War of words over Tilbury schools controversy

TWO senior Thurrock councillors clashed vehemently at Tuesday night’s full Council meeting over the support given to St Mary’s School in Tilbury.

The Roman Catholic School was forced to take 11 extra pupils last year and Tory councillor Mike Revell quizzed education portfolio holder Diana Hale over how the school was coping – and a perceived lack of support from the Council.

Labour Cllr Hale responded by saving: “In 2009 the school and the local authority agreed that the school would admit over the intake number for that year only to meet a surge in demand for places across Tilbury as a whole. Consequently there were children without places and the other primary schools in the area were also full for their Reception intakes at that time. Since then there have been sufficient places to meet demand for Roman Catholic education within the area.

“We have been in regular contact with the Brentwood Diocese and have discussed the situation on a number of occasions with the school and have also held discussions with the Diocesan representatives on the same issue.

“The local authority has also offered to assist the school with either school organisation arrangements or in reviewing and reconfiguring how they use the existing accommodation already available within the school to make sure they can continue to provide the best quality education for pupils.”

However, Cllr Revell went on the offensive, saying he had been called in by parents and teachers because the Council has reneged on an officer’s promise to offer support. He added: “This is a top performing school that we desperately need to encourage, but what support are we giving?

“The answer is nil. They want and need an extra classroom. They desperately need the room but nowhere do I see any effort by your or your officers.”

A fierce exchange of words followed with both councillors becoming angry and inflamed with accusations of “lies” and “grandstanding” flying across the chamber.

Cllr Revell accused Cllr Hale of double standards, referring to her answer to an earlier question when she said she had made it her business to meet with all school heads over issues, but in her responses about St Mary’s she spoke of exchanges of letters.

Cllr Revell said: “You’ve just said you’ve been meeting and talking to heads, but here you are saying you are not talking but just have written exchanges.”

Cllr Hale, who by now was becoming extremely emotional and wound up, accused Cllr Revell of calling her a liar, which she vehemently denied, adding: “I have met with the head at the school, and the diocesan representative Father George Stokes regularly speaks to me and he would not have allowed you to call me a liar.

“We have no written evidence that the school were offered anything. I have met with the head about how he can reconfigure his classes but the truth is he has also not had the support of his diocese.

Nothing was resolved in the exchanges, though Cllr Hale has pledged to contact the school again to review the issues.

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