PENNY Mordaunt has issued a plea to Portsmouth City Council not to pull the plug on providing all-boys education.
The city MP wants proposals to turn City of Portsmouth Boys’ School co-educational reversed and to see the site instead transformed into a single-sex technical college with a Royal Navy cadet unit.
She said the move would help to boost numbers, as only around half of the 900 places offered are being taken up.
In a letter to Councillor Neill Young, Conservative cabinet member for children and education, Ms Mordaunt said: ‘The city is working hard to maximise the amazing technical industries we have. We have a skills shortage in these technical professionals, and this will increase numbers if there is a strategy to tackle it.
‘I have fed back to the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership that I felt more could be done to develop interest in professions like engineering in Portsmouth’s schools and would like more to be done in this area.’
As reported, plans are being considered to make City of Portsmouth Boys’ – the city’s sole all-boys school – co-educational because of a fall in the number of pupil places.
While Cllr Donna Jones, council leader, shares Ms Mordaunt’s vision to transform the school, she believes the best way forward is to see both sexes attend as it is below par and would improve standards.
Cllr Jones says she would like it to become a university training college for teenagers wanting to be engineers and scientists. She said BAE Systems and Airbus have expressed an interest in being sponsors.
‘The school is seriously under-performing and it’s on the verge of having governors step in,’ said Cllr Jones. ‘We have got some very good schools in the city and that one needs to move on. Going co-educational will mean more places for school children, it has to happen. It is only running at half capacity.’
A consultation over the move was responded to by 84 people , with 38 being in support, and 44 against.
Of those in favour were 23 school staff, 14 parents and a school governor, and in opposition were 37 parents, one governor, three school staff and another three who didn’t say who they were.
Ms Mordaunt said the results showed parents were against a move to co-education by ‘two to one’ and it is only when staff responses are taken into account that the result looks more balanced.
A consultation with students showed 42 in year seven favouring the change and 46 being against.
Forty-three year eight pupils said yes and 42 said no to the plans.
The council also wants to provide more toilets and changing rooms to accommodate girls. This would cost £625,000 and funding is being sought to cover the bill.
Mike Stoneman, the council’s strategic commissioning manager for education, said: ‘The opportunity for change and a re-organisation at the City of Portsmouth Boys’ School addresses issues of surplus capacity, viability and the need to drive up educational standards.’
Mike Smith is the headteacher at the school. He said: ‘We need another co-ed school in the city. We have got new housing going up in Tipner.
‘There are significant increases in pupils. We need the extra places.
‘It’s evident that parents in Portsmouth don’t choose single-sex boys schools. So choice is irrelevant if people aren’t choosing it.’
A final decision will be made at a council meeting on July 8.
After a decision is made, the Church of England and Roman Catholic dioceses and the governors and trustees of the school have the right to appeal within four weeks to the school adjudicator.
There is no right of appeal once the school adjudicator has their say.
The first intake of boys and girls would be from either September 2015 or the year after.
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