Threatened by declining school numbers

In 1967 the New Town came to Runcorn. Gradually the ICI in Weston Point started to go into decline as production was moved to other countries. The chemical industry was not as important as it had been; its work was being done abroad, and when I took over as head in 1992 there were 110 children on the roll. There are seven classrooms in school, where there should have been room for 210 children. Already, in 1992 two of the classrooms were in mothballs, they weren't used anymore and the numbers were declining simply because people were moving away. The housing was not used for ICI workers as much anymore, the houses had been sold off. If people who lived in them wanted to buy them they did, but then there was an ageing population and the houses were administered by a management company who rented them out as 'social lets'. But it meant that the school profile was declining and it was difficult because in 1998 when direct funding for schools was introduced, it's 'bottoms on seats', funding for the number of children in school; it's really payment by results again. The numbers were declining and it was debatable whether the school should stay open or be amalgamated with another school. We had to fight to remain open, but breathed a sigh of relief when we were reprieved from closure.

The problem with old chemical dumps is....

When we thought we were flourishing again Project Pathway arrived, an initiative, prompted by the EEC and the Government, to discover where there might be underground stores of dangerous chemical waste. I remember very well the week before the Millennium Eve being called at home by the PR lady from ICI. The school used to do an awful lot of work with the ICI for the benefit of the children .The company wouldn't give us money, but the children could go to the factory and offices to use the microscopes, equipment and company expertise. The lady invited me to a special meeting, but I wasn't to say anything, or tell anyone. It was at that meeting that we were told that HCBD* was seeping right the way through some of the houses, from the old quarries where chemicals had been dumped, and it was going to be a big problem. The scientists were almost sure the school was not affected by the gas. Weston was more likely to be affected than us but the quarry where all the waste was stored was directly above our school. This caused an awful lot of anxiety and the ICI had to send air monitors into school to test for the gas. We had a year when the gas monitors were all round school. One particular time that the monitors were installed, the report said that the results were clear, but my office was a bit 'iffy'. I only had the first aid room for an office; it's like a broom cupboard. There was a very high reading on one particular machine. They asked if I felt alright - I felt fine. The cause of it was, there had been a whiteboard marker on my shelf, with chemical cleaning fluid oozing out of it. They thought I was going to keel over at any point. I contacted Halton Council during this time and said "Look we are having these monitors in. What happens if we get a positive reading?"Your school shuts!!." It came as a blow really and I don't think half the neighbourhood realized this was a possibility, but we were told that if a gas monitor finds a positive reading the school is closed and will have to move. Thank goodness it was fine, all the readings were clear, we didn't have to close, but it did make a big difference to Weston Point. We found the pupil numbers still pretty low, because people couldn't sell their houses, building societies wouldn't lend money on the houses, there was no growth in population. It was a very difficult time, but it's getting better, a lot better. Houses are now starting to sell, new people and families are moving in.

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