By Betsy Everett
Failure to erect a six-foot fence to stop children escaping and protect them from intruders could result in a school being put into special measures by Ofsted, a governor of Askrigg primary school has told the parish council.
Declaring his interest as a governor, Councillor David Madley told a meeting of Askrigg and Low Abbotside parish council that Kirkby Stephen grammar school in Cumbria had been told by the Ofsted inspectors: “Put up a six-foot fence otherwise you are in special measures. There is a requirement for Askrigg school to have a secure boundary,” said Cllr Madley.
“The security of the children when they are using the grounds is a big professional worry to the staff,” he added.
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He was responding, for the second time in a week, to angry criticism from parents, residents and councillors at plans announced in the summer to build the 1.8 metre-high, green mesh fence, around the entire boundary of the school playing field: a decision which Cllr Greta Kirkbride said would make it look like “a storage depot on an industrial estate.”
At an earlier meeting at the school, acting head Maxine Price and governors had agreed to set up a working party to review the proposal.
But news of this did nothing to dampen the fury expressed at the council meeting.
Chairman Bruce Fawcett said he had attended the school meeting: “They seemed hell bent on erecting this six-foot fence. I can tell you this is the most controversial thing that has ever happened in this village in my lifetime.
“Of course we want our children to be safe but there is nothing you can do to protect them one hundred per cent. Minimise the risk of harm obviously, but to put a six-foot fence around a primary school is outrageous.”
At one time, said Cllr Fawcett, the playing field had been “the most beautiful by far, for many a mile. Now it’s just a mess with rubbish and nettles, and an old wooden shack. And now they want to make it look like Auschwitz. It beggars belief.”
District councillor Yvonne Peacock described the plan for a fence as “absolutely ridiculous. The people of this community have been been such huge supporters of the school and have been one hundred per cent per cent behind them in everything they do, and yet the school hasn’t had the sense to see how much they are upsetting them,” she said.
She added that the owners of the building and grounds, the Yorebridge Educational Foundation of which she was a trustee, had offered to pay for improved hedges to provide a more acceptable boundary.
Resident Malcolm Renshaw said the fence would present a “challenge” to small children, who might never have thought of escaping, to climb the fence.
“What are the children going to think about this? They will feel imprisoned,” he said.
Clerk to the council, Karen Lynch, whose home is near the school, asked how many children had actually escaped. But Cllr Madley said numbers were not an argument.
“Just one child escaping and getting hurt would be tragic,” he said
Asked whether Ofsted had stated only “reasonable measures” were required to protect the children, he said the advice from Ofsted seemed to be to put up “higher and higher fences.”
Cllr Fawcett said the parish council would keep an eye on progress and await the outcome of the working party set up by the school.