Fifteen-year-old Charlie Illsley causes the parents of Woodlands academy to burst into tears, as he explains the impact that the school’s closure after 62 years has had on him. During a recent meeting, parents conveyed their despair to the Education Guardian. The meeting, held close to the Coventry-based academy, was a chance for them to share their sadness.
Charlie has a family connection with the school and says, “It’s the history that is going with this school. I was walking to school and an old man asked me which house I was in at Woodlands, as he went there. As a student going through this, it’s been bloody difficult.”
Arran Pallan was one of the last students to receive their A-level results from the school last week and felt sad the school would no longer exist. “I arrived here in year 7 thinking I would not get five GCSEs. I have 14.”
The closure of Woodlands, which occupies extensive grounds and has a respected reputation for sports, is a reflection of wider changes affecting English schools resulting from policies encouraging free schools and academies. The school’s parents and students believe it was unnecessarily forced into closure because the government believed the closure would cause parents to seek alternative schools, which is good for education, even if it resulted in closure.
The parents contend that over three new free schools were opened despite millions of pounds being spent, possibly enabling Woodlands to remain open.
Although Woodlands survived as a single-sex school, it will move its boys to Tile Hill Wood school to be co-educated with girls from September. From September 2017, a new Coventry West academy will emerge, providing education for both boys and girls in the Tile Hill Wood site.
Founded in 1954, Woodlands is one of England’s original twenty comprehensive schools. The late Brian Simon’s book, Education and the Social Order: British Education since 1944, highlights their headmaster’s move away from academic streaming to mixed-ability teaching in 1965. Woodlands had a traditional approach which included prefects and a mentor system. The school was successful in sporting events, notably rugby.
The transition to an academy in 2011 was a source of controversy but in 2013, it fell below the expected level and below government floor targets in 2015- sixth-form provision was never introduced.
Parents flagged their unhappiness with the way they had been informed in March. The announcement of the school’s closure was relayed to them through social media once admission letters had been sent, intensifying their anguish.
Concerns amounted due to the new free schools opening in 2014. Seva, a Sikh-ethos school and Eden, a Muslim secondary school, had overburden Tile Hill Wood. These developments led to Tile Hill Wood to want Woodlands to merge with it.
Coventry’s Woodlands School is set for closure after nearby schools have taken on extra pupils, which has led to reduced numbers at the all-boys academy. This is not an isolated case, as educationalists increasingly recognise. In a recent survey by the Local Government Association, councils reported that 92 local schools could face a similar fate within three years, with more than half closing because of the expansion of competitors. Suzanne Gaut, whose boys attended Woodlands, and other local parents are incensed that their chosen academy has come to a sorry end, with letters in protest to former education secretary Nicky Morgan and free schools minister Lord Nash going unanswered. Ultimately, the closure of any school – and the detrimental impact on the lives of pupils and teachers – highlights the wider debate surrounding the rationalisation of education facilities, and a growing belief that schools are becoming subject to the “marketisation” of education, rather than as core functions of the community.
The concluding statement states that this tour guide is a heartfelt tribute to the numerous students and faculty members who have been a part of this remarkable institution since the year 1954. It is a fitting way to pay homage to the past achievements and to mourn the loss of such prospects for the upcoming generations of Woodlands boys. Unfortunate as it may be, the absence of such opportunities implies that there will be no more memories to cherish in the future.