The headteacher of a school at the centre of a row over the future of Lichfield’s leisure centre has claimed “misinformation” is being put out – and insisted he is “not the bad guy”.

Friary Grange Leisure Centre

The future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre has been thrown into doubt after Lichfield District Council announced plans to shut the centre in April 2020.

The proposals came as The Friary School seeks to take facilities such as the sports hall and all-weather sports pitch to support a move towards academy status.

But after being contacted by residents and parents, Mr Allman said in an email response to one of them that he believed the facilities would be run better by the school – and criticised other parties putting out “misinformation” online.

“For me the sports hall, dance studio and astro will only be run better by the school and will have full community access,” he said in an email. “There would be no change in provision except for the better.

“The swimming pool, gym and squash courts, which have already realistically shut, can be run by Lichfield District Council as they are now.

“This is entirely their decision and there is sadly a lot of misinformation being put about.

“I am not one for shouting from the press and would rather deal with things face-to-face rather than balling [sic] on social media.

“I have no council seat to defend, no personal motive, and can promise you I am not the bad guy here.”

Talks have restarted between the school, the district council and Staffordshire County Council.

Mr Allman said he hoped the meeting would be fruitful.

“Hopefully a resolution will be found that keeps the facility open in a sustainable way for the short and long term soon,” he said.

“Please judge me personally on my record with you rather than on local rumour and innuendo.”

Founder of LichfieldLive and editor of the site.

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20 Comments

  1. Which bits are loss making? The pool, the tiny gym…..remember ALL of the assets on site were purchased with taxpayer money. When the MultiAcademy Trust takes over ALL is privatised, can be used or disposed with no community oversight, and nobody, NOT even OFSTED can currently check the workings of what is already a private company. The Head can then only be judged by his company.
    It’s all a bit BoJo, this.

  2. In what way should a school be responsible for a community facility? Academy or otherwise? The school has been propping the sports centre for years and if they can’t sustain it between them then why should the school be lumbered with it? The school are not to blame nor is the local authority. It’s a victim of central government cuts. Get Amazon to pay for it

  3. John Griffin is right, it is all a bit BoJo. Schools are decimated by government cuts and forced to academise. Perfect Tory BoJo behaviour.

    So many experts on this site are posting conspiracy theories about private companies, nepotism and lack of oversight without actually looking into what schools are being forced to do. The fact is, schools are being forced to become academies. The Friary is what’s called a ‘converter’ school, taking charge of its own future because it wants to avoid the clutches of the national chains funded by investors and sponsors who demand a return on their investment. The head has been clear about this in his meetings with parents and the community. Joseph White is spot on in his assessment.

    Oh, and OFSTED do inspect academies, in spite of what others are saying elsewhere on this site. My son’s school is an academy and has just been inspected.

    People need to get behind the school and stop buying into the rabble-rousing. If the school don’t take back their facilities, they’ll shut down altogether under LDC and Freedom Leisure. The school have offered to maintain them for the community use. What more do you want? The issue is the absolute joke of a council mismanaging the relationship with Freedom Leisure who couldn’t manage a subbuteo team.

  4. The school should not be responsible. Neither should it be able to cherry pick, nor should its chair behave as he has done. If you are comfortable with a private company taking over not just the school but its profitable assets, and leaving the loss making bits to the taxpayer, fine. I’m not.

  5. Of course he’s the bad guy. All he cares about is taking over the profitable bits of the leisure facilities to the benefit of the school. He couldn’t give a toss about what the kids & their families have to do when the school is closed.

  6. @Craig – I haven’t spoken to anyone who isn’t behind the school and its desire to convert to an academy. What is at issue is which community facilities pass to the trust as part of the process. This is a choice, and at the moment, the wider feeling is that the choice that has been made about the split of these public assets is wrong.

    At some point during the process to convert, the public asset has been carved up into part that the academy wishes to take and part that will be left behind. I don’t know who has driven this allocation but this decision has been made as part of the academisation. Whether it is being driven by the school or Staffordshire County Council I don’t know so can’t comment.

    However, the consequence of this split is that the part that isn’t currently earmarked to go to the academy will be left in public ownership and it is this remaining part that has been deemed as “loss making”, with the “profit making” element then becoming an income stream for the academy and not available to financially support the entire facility. The ultimate outcome of this split is that LDC currently feels it is not able to financially support the remaining parts.

    You’ll have no doubt seen Doug Pullen’s announcement yesterday and one of his proposals is that entire portfolio (astroturf, gym, pool etc) all stay together. This way, the “profit” making parts can be used to support the “loss” making parts. This seems to me to be an eminently sensible suggestion.

    No-one is expecting the school to support or run the facility – indeed, schools should be for education rather than running and operating community facilities in my view. Equally no-one is expecting the conversion to an academy to result in the wider community suffering the loss of the only public swimming pool in Lichfield City, and whether we like it or not, this is currently the position. The facilities do not belong to the school to “take back”. They are public assets, belonging to all of us through the payment of tax, and whether these transfer to the new trust is a matter of choice for Staffordshire County Council currently owns them.

  7. @Craig Riswell It is completely untrue that schools are forced to convert to an academy. There is zero legal obligation on schools or local education authorities to convert. The process itself has to be initiated by the school, too.

    The Friary School had requested conversion and at some point along that process a conversation has happened about handing over elements of Friary Grange Leisure Centre.

    What is clear now is that the end result of the agreement reached between the school and the local authority is that Lichfield looses it’s leisure centre.

    So the question for Staffordshire Country Council, Mr Allman, Cllr Checkland and Pat Hunt (CEO-to-be of Greywood Multi-Schools Trust) is what’s more important to them? Their ownership and control over “profitable” parts of a community asset, or the health and wellbeing of the entire community?

  8. Phillip: you’re conflating an obligation with being forced to do something. The government is stripping schools of funding and placing pressure on them to convert. Lack of funding = poorer results. Poor results = poor Ofsted, leading to forced takeover by private chain. Therefore, schools like the Friary are having to take matters into their own hands and convert under their own management (Friary are heading up their own MAT as you rightly pointed out) to avoid handing over to a ruthless corporate national group.

    What seems to be important to the school is retaining the parts of the leisure centre that they actually had some responsibility for as an LA school and ensuring they’re well well looked after and utilised within the community. If they don’t hold on to it, the whole lot will be shut.

    The issue is that LDC don’t want to maintain the leisure centre. Therefore, support the school in holding on to what they can. It’s not the school converting that’s causing all of this. It’s the money the council do or don’t want to spend on it. Privatising it with Freedom Leisure was predictably disastrous, but then when the Conservative party are happy to privatise fire services, ambulance services and prisons and railways, with an eye on the NHS now (Burton Hospital staff being run by Virgin anyone?) what else can be expected in education and leisure?

    I’m simply saying that it’s in the interests of the politicians here to keep people talking about the school academising rather than looking at what their real motives are with Friary Grange Leisure Centre.

  9. A valid attempt to defend the school, Craig, but Lichfield District Council have not been given the chance to keep the whole leisure centre. What has actually happened is that the school has decided it wants the bits that will rake in the cash and is leaving the Council with just the bits that don’t make the money (and had to be subsidised by the other elements to allow a full leisure centre to operate). So the school’s desire to academise has forced the council’s hand. Don’t kid yourself that this is some noble act by the school to prevent the whole lot shutting; it’s an attempt by the new academy to rake in the cash at the expense of the community. No academy and the leisure centre could stay open. Hand over bits of it to the academy and the leisure centre cannot exist. Therefore the academy is the key part of the story, regardless of what Allman and Co would have us believe.

    Yes, the councils have allowed the funding for the centre to plummet and this has caused some of the problems, but the academy situation is exacerbating them. Don’t let the academy spin fool you; rumours of Friary Grange’s Leisure Centre had been greatly exaggerated until they got involved.

  10. Wilf, I understand what you’re saying, but what you’ve said doesn’t take into account the reasons behind academising, even if you’re right. Assuming you are, the school doesn’t have much choice about converting. It’s when, not if. They are doing it under much better terms than if someone like Landau Forte took over. The kids, parents and community wouldn’t be looked after, that’s for sure.

    In that case, what are the school supposed to do? And don’t forget, the issues around the funding predate the academy issue. The leisure centre has been left to crumble for years and years, before the current head took over. Freedom Leisure are evidence of that. The centre was dependent on grants and funding ten years ago to install many of the current facilities, and the lack of funding to enable upkeep has led to a loss-making millstone for the LDC. So the school want to provide the kids with the facilities, plus make them available to the public, in order to fund themselves to be able to continue providing a good education for the children of our city. That’s probably the best of a bad situation. If the school was funded properly by the rapaciously corporate government, instead of being stripped of funding (yes, Ms May, a 2.75% pay rise sounds great! Who’s funding it? Not the government) then they wouldn’t need to do any of this. In fact, I’d rather they didn’t have to. Academies aren’t good. Not at all. A properly funded education system, nationalised and supported is. But we are where we are.

  11. Craig. I understand your comments and they all make perfect sense.

    What I fail to understand is, given the lack of investment from the government and council. Why did the then Chair of the Governors, stand for election for the party creating so many of the problems, locally and nationally. It seems more of an endorsement of their policies.

  12. @ Craig Roswell. There has been a fundamental change in the policies of government funding for most of the social activities throughout the country. A sum of money is now allocated to counties to cover certain provisions and they have to manage with amounts given. This is branded decentralisation but effectively frees central government from a lot of the responsibility. Of course the monies provided are never enough and other expedients have to be concocted to meet the shortfall. Academies are one such expedient where the private sector are able to infiltrate the independence and finance of such institutions. You see it again in hospitals built for use by the NHS but by private finance and the consequential perminant ongoing costs. There are many other examples that demonstrate the determination of conservative governments to deliver all social services into private hands. To some extent this was inevitable in a post industrial Britain but make no mistake it is an escalation of the class divide. We a currently held in a false recession as it benefits the government in many ways. Politics is a nasty business with few altruistic participants. This both at national and local levels. The likes of Boris Johnson are not involved in government for the countries good, it is the perpetuation of long established entitlement and what comes with it.

  13. @Philip Allso: I hope you know that I couldn’t agree more, right? Everything you’ve said is the point behind all that I’ve said so far. The reason I’ve defended the school is that they’re left with such a ‘devil and the deep blue sea’ situation that it frustrates me to hear people portraying the conversion as a selfish and cutthroat decision by the school in order to make some sort of profitable business decision so that staff can have nice holidays. It’s not.

    This government, with its drive to diminish the public sector, has consequently undermined the public esteem for once well-regarded professions. Teachers, nurses, police, you name it, are much less well respected as it suits the narrative to create a social environment where the public feel that these hard working and well educated people don’t ‘deserve’ much. The school need to academise to maintain their high results and good ratings. If they don’t, staff lose their jobs. The same in hospitals and such.

    This furore and the vitriol aimed at the school is political. Keep the focus on the school ‘grabbing at resources’ and avoid the spotlight shining where it should: the appalling lack of support from government. As an independent, I’d have hoped Joanne Grange would have highlighted all this a little more publicly instead of swiping at the school. I have no vested interest in the school per se, but as a public sector worker myself I’ve a good understanding of the system and the derision public sector staff face at the hands of the Conservative Party.

    A sincere thanks to you for your concise and accurate post.

  14. Just to clarify. OFSTED cannot examine the governance and finances of a MultiAcademy Trust. The head of OFSTED complained publicly two weeks ago that this allows all sorts of dubious practice, financial (like contracting to firms owned by school management) and academic (like offrolling and catchment poaching) to be normal across the Trust. OFSTED can only inspect individual academies.

  15. @Craig – I am not swiping at the school – indeed the first sentence of my reply above should confirm that.

    If I am swiping at anything it’s the consequence of the split of the facilities being that the wider community loses the pool, gym etc. How can it be just, equitable and democratic that the conversion to an academy is at the detriment of the wider community?

    As an independent local councillor Politics (with a capital P) is above my pay grade. As an independent local councillor, politics (with a lower case p) means standing with the wider community and fighting to keep access to public facilities rather than standing idly by and seeing them being split and the income flowing to a private organisation – income which could be the lifeline for the pool and gym.

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