Wirral Council u-turn on Ridgeway High School closure plan

WIRRAL Council last night abandoned its unpopular plan to shut a Birkenhead school as part of proposals to create two new academies in the town.

The authority's ruling cabinet made the "pragmatic" decision following the massive campaign against the closure of Ridgeway High School by parents, pupils and staff.

Last night the Conservatives were calling the changes "an embarrassing u-turn" for the Labour and Lib-Dem led authority.

Proposals for a "three into two" model, closing Park High, Rock Ferry High and Ridgeway are to be replaced with a "two into one" approach, amalgamating Rock Ferry High and Park High schools to create a mixed academy.

The meeting at Wallasey Town Hall was told the proposal to create an all-boys academy would be dropped, and Ridgeway allowed to remain open.

The council will now try to decide where to locate the new academy, either at the current Park High School or near Borough Road playing fields, site of one of the now defunct all-boys academy.

Cabinet member for education, Cllr Phil Davies, said it was a "pragmatic decision, based on the clear view from Ridgeway that they do not want to be part of these options".

He said: "We are not going to force the school to close and be part of a review which they now no longer wish to be involved in.

"Between now and the next cabinet on December 9 we will hold meetings with the other two schools - Rock Ferry and Park High - and residents around Borough Road playing fields and the Shaftesbury Youth Club to try to get a steer as to which of the sites would be the better option."

He warned that the council's director of education, Howard Cooper, had raised concerns about "the viability of Ridgeway going forward", although said the school - which has made major improvements in recent years - remains confident it can continue to attract pupils.

The scheme had been called in for additional scrutiny by the Conservative group and had even been criticised by a senior cabinet member, Cllr Stuart Kelly, who said he was "delighted" by the new approach being taken by the council.

Tory leader Cllr Jeff Green said: "I am delighted that the Council’s ruling Cabinet has seen sense and reversed its decision to close Ridgeway High School. I would like to place on record my admiration for the Governors, staff, parents and children of Ridgeway High and local residents for the way they have conducted themselves during what must have been a very worrying time.

"I believe this U turn has demonstrated how right it was for us to ‘Call In’ this decision. In our Call in we made it clear that it was wrong to close Ridgeway High, a school judged outstanding by OFSTED in order to justify creating a boys only Academy. I strongly believe we should be supporting successful schools not threatening them with closure.

"The Cabinet really must start thinking things through before making such critical decision on the future for Wirral residents. The anguish and alarm the decision to close Ridgeway created was wholly avoidable by a simple application of common sense, it would also have prevented this subsequent embarrassing climb down."