the West End Warriors are fighting over, the Government replied:
“As important as history and legacy are to particular school communities and the broader community, they were not part of the scoring process because the study factors were directly related to how to best achieve 21st-century learning to improve the quality of education and student attainment and outcomes.”
This is an interesting response for a number of reasons:
1, Bizarrely, the scoring matrix considers whether or not a school has a listed (protected) building, but it does not consider the actual history behind the school
2, Just imagine for a moment that the Government proposed to shut The Berkeley Institute for any reason. Even worse, imagine Berkeley being shut and replaced by a school that was borne out of racial segregation. Would history have played a greater role in the Government’s decision-making process? Of course, it would
3, The scoring matrix is not really based on what kind of school design is required for 21st-century learning. Instead, it focuses on the schools as they stand now
It would be one thing if the Government stated:
• A 21st-century school has a 40-square foot space requirement per student
• Given the projected student enrolment for the next ten years, we believe we need a school in Somerset of a specified size
• The existing size and condition of the two schools would require the Government to spend x-million more dollars to choose West End instead of Somerset Primary. Therefore, in spite of the West End’s history, the best choice for a parish school is Somerset Primary
Instead, the Government’s response in the report was: “Decisions on parish primary schools need to be made prior to a full costing; however, the differences in refurbishment costs were not study factors in the scoring of primary schools.”
This is akin to buying one house instead of the other before you have determined if your choice is below, at or exceeds the requirements of the number of occupants. As a reminder, West End scored 54.88 per cent and Somerset Primary scored 61.66 per cent. All of West End’s history, which is intrinsically tied to its present location, has been dismissed over seven percentage points derived from a highly questionable evaluation matrix.
Historical reasons are not the only reasons to favour West End. The school is located right in the heart of Somerset. It is a stone’s throw from Somerset Cricket Club, the future Sandys Signature Secondary School and the salvageable Sandys 360. Despite the incredibly great synergy that exists between these organisations, the Evaluation Matrix gave Somerset Primary only a nine-point advantage for Community Services. Based on the report’s definition of Community Services, it looks like Somerset Primary got the higher score because it is closer to a grocery store and petrol station — two things that primary school students have very little need of.
Also of critical concern, the Consultation Report effectively dismissed concerns about student safety. While it is true that there is no significant gang activity right on Somerset Primary School’s property, anyone who knows anything about Somerset knows that several forms of antisocial behaviour, including gang activity, are far closer to Somerset Primary than to West End. Despite the obvious, this gave West End only a six-point advantage over Somerset Primary.
In 1990, West End had 280 students enrolled. That same year, Somerset Primary had 192. By 2027, Sandys Parish is forecast to have student enrolment of 183. Yes, the enrolment for the entire parish is forecast to be 35 per cent less than what West End alone had enrolled in 1990. Based on that fact alone, I’m really struggling to see how West End could not accommodate the numbers forecast for a 21st-century school design, especially if you leverage the organisations that it is right next to.
Simply retreating to a score generated from what appears to be a severely flawed Evaluation Matrix is unacceptable. Exactly where is the necessary justification for closing West End? Frankly, the more I consider the past and the future of public education in Sandys, the less surprised I am that the West End Warriors are so furious about the Government’s decision.
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