The group's remit is pre-school, schools, and other education matters.
A main focus has been the intractable question of 'schools places'. The Working Group is endeavouring, in alliance with the Harpenden Parents Group and local councillors, to consider improvements in the system.
A welcome new face on The Harpenden Society committee is that of Chris Armitage, whose watching brief is to head up our Education Working Group, at a time of exciting new school developments in the town, especially the imminent addition of a fourth secondary school, on the Common Lane site at Batford.
As indicated in our Winter 2017 newsletter, Katherine Warington School (KWS) is expected to further consolidate the enviably high reputation enjoyed by Harpenden's existing secondary schools - St George's, Roundwood Park and Sir John Lawes - as educational centres of excellence.
Chris Armitage, as a school governor and member of the Harpenden Secondary Schools Committee, says the collaborative involvement of the existing schools, along with representatives from Rothamsted Research, bodes well for the future success of KWS in maintaining the same high standards in both academic and extramural activities.
It is hoped, says Chris, that that collaboration will yield benefits in a wider context, especially that of Harpenden's future as a community, a subject now being actively debated by all those concerned in formulating the town council's Neighbourhood Plan.
Nowhere is that arguably more pertinent than in matters which in Oxford or Cambridge would traditionally be discussed under the heading of ‘town and gown', and which, in 21st Century Harpenden, are apt to focus on the mundane but crucial issue of traffic congestion around schools at morning start and afternoon departure times.
It is something which, as Chris points out, is not always readily apparent to school staff; teachers normally get to school half an hour or more before their pupils and leave correspondingly later, so might not observe the traffic mayhem first hand. Deterring parents from bringing their older children to school by car with resulting twice-a-day traffic chaos is an immense challenge to which, he admits, there is no obvious solution.
Chris Armitage, a Yorkshireman by birth, was a teacher all his working life until his ‘nominal' retirement from full-time teaching, latterly as assistant head of Sir John Lawes school, five years ago. It is a profession which runs in his family; his wife, son and daughter all earning their living ‘in the classroom'.
He came to Harpenden in 1975, joining the staff at what was then Manland Secondary School, as a PE and English teacher. He concedes that back then it was a relatively low-achieving comprehensive, but that in recent years it has progressed to more than hold its own with the town's other secondary schools.
Chris emphasises the job satisfaction he has derived from teaching, particularly in watching often fairly guileless 11-year olds develop, over five or six years, into fully-rounded and educationally well-qualified members of society.
It is, he says, a tough but very rewarding job, but with the many rewards having to be earned, not least through the need to establish an ethos of mutual respect between teacher and youngster. He maintains that all children, from all social backgrounds, want to learn - something on which a good teacher can build, albeit sometimes involving ‘risks', which serve to add spice to the challenges.
That, in its turn, says Chris, is reflected in students' behaviour. He pays credit to Harpenden's junior schools whose pupils, having reached the age of 11 or so, almost invariably show themselves eager to pursue their studies when they embark on their secondary education.
After two years of remote learning, bubbles and no extracurricular activities our schools are beginning to get back to normality. At last, our children can return to school, with their friends, and a smile on their faces. Long may this continue.
As far as the Society is concerned one of the highlights of the last six months has been the very successful Write A Story Competition. This has been reported in our Spring Newsletter, but over thirty budding authors put pen to paper and the results were amazing. The standard of writing was first class and once again proves the young people of Harpenden are hugely talented.
Living in a cleaner and safer environment is high up on the agendas of all our schools. MPs in Westminster and Downing Street have been lobbied by various groups of our children. A small group of students attended the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. There they mixed with delegates from all over the world, made friends and met many climate campaigners. You may have seen our students peacefully demonstrating on the High Street; students from Crabtree Junior school, Harpenden Academy, High Beeches Primary, Katherine Warington school, Sir John Lawes, Roundwood Park and The Priory armed with banners and flags got their message across to lunchtime shoppers.
Students have also shown their support to the National Tree Work programme by assisting Harpenden Town Council plant 950 trees at Porters Hill Park in Batford. Extracurricular activities are beginning again and students are encouraged to take part in lunchtime and after school activities, as well as participating in School fixtures.
As I have reported schools are getting back to normal and that will mean for some students a return to sitting GCSE and A2 level exams. Gone are the days of CAGs and TAGs, students will sit their exams in the school hall just as many students have done before.
It goes without saying that all our children have the opportunity to experience a first rate education from all our schools, and long may this continue.
The Harpenden Society Welcomes the Plan for a New Secondary School
Formal rejection on the 25th September 2018, of the appeal against the judicial review which had been sought by ‘Right School, Right Place' objectors, has cleared the way for building to begin on the new Katherine Warington secondary ‘free' school, on the Green Belt site at Common Lane, Batford. The Department for Education and the appointed contractors Kier are said to be working towards a construction start-up in late November.
The initial objective is for a 180-place school ‘for six forms of entry at year 7' to be ready in September 2019 - albeit twelve months later than originally projected. Its classrooms will be accommodated in the first school building to be completed, which will become the school sports hall when the whole development is ready for occupation - by the target date of August 2020.
At a massively well-attended open day for prospective parents and pupils held in Rothamsted's Fowden Hall in early October, the school's aims and aspirations, spelled out in the Autumn 2017 Harpenden Society newsletter, were reaffirmed by head teacher designate Tony Smith.
Particular emphasis was placed on the matter of access to the school, sited at the busy junction of Lower Luton Road and Common Lane, where the potential for serious traffic congestion at school morning arrival and afternoon departure times, has had to be addressed.
Accordingly, the school authorities have come forward with detailed proposals aimed at making it easier and safer for as many pupils as possible to get to and from the new school without their having to be ‘chauffeured' by car, typically by their parents.
At no less than 22 locations in Harpenden, on routes likely to be taken by pupils and/or parents, walking or cycling, modifications to existing road and footpath infrastructure are proposed, necessarily requiring budget allocation from Herts County Council.
Notable examples include: a suggested lowering of current speed limits, from 40 to 30mph and 30 to 20mph on Lower Luton Road and Crabtree Lane; additional bus-stops near the school; zebra, toucan or puffin pedestrian crossings at strategic points on busier roads near the school; ‘pedestrian dropped kerbs and tactile paving' (benefiting parents with push chairs, and minimising trip risks); enlargement of the mini-roundabout at Station Road/Lower Luton Road junction ‘to increase its capacity'; footbridge improvement over River Lea from Crabtree lane, with better street lighting.