Why the way the Gaer schools have been treated is so unfair…

OK, bear with me guys, this is going to be a long post, but worth reading if you can.  I apologise from the start!

As most of you will know, at the same time as the proposal for our schools was announced, the Council also announced the plan to amalgamate Crindau and Brynglas schools.  That proposal was dropped after the first consultation phase, whereas ours has continued to the final consultation stage.

When I completed the comparison, it made me so angry, as it seems clear to me that they have not applied the same decision-making criteria to both sets of schools.  Take a look. (Sorry for the large and small letters, I cannot seem to change the font size on WordPress!)

Details taken from here: http://goo.gl/8zG86 and here: http://www.newport.gov.uk/stellent/groups/public/documents/report/cont708275.pdf

Debbie

Reports Summary

Brynglas/Crindau

“The six week Formal Consultation stage has now come to an end on the proposal to amalgamate Crindau Primary School with Brynglas Primary School in to an all-through school on the Crindau site. This report advises the Leader of the findings of that consultation and provides options for the next steps.

Meetings were held with all stakeholders and a considerable number of objections were received against the proposal to amalgamate. A table is included within the body of this report identifying the key themes of those objections and Officer responses.

Options are set out on the next steps in respect of this proposal, the preferred option is to cease the proposal and not to continue with the remainder of the statutory consultation process.”

Gaer

“The formal consultation stage of the statutory consultation process has been held during December 2012 and January 2013 on the proposal to amalgamate the above-named schools. This report discusses the findings of the formal consultation which lasted some 6 weeks. It is now recommended within this report that a statutory notice for the proposal to amalgamate the two schools is published for one month.

The implementation is to take place on 1st September 2013 or as soon as possible thereafter.”

  • Gaer: No mention of objections received; Brynglas/Crindau “considerable number of objections received”

  • Brynglas/Crindau mentions the siting of their ‘new’ school

  • Gaer report does not mention siting (“proposal to amalgamate the above-named schools.”) I.e drawing attention away from the real issue and point of contention – the loss of the Infants school and the cramming of all the children onto the Junior site.

Proposal

Gaer

“To proceed with the publication of a Statutory Notice for the proposal to amalgamate Gaer Infant School and Gaer Junior School to reopen them as one all-through primary school for 420 pupils with effect from 1st September 2013 or as soon as possible thereafter.”

  • Still no mention of the loss of the school site, just reiterates “all-through”

  • No Brynglas/Crindau ‘proposal’ section

Background

Brynglas/Crindau

“A six week Formal Consultation period was carried out during December 2012 and January 2013 on the proposal to amalgamate Crindau Primary School and Brynglas Primary School into an all- through primary school on the Crindau site. Consultation documents were produced and shared with all stakeholders at meetings, and were made available on the web site for downloading.

Meetings were held with:

• Governors,

• Staff groups with Trade Union representatives

• Parents.

• Schools within 2 miles

• Other stakeholders

• Neighbouring authorities

• Pupils were also consulted at both schools.

Minutes of all meetings were taken and copies are attached to this report, they were posted on the web site for all consultees to read and / or download.”

  • No mention of the initial reasons for the amalgamation – huge surplus at Brynglas, significant surplus at Crindau (equal to that at the Gaer Infants’ currently)

Gaer

“The Infant and the Junior school teams have always worked together to achieve a smooth transition for their pupils and are developing closer ties. The schools are active in their promotion of events to support transition.

A copy of the Formal Consultation pack is attached, which sets out how the two schools currently host a considerable percentage of surplus places. There is a national drive by Welsh Government to reduce surplus places to circa 10%. The Council have to consider this national priority within all school re-organisation matters. This proposal will address the current surplus on the Gaer school site.

This report sets out the findings of the formal consultation stage and the recommendation through options appraisal of the publication of a Statutory Notice.”

  • Gaer: a ‘reason’ given to amalgamate

  • Brynglas/Crindau: no ‘reasons’ given for the decision to open formal consultation originally (i.e. the initial reason(s) for the proposal

Formal Consultation

Brynglas/Crindau

“An overwhelming number of objections were received, a number of which were specifically in respect of Crindau Primary School and the impact that may result from moving Brynglas Primary School into the newly amalgamated Brynglas – Crindau Primary School.”

Gaer

“There has been a good attendance at formal consultation meetings and a robust dialogue has taken place where comments have been recorded and concerns of staff, parents and governors have been responded to verbally by officers and noted”

  • No mention for Gaer about an “overwhelming number of objections received”. “Robust dialogue” does not accurately convey the reality – not one person is in favour of this proposal amongst all stakeholders (save Ward Councillors) and have articulated that strongly and clearly during this period. It is misleading and inaccurate at the very least.

  • Strength of opposition clearly stated in the Brynglas/Crindau report

Responses

Brynglas/Crindau

“7 – detrimental to Crindau

23 – unnecessary

2 – no educational benefits

2 – Crindau governors not supportive

2 – other schools could accommodate Brynglas pupils

8 – Adverse impact on Crindau staff

total = 44″

Gaer

No breakdown as for Brynglas/Crindau report, however (summarising the table in the report, first point being the ‘objection, the ‘response’ in italics and my comments on the response below that):

  • Loss of excellent learning provision indoor and out, affecting quality of education/reduction in poverty

    • response: it will meet statutory requirements

  • Loss of community-funded outdoor provision at the Infants

    • response: they will have outdoor space at the new school, but community-funded provision will not be replicated at the new school

      • This is unacceptable. Community-funded provision show strength of connection between schools and community. Removing this indicates that the community does not matter.

  • Reduction in nursery places – end of rising 3s provision, negative impact on poverty reduction, building other nurseries will not impact our nursery as most children go on Gaer Infants

    • response: other nurseries to be built in nearby schools

      • Very few Gaer Nursery pupils go on to other local schools, with the exception of a few who do go on to the Catholic Primaries, so this element of the proposal will severely impact the Gaer community

    • private provision available in the area

      • Why should parents have to send their children to private providers when their local school used to be able to take them? The Gaer Nursery has an excellent record of providing early years education. Private providers may not provide the same quality of educational experience, or the same high quality of trained teaching staff the children currently have teaching them.

  • No information about the size/new wing plans

    • response: will be clarified once decision taken and HT-designate appointed

      • By then it will be too late for objections, and we will no doubt ‘get what we’re given’.

  • Lack of space in the Juniors

    • Existing outdoor provision will be used to build on, to extend the current building to accommodate the pupils, some outdoor facilities will be provided

  • Traffic on Melfort Road

    • Response: this will be dealt with within the design/planning

      • The actual concern is not about Melfort Road at all but Gaer Road, which is the access point to the Junior School. This is not responded to in the report. It is almost single-lane width, the school entrance is almost directly opposite sheltered accommodation for the elderly. Access is already extremely limited, and without huge investment to widen the road (which is not financially viable) this will be a terrible bottleneck for parents, staff, visitors and especially local residents with no hope of being able to do anything to ameliorate it.

  • Junior school not large enough:

    • Response: it will have ‘appropriate accommodation’ to host pupils and staff

      • However, no new staff room, no new hall or break out rooms, no libraries to replace those being lost

  • Junior building is listed

    • response: The Council will work through issues with CADW

      • The Junior school has been unable to get permission from CADW to upgrade the 1950s toilets to suit the C21st, nor to replace the leaky, draughty original windows with energy efficient, environmentally friendlier, warmer in the winter cooler in the summer windows, both of which are desperately needed to suit the needs of the current cohort of children, nevermind the much younger children that might shortly be educated there. How is it possible, then, that the Council will get permission to build a new wing when basic maintenance and modern repairs are not allowed?

  • Split-site amalgamation supported, no need to move Infants to Junior site

    • response: “considerable investment now available”, “would have regard for the outdoor environment potentially to be lost by the Infant School, incorporate as far as possible the equivalent provision in outdoor facilities, subject to budget.

      • No answer given to the actual concern – the actual need to move the Infants to the Juniors

      • At previous meetings we were told there is ‘no pecuniary (financial) advantage’ to an amalgamation. Here, ‘investment’ is being held out as a benefit unavailable to other schools in Newport and therefore something we should be grateful for

      • We don’t need or want the investment, we want to amalgamate and keep the 2 sites and no capital investment is necessary

  • Timing insufficient

    • Response: Possible modification of implementation date to Sept 2014

      • This is a minor point, we are against the whole proposal, not just the timing of it

  • 420 pupils on Junior site

    • Response: possibility of lowering capacity

      • By 2018 379 pupils expected to be on site, 90.2% of 420 capacity. If capacity reduced, where will the ‘excess’ pupils go?

    • Possibility of extending the site

      • Extending it where? Surely the ASD school would need the whole Infant site if they are to accommodate ages ranges from 3-19 as planned.

      • If they do not need the whole site, why do they need it at all? Why can they not remain on the Brynglas site in their own unit, attached to Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Teyrnon occupying the main Brynglas schoo

Objections

Brynglas/Crindau

“An overwhelming number of objections were received, a number of which were specifically in respect of Crindau Primary School and the impact that may result from moving Brynglas Primary School into the newly amalgamated Brynglas – Crindau Primary School.”

  • 44 in total, with the main thrust being that the amalgamation is unnecessary

Gaer

“The overall responses have highlighted the fact that staff and parents of the Infant School are concerned about many aspects of the amalgamation, not just that the outdoor facilities currently enjoyed at the Infant School will be lost. It has been recognised by the Council that the outdoor environment has been developed over many years with direct contributions from parents of the school and the local community with many fund raising events to cover most if not all costs. The Governors of the Infant School have been active in their support of staff using the outdoor environment to maximise the potential of their pupils.”

  • Very different representation of opposition for the 2 proposals, especiallylanguage used to express level of opposition

  • No mention of the unanimous opposition of both governing bodies

  • No mention of the letters sent from the governing bodies to this effect

  • 51 representations apparently received, and 1 over 400-signature petition, all against the proposal

  • No mention of the responses from staff – all against proposal

  • No mention of HTs of both schools’ opposition to the plans

  • No mention of the total opposition of local parents to the plans

  • No mention of the pupils’ opposition and the artwork and representations they submitted to this effect

Issues not addressed in the report – Gaer

  • The reason for the single-site amalgamation

    • The only apparent reasons given are ‘educational benefits of a through-school’, ‘surplus’ and ‘funding’, and taking those ideas:

      • Educational benefits

        • Not disputed, but as other schools have proven, this can be effectively done on a split-site (Monnow, St Julians and Liswerry, for example). It is not necessary to amalgamate on a single-site to realise these benefits

      • Surplus:

        • Infants running at approx 20% surplus, Juniors around 33%.

        • Capacity of new school almost identical to current 2 schools, so the plan does not address the surplus in this way, just vastly reduces the amount of space, outdoor facilities and indoor provision available to the children

        • In 2018, projected 379 pupils in ‘new’ school (a figure which would not br different if the schools did not amalgamate, or did but on a split-site basis). This is 90.2% of 420 capacity (less than 10% surplus, in line with WAG requirements). So shortly there will be no ‘surplus issue’ as it will be dealt with within 5 years

        • No mention is made in any report of the Mon Bank Sidings housing development project, situated in the Gaer Ward. Although a school is planned for the site, this is many years off, and in the meantime there must be somewhere for the primary-aged children to go. All other local schools are full. Within walking distance, only the Gaer schools have the potential to take those children. Although this does not affect capacity, it could well affect positively the surplus issue even sooner than 2018. Why is this not mentioned?

      • Investment

        • This is not a benefit as the result of the investment will not be an improved school building (no desperately needed investment will be made in the ‘Junior’ part of the school), nor will the facilities exceed what is currently offered (they will be far less), nor will the space available increase (it will be reduced by nearly a half after building works/extended car parks are completed)

        • This is rightly viewed as a false incentive to amalgamate by all stake holders. No-one is under any illusion that what we will receive will equal or better that which we currently have. The vast majority of the funds will be rightly used to facilitate the ASD school, as they are funds designated to establish the ASD school.

Surplus

Brynglas/Crindau

Though not mentioned again in this report, the initial report highlights surplus places as the driving force behind the proposal to amalgamate on the Crindau site. Brynglas have a surplus of 88%, Crindau approximately 19% year on year. No building projects in the vicinity planned, so, by extension, no chance these figures will ‘right themselves’ per se.

  • The surplus at Crindau will not be addressed by the decision not to proceed with the amalgamation. However, it is not considered important enough to continue in the face of strong opposition and against the lower than expected numbers in Brynglas.

Gaer

Gaer Juniors have surplus approximately 33%, Gaer Infants approximately 20%.

  • Monbank Siding, huge housing project, a short walk away. Although new school planned for that site, it is not in the first phase of development and is many years off.  Where will those parents send their children until the new school is built?

  • Figures show, regardless of Monbank, within 5 years surplus will be reduced to less than 10%

    • Crindau surplus is on a level with Gaer Infants, and far higher than the projected surplus on the Gaer site within 5 years, yet the Gaer proposal continues whereas the Brynglas/Crindau proposal has been shelved.

“The proposed amalgamation, which means closing both schools and establishing a new primary school will deliver a new leadership model for a new all-through school. The benefits of amalgamation are on educational grounds to improve the way in which all pupils access education and raise standards. The new leadership team will be led by a Headteacher who will able to assess the use of the outdoor environment in the delivery of education and will have direct input to the design of the new buildings. All work to date has been to develop the concept stage of the design, as it is not considered appropriate to add detail without the direct input of the new Headteacher, the school team and the pupils who will also be consulted on any designs.”

  • Again, no mention of the centre of the proposal – removing Gaer Infants’ site from the Gaer children and amalgamating on a single site
  • Educational benefits – this is true, but a single-site amalgamation is not a necessity to deliver these benefits

Preferred Option and Why

Brynglas/Crindau

“Option 1 is the preferred option, as the findings of the Formal Consultation stage evidence that:

  • the numbers of pupils expected to move from Brynglas Primary into the amalgamated school are significantly smaller than when the statutory consultation process first commenced.
  • those pupils that remain in Brynglas Primary can be accommodated in other schools within the Shaftsbury and Malpas communities including Crindau under the normal admission process.

Therefore, the continuation of the statutory consultation process for amalgamation cannot be justified.”

  • Reason for cancellation: differences in figures between anticipated and actual. (Also implied throughout the document: strong local opposition to the proposal.) Amalgamation can no longer be justified

Gaer

“Option 1: To proceed to publication of a Statutory Notice to ensure that the uncertainty that has been in existence over the future of the two schools can now be resolved appropriately and as speedily as possible.”

  • Reason: the uncertainty caused by the Education department’s own flawed proposal, its determination to ignore and avoid any and all opposition to the proposal, its extremely long report-forming process between the formal consultation period and the Cabinet Member’s decision to move to statutory consultation, this uncertainty means that the proposal should move forward regardless of actual facts or strength of opposition within the community.
    • This is insulting and makes no sense whatsoever. The reason to choose option one should be because it is the best solution for the Gaer, it can be delivered on time and within budget, and provide excellent facilities and provision for the pupils.
    • However, as this is patently not the case, the reason given is totally self-serving and cyclical in its logic
    • In truth, the reason should be: “Option One is the preferred option, as we must vacate the Gaer Infants’ site due to the pressing need to find a long-term home for children with ASD in Newport after we have to move them from their existing, excellent unit in Brynglas school, as it is not desirable for ASD children to be educated and integrated with Welsh-medium pupils”.
      • If this is not the case, surely the unit can remain in its current location at Brynglas school alongside the Welsh medium primary, Bro Teyrnon, as their presence on site would not affect the Welsh school’s capacity, facilities or provision, until such time as the money is available for a new build ASD school, or another school site becomes naturally vacant within Newport.

Gaer

The adverse comments above can be further tested through the statutory notice stage of the process.”

  • Adverse comments” is a disingenuous phrase to cover what has been “Overwhelming opposition” (to use the phrase that was applied to the Crindau/Brynglas amalgamation responses)
  • It it illogical to suggest that ‘adverse comments’ should be further tested through the statutory notice stage:

    • Not one of the concerns or opposition points raised have been appropriately addressed by the Council in the report, so why and how could the next stage ‘test’ the comments? Nothing has changed, we are just as opposed as we were at the very beginning.
    • There are no amendments to the original proposal which take into account the views and concerns raised, so exactly what ‘testing’ is expected?
  • It is not the “adverse comments” that need to be tested, it is the proposal itself – its viability and whether it is in fact the right proposal for the situation concerned (I.e the Gaer schools)
  • This statement can only mean one or both of the following:
    • It is hoped that fewer or no oppositions will be received during the statutory phase from the stakeholders at the Gaer, through apathy or a feeling that ‘what’s the point in complaining, it’s a done deal anyway’ kind of attitude, thereby removing some of the obstacles in the way to achieving this plan. Certainly opposition is as strong now as it has ever been, so they cannot be hoping that we are now in favour of this.
    • That it is hoped that the Minister for Education, Mr Leighton Andrews, will agree this proposal, not recognising the strength of opposition on the Gaer, nor the flimsy nature of the proposal, nor the fact that this proposal has never been about addressing issues at the Gaer schools but rather resolving problems within the LEA that have arisen from a lack of forward planning for either ASD school provision or, more crucially at this time, a permanent location for Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Teyrnon

My Conclusion

Brynglas/Crindau

A flawed proposal to amalgamate Brynglas and Crindau on the Crindau site, one which with a little bit of planning and research would never have seen the light of day (surely the real numbers at Brynglas were a detail extremely easy to ascertain prior to the start of this process), was rightfully stopped by the Cabinet Leader.

Parental, school and community opposition was received, evaluated and its strength acknowledged. This level of opposition helped to highlight the unnecessary nature of the proposal.

Gaer

A flawed proposal to amalgamate Gaer Infants and Juniors on the Junior site, a proposal whose very ‘reasons’ in favour of it are easily and robustly countered with facts and figures of the Council’s own reports, a proposal which is almost universally opposed in the Gaer (save for our Ward Councillors), a proposal which would tear the heart from a whole community, this proposal has wrongly been continued to the statutory consultation stage by the Cabinet Member.

The facts show that

  • Educational amalgamation and its benefits can equally be achieved in a split-site amalgamation, as has happened in most other schools in Newport in recent years.
  • ‘Surplus’ is neither addressed by this proposal (same capacity), neither is the fact that in 5 years the surplus will be reduced to less than 10% even if we keep the 2 school buildings, nor is the huge Monbank housing project in the Gaer Ward, and the educational needs of the early child occupants mentioned
  • Investment’ is neither sought nor needed to gain the benefits of a through school on a split-site, it is simply a by-product of the desire to make the Gaer Infants’ site the new ASD school, and therefore some money must be spent on making the Junior building fit-for-purpose. If the Junior site could accommodate all the children with no need to build, little if any money would be spent on the Gaer Primary school

Parental, school, governor and community opposition was received, virtually ignored and eventually its strength dismissed through weak ‘summarising’ of main opposition points and substance-less comments from the Education Department.

This level of opposition, which seems to be much stronger than that at Crindau, and on much stronger grounds, has been totally swept aside because it is truly inconvenient for the LEA.

Indeed, a long report by Cllr Al Nuaimi opposing the proposal and calling for the CM to cancel the consultation, was dismissed in four words “The comments are noted”.

It is quite clear to the people of the Gaer that this proposal is not in the best interests of the children of the Gaer, nor was it ever intended to address issues at the Gaer. It is to free up a school site to provide needed school accommodation for ASD children being displaced by the arrival of Bro Teyrnon at Brynglas school.

Just, Fair and Equitable?

Brynglas/Crindau

Is the decision to cancel the consultation process fair, just and equitable?

The facts would show that yes, it is, and the Cabinet Leader took the correct decision following advice from the Education Department.

Gaer

Is the decision to continue the consultation process fair, just and equitable?

The facts would show that no, it most certainly is not, and the Cabinet Member took the wrong decision following advice from the Education Department.

The same criteria in decision-making have not been applied to both consultation processes:

Whereas one school was ‘saved’ from amalgamation due to the application of the correct figures (after the incorrect ones had been used – i.e. Brynglas pupil numbers), the other (Gaer schools) have not been ‘saved’ from this proposal even though the figures (true surplus numbers within 5 years) prove the statements in the report to be incorrect or even false.

‘Overwhelming opposition’ was cited as a reason not to continue one process, ‘testing adverse comments’ (rather than the accurate term ‘overwhelming opposition’) was given as a reason to continue with the other.

The End.  (Phew!)

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