An Open Letter

On 4th July 2022, like many others, I wrote to Alan Salt and each of the school governors individually to express a sincere wish for the school to accept Totnes Town Council’s offer of £2,500.000 to purchase four acres on the above plot, for the community. This letter is paraphrased below.

New school buildings become old school buildings in five years. Open green spaces never grow old.

As a resident, former student of the school for seven years, step-parent to a hard-working KEVICC student who has just completed their GCSEs and having been a local secondary school teacher for many years, I have several perspectives, all of which lead to support of the Council’s bid.
The school is under pressure to accept the best value for the sale. The argument is, what is best value? The school must improve their site. Most schools do. At the local secondary school I have taught in, of similar size to KEVICC, I experienced two headteachers who each completed very significant building projects within the last ten years. No land was sold to fund the builds. Both headteachers left the school two to three years after their respective building’s completion.

In many tours given to prospective parents – the tour always ending in stepping outside onto the school field – expressions on the faces of parents and children immediately lift, with several speaking aloud their awe at the wide green space. Parents, whether sports-fans or not, like to picture their children outdoors in fresh air, especially when moving from relatively small primary school sites. They hope for the most valuable, healthy and happy experience for their child most of all. Access to a parcel of land as uniquely special as the Lower Field leading to the River Dart, is a significant selling point in attracting parents and students, each student bringing to the school over £5,500 per year.
Another professional role requires visits to comprehensive, grammar and public schools across the south and south-west. At a very small minority of centres, surrounded by urban development with little green space on site, it is difficult not to acknowledge that the students are missing out and that they are disadvantaged in this respect.

New school buildings become old school buildings in five years. Open green spaces never grow old. Subjects that require specialist materials and equipment, need specialist rooms. IT and technology must also be kept up to date. Young people are deserving of an education fit for purpose. However, school buildings will never be as important as the teaching and learning that takes place in them or the standard of values conveyed by leadership.

As a KEVICC student, a good number of years ago, I recall my time as a happy one. In fact, it was the school’s strong community ethos and values that inspired my choice to train as a secondary school teacher. The first five years of English and History lessons took place entirely in temporary/mobile classrooms, some dating from the 1970s. However, this did not factor in my decision to enter the Sixth Form, despite there being other options locally, and where A level English and History continued to be taught in mobile classrooms across the site and rooms at Kennicott.

…children look to their teachers for guidance in understanding right and wrong

For many of my cohort, and life-long friends, shock is the first response to news of housing or commercial buildings potentially being built on the Lower Field. In five years, my stepson has never commented on the school’s classrooms and buildings. His talk is of lessons, homework, aspirations, teachers and friends. I have taught in mobile and brand new classrooms. No one would argue that children should be taught in a mobile classroom, but in my experience the quality of teaching and learning is largely unaffected by the age or appearance of the room.

The Totnes locality may have a reputation as an affluent area in recent years, yet those who grew up here or work with its young people know that this picture is inaccurate. Through no fault of their own, many students do not have a garden or have very little outside space at home. Totnes has precious few public green spaces. Borough Park is essentially a rugby field, with a skate park on the way which will appeal to some but not all young people. With the town’s recent and ongoing expansion, recreation areas are valued more than ever before. On the Lower Field it is heartening to see teenagers sitting in groups talking or playing rounders or football in their free time. They are a credit to themselves, enjoying being outdoors in each other’s company, spending time away from bedrooms and screens. This is an essential part of their social development and wellbeing, on the path to the adults they will soon become. The value of this interaction is immeasurable to our society.

Small children look to their teachers for guidance in understanding right and wrong. Older students look to their teachers and the leadership of their school as potential role models. Any teacher will tell you that their students watch and notice everything. They are not easily fooled. Good relationships are built on trust, and young people experience it personally when adults entrusted with their duty of care veer off-course morally. As we are constantly reminded of the climate emergency, air quality, protection of wildlife and the proven value of being in nature for our mental health, it is confusing for students that their school is considering ripping up this wonderful large green space to concrete and traffic.
If a higher offer is accepted for housing or commercial building, the new school buildings may have a few more bells and whistles in the short term. But the cost will be an immeasurable loss, not just in the long term, but permanently.

Totnes Council’s proposal continues the legacy of land gifted specifically for the education of the town’s children (source: letter from Mrs Elmhirst, the previous land owner, to the Headmistress of Totnes School for Girls, whose building is situated on the Lower Field). It will remain a valuable, usable asset to KEVICC with land and buildings that can host school events, exhibitions, meetings, cross-curricular activities, work experience and community collaboration, on the doorstep. Acceptance of the offer will mean students, their families and the wider community will benefit for generations to come. That is some legacy for the school’s leadership and governors to leave behind.

Which is the best value?


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