A Bradley Stoke primary school has come under fire for serving notice on a commercial after-school club provider at the height of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Bradley Stoke Wise Owls Club, established in the town since 2014, has been operating at Holy Trinity Primary School since April 2019, after transferring one of its two bases from its previous home at the town council’s Jubilee Centre.
But barely a year later, the private business has been served notice on its room rental agreement as the school intends to operate its own after-school provision from September.
Wise Owls owner Luci Walker says the decision came out of the blue, being notified to her on 24th April, and without consultation with herself or the parents of children who attend the club.
Mrs Walker claims Holy Trinity has reneged on a verbal assurance given when she took on the lease that the school wouldn’t “take over the club once it became profitable”.
In a letter seen by the Journal, the school’s headteacher Janet Dickson told Mrs Walker: “The decision and its timing, is clearly not best for yourself but governors have discussed the reasons for starting this provision and for the timing and it was decided that it was the right thing to do to best cater for the needs of the children at Holy Trinity, particularly at this unprecedented time.”
Mrs Walker told the Journal:
“They claim that this is in the best interests of the children and will help ‘support strong mental health.’ We feel that this will achieve the opposite as the children’s routine will be further disrupted when the club, that many have grown with over the last 6 years, will have vanished when they eventually go back to school. We also feel that Mrs Dickson and the school governors have lost their sense of community at a time when we should be supporting and helping each other during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In late April, Wise Owls launched an online petition to urge the school to reconsider its plans and this has so far attracted more than 200 signatures. However, the pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears as the latest school newsletter (dated 12th June) confirms that Holy Trinity has now appointed the first two members of staff to run its own after-school provision from September. Both of the appointees are members of the current Holy Trinity teaching staff.
Mrs Walker claims there is a growing national trend for schools to take over commercial clubs “to increase their revenues, even though operating to make a profit contravenes the Education Act of 2018”.
“I am part of a group called the Out of School Alliance which is now looking to lobby parliament to bring something in to prevent schools taking over successful, reliable and established businesses, when it suits them, for their own financial gain.”
“Small businesses are being taken over and ruined by the schools they have helped and supported through their after-school child care. Wise Owls is a part of the Bradley Stoke community and we feel that its residents need to know what is happening.”
Speaking on behalf of the school, a spokesperson for South Gloucestershire Council told the Journal:
“The school has made a decision to operate our own after-school club on the premises. The anticipated benefits of this approach have been laid out in information to sent to all our parents and we look forward to getting up and running for the benefit of our school community from September, assuming that it is safe to do so following further easing of the Covid-19 restrictions.”
“We have given formal notice to the existing commercial provider which rents space at the school, as required under the agreement signed by us and Wise Owls.”
“While we recognise that the current commercial provider is unhappy with the decision, we are content that it was made appropriately and in the best interests of the school, our pupils and their families. Our aim is to provide a seamless integration between our own after school club and the wider school. For example, school staff members will run the after-school club and the children will have access to more of the school’s facilities and equipment, including our Forest Schools area, our new laptops, art resources, library and new play equipment.”
Bradley Stoke Wise Owls Club will continue to operate after-school and holiday clubs (both open to children attending any school) from its other base at Baileys Court Activity Centre in south Bradley Stoke.
Related link: Time flies at Wise Owls! Now open at Holy Trinity (BSJ magazine, June 2019)
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