Friday, 19 December 2014

Tory Thinking in NW Hants - Schools as an Unnecessary Evil

There would appear to be two types of Tory constituencies. There are those where the cares and concerns of the villagers are solicitously dealt with and then there are those where the voting populace  are regarded more like sheep that should take what they are given and be grateful for it. 

North West Hampshire is one of those seats where the second school of thought applies and it can be best summed up as Noblesse N'oblige Pas

The Background

NW Hants is a curious construct with its large horde of WWC residents bunched in the metropolis of Andover, with a bunch of chintzy small villages (of Tory persuasion) and then two large villages, Whitchurch and Overton (of LibDem voting tendencies). Andover was a small coaching town for centuries and a regional market town (with its Hardyesque appendage Weyhill) and had only 5,000 residents until 1950. The legacy of WWC preponderance comes from a brainwave of the GLC that was decided on an "overspill policy" (read ethnic cleansing) of the East End that would shift hordes of people out to Hampshire. 

For some bizarre reason (something in the water?) these East Londoners (with a requisite tug of the forelock) went native and started voting Tory out of gratitude for being dumped in the middle of nowhere, with minimal amenities, but at least clean air. 

So the town burgeoned to its current size of around 55,000. So what to do with the Great Unwashed? Obviously the Tories don't want them in their villages. So what happened was that the chintzy villages to the south of the town were made safe from contamination by pushing all the development to the north and east of the old town centre.

To further distance these people from the "better parts of town" a network of mind-boggling roundabouts (the Black Holes of Andover) connected by wide depopulated double carriageways (the Boulevards of Broken Dreams) and then a bunch of Big Box stores and industrial parks were put between the centre of town and the new estates as a "cordon sanitaire". New residents were to be as isolated and transportless as humanly (inhumanely) possible. 

Schools - That Unnecessary Evil

Then came the wretched issue of schools. The town had long had a grammar school which was converted into a comprehensive (the John Hanson school). Problem was this was in the Tory-leaning Western side of the town.. what to do? Of course, sell the land to developers and move the school even more to the west, in fact so far west that it is on the very farthest side of the town from where the bulk of the population had been planted.

The solution to this was to keep growing the town to the east and north, keep talking of putting a school over there and then just ignore.. Wash and repeat! 

There is a small school on the east side of town though, called the Winton Community Academy which has had a somewhat chequered history having been put in special measures in 2012 and the headmaster resigned in 2013 because results fell short of the government "floor target". Department of Education statistics show it as having a capacity of 1,055 students but only having 465 at the current time. John Hanson is shown as having 980 places and 868 pupils. 

The curious thing is that Winchester, at slightly over 44,000 in population has three Year 7-11 schools (Kings, Westgate and Henry Beaufort). But then again Winchester is a Tory marginal... got to keep the populace happy there as they are not so subservient. So we have the bizarre situation that the middle class of Andover ship their children by bus every day the 24 miles to Winchester and pay the hefty bus fares themselves. 

To put this into perspective, Westgate in the Ofsted survey comes out in the highest quintile with 84% gaining five or more GCSEs, while John Hanson ranks in the third quintile with 58% gaining five or more GCSEs.

Why is this tolerated? Primarily because John Hanson in Andover is nigh on full to bursting and as long enough parents ship off their children at their own expense (myself being one of those parents - with my daughter going to Westgate) then its saves the County the effort (and expense) of building a school on the eastern side of the town.

Le Piece de la Resistance

Even better is yet to come. Space was put aside for a school in the area known as East Anton.... now... cunning devils, they have worked out that they can let developers build 350 homes on the land allocated for the school! Here is a map...


However, after decades of the population on that side of town being taken for granted, the worm may be turning. The planning application ran into heavy flak with the LibDem town council members prominent in the opposition, whereas in the past it would have been pushed through in a "let them eat cake" style, and instead it has now become an issue to be debated next year. 

State of Play

So sociologically speaking we have:

  • Parents in the A category sending their children to private schools
  • Those in the B category either using private schools or busing to Winchester schools
  • Those in the C category either within walking distance or being bussed to John Hanson
  • Those in the D & E categories being bussed to John Hanson, because it is way beyond walking distance
Any bussing comes with a high inconvenience factor for the pupils and their families and with a high cost to the County and road congestion (but we do have those wonderful roundabouts and boulevards to ease that...).

So after decades of riding roughshod over the townfolk the Tories of Test Valley Borough Council, and their confrères on the Hampshire County Council, are finding that getting away with NOT building a school, while they keep insisting on pushing development of housing estates into the greenfields, is running into long overdue opposition.