Local democracy over-ridden

6th January 1995 at 00:00
On October 25 the Funding Agency for Schools published its proposals to enlarge six secondary schools in the London Borough of Hillingdon. On November 8, Hillingdon's education committee discussed the proposals, and decided to hold four public meetings to allow the public to have their say. We held the meetings in four areas of the borough, so as to cover the schools concerned and the wider community.

As we wanted all shades of opinion to be heard, I chaired all four meetings, and representatives of the schools concerned plus the FAS were invited. A planning officer from the FAS attended all four meetings, and four of the six schools sent either their chair of governors, headteacher, or both. The meetings were well attended, and many points of view expressed.

On Tuesday December 13 the education committee met to decide Hillingdon council's response to the FAS proposals. Once again, at an open meeting the FAS put forward their proposals, representatives (heads or governors) of affected schools were allowed to express their opinions, and six did - four from schools proposed for expansion, and two from neighbouring schools. Then after a debate the elected members agreed a response - most of it unanimously.

What happens now? The FAS officers will draw up recommendations to the FAS board sometime during the next month. Then sometime in February the FAS board will make a decision, and we will be informed - all behind closed doors. What do the board members really know about Hillingdon? Just what their officers have told them. Only one member of the FAS board has even visited Hillingdon, as far as I know, and that was only to present its proposals.

An estimated Pounds 10-12 million scheme to increase the number of secondary school places in Hillingdon will be decided by a group of people in York in secret on the basis of a report prepared by their own officers, which we will not see, and be unable to comment on. If a local authority behaved in that way it would be torn apart by the media, and rightly so.

While I welcome the FAS methodology of calculating the number of places required, I do not welcome the way the decision will be made. The consequences of the FAS decision will be felt in Hillingdon for many years yet it will be taken behind closed doors by unelected people from a secret report. Is this democracy?

PETER RYERSON

Chair

Education committee

London Borough of Hillingdon

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