Monthly Archives: May 2013

The meeting with the Councillors…

ImageThe meeting was…interesting.  It was exactly what I expected – nothing of any real value was said, but that ‘nothing’ spoke volumes.  In fairness to Cllr Wilcox, she did make clear that she does support the proposal because she believes the end result will be a school ‘fit for the 21st Century’.

They claimed that behind the scenes they have been working hard to put our concerns and objections to the Education Department.  This may be true, but we have no evidence to support or disprove that claim.  There have been no changes to the proposal and, as I showed in the blog post here they have not represented us well in writing.  If they have made representations, clearly they don’t have the influence they might think that they have, as nothing has changed!

Cllr Wilcox said that they have had assurances that what we will get will be a 21st Century school.  She claimed that money will be spent on upgrading the whole school, that (some) facilities lost will be replaced (Cllr Whitcutt piped in that we’ll get a new timber trail!) and that the end result will be brilliant.  To the bemusement of all the parents and children, she then claimed that the Infants’ building is in a shocking state of repair!  When confronted with our evidence that disproves the claims of what we will get, they repeated that they had had ‘assurances’, but could offer no proof.  They even said that the officer who gave us the information in the meeting a week ago at the Juniors which our Chair attended, is not a ‘senior’ officer and implied that he does not know what the plans are.  I had actually seen him (the officer) outside the Council Chamber and asked him directly why the plans he had spoken of are so restrictive, not even including toilets for the nursery children, and he replied that it was not in his control, all he had done was relay what he had been told and explain how he would be able to facilitate that (his job is implementation, not to design the proposal in the first place).

Cllr Wilcox was adamant that they would fight tooth and nail to get this school they are promising (the phrase “seven figure sum” peppered her speech).  ‘Did we really think that they would settle for anything less?

My answer to that is, yes, Councillor, I do believe that you will settle for whatever we are given.  You have given no evidence for this ‘fantastic’ new school – in the face of our evidence – and have totally failed to fight for us on this.  Why would we believe that you will suddenly fight for us after the decision is taken?  You seem to have had no influence now on the proposal, so what makes you think you’ll have any more influence on the Education Department when it comes to the far tougher reality of actually spending money?

I was mildly amused by Cllr Wilcox’s opening gambit, in which I was accused of using the campaign as a springboard for my own political ambitions.  I guess the post here really hit a nerve.  It is actually an insult, to suggest that I am not really interested in saving the school but am actually plotting my own rise to local political power and using the campaign to get there.  And as for the facetious comments about my ‘polished lobbying skills’ and saying she would like to have me working on her team, all I can do is laugh!!  I’m not a lobbyist, Councillor, I’m a parent.

I have asked other parents to give their views of the meeting, so that the accusations that I am ‘misrepresenting them’ can be put where they belong – in the bin. 

Firstly, Lisa Ball (also our newest parent governor at the Infants)

The peaceful demo did exactly what we planned. It got our voices heard (some more than others!) but remained within the boundaries of ‘peaceful’. There should be no doubt that there is and always has been strong opposition against this proposal. The fact that other ward councillors were able to show their support, but our own ward councillors could not do this is a disgrace.

If Cllr Herbie Thomas, as he stated, has always been against it, why hasn’t he shown us more support? We can all say that we have ‘been doing things behind the scenes’ but where’s the proof in that? Our proof is very transparent for all to see.

As I have previously quoted in letters to all of our ward councillors, there regulations state that they ‘are the voice of the community within the council’. I don’t feel that they have fulfilled their role. It was stated by Debbie Wilcox in the meeting that there are many people in the community, for and against this proposal. I beg to differ, there may be a few for it, but through our diligent door knocking and speaking to THEIR electorate during this campaign, I only came across one person who was for it, but once the ‘deal’ was explained to her, she realised that it was not as good as it sounded for the Gaer children and happily signed an opposition letter (incidently she had 2 grandchildren with autism who were having to go out of county for education).

I feel that the councillors invited us into the chambers to get us off the street rather than to give us any answers.

One of my friends who came to support us (who has nothing to do with the school) is a body language expert. When we left, he asked me who ‘the bloke on the end’ was (Cllr Mark Whittcut). He said that his body language was so disassociated and uninterested in anything that was going on.

The fact that Cllr Whittcut said that we were ‘disrespecting’ him was disgraceful, who does this man think he is? Respect is earned……what has he done for us to respect him? His reason that we were disrepecting him because people were talking over him was preposterous as he was doing exactly the same. I could rant all day, but I’m going to end on a lighter note, they didn’t get my best side in the Argus photographs!

Secondly, Phill Doherty:

I am dumbfounded by the reactions of the Councillors. Okay we don’t think they council very well, but it’s hardly a personal attack! The fact that there are so many disappointed/desperate people of the Gaer, they should feel compelled to up their game rather than take umbridge to criticism!

If we feel let down/angry it is appropriate that they take responsibility and not attempt to worm out of the situation with text book replies and distracting language. Even if they had acted appropriately, the information is not getting cascaded down to the people and that in itself is not good enough.

I appreciate I don’t know the etiquette, but why is everything so cloak and dagger, surely when children’s welfare is being considered, everything should be transparent.

I think the meeting was a waste of time, they attempted to shut [Debbie] down, refused to listen to facts. I think Hannah’s passion was needed because they couldn’t pacify that with nonsense answers!

I thought the protest was a success as I saw some people stopped in their tracks in the corridors. And the councillors were seen in public with no election imminent, they must be running scared.

I can only hope they have an epiphany and change their minds and do represent us to the Assembly.

So, there you have it.  The meeting was supposed to be a chance for the Ward Councillors to repair some bridges with us (I imagine, based on the letter they passed out to us all) rather than to discuss the proposal and how they can support us in our opposition. 

Self-defence, self-justification, self self self.

All they did was cement in the minds of those present – and by now most of the rest of the Gaer who have been told about it – that our Ward Councillors are only interested in themselves and their own positions, not in their electorate. 

So if they hoped to pour oil in the waters, they failed spectacularly.

Nice job, Councillors.

 

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Our Ward Councillors – What have they REALLY said?

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About a month ago, I wrote to our Ward Councillors with questions relating to the submissions they had made to the Consultation Process, after they wrote to the Argus claiming we were misrepresenting their views and I had also received an email from Cllr Whitcutt on behalf of the three, saying, “It does not appear from its contents that you have read the submission which we made in response to the Cabinet Member’s Report. This seeks common ground and consensus as a way forward taking fully into account the views of the stakeholders”.  I wrote back, disputing this claim and told them that I would publish the letter – and their response – on this blog after 1 week.  Subsequently, the Ward Members arranged meetings with us and, out of respect for them, I held off posting my letter, as they needed time to respond.

Well, it has been a month and no response, and – given their claims on Wednesday in the paper they handed out, and verbally in the meeting, that they had consistently represented our views to the Education Department – I have decided to post this now.

You be the judge on whether they have supported us.  They can claim to have been working ‘behind the scenes’, and while this may be true, there is no evidence of this.  All we have evidence of is their public positions, as written in the reports published by the Education Department.

Here follows my letter.  And, Ward Councillors, if you read this, please feel free to respond to the points in it via email to me and I will publish – unedited – what you say on the blog here, for your constituents to read.

Monday 29th April 2013

Dear Cllrs Whitcutt, Wilcox and Thomas

I write to respond to Cllr Whitcutt’s email, on behalf of you all, in which you questioned whether we had read your submission to the Cabinet Member’s report in March 2013. I can confirm that not only did we read it, but fully understand it. “It does not appear from its contents that you have read the submission which we made in response to the Cabinet Member’s Report. This seeks common ground and consensus as a way forward taking fully into account the views of the stakeholders”.

I would respectfully dispute this second sentence, that you are seeking common ground and consensus, and I highlight the reasons for this here below:

After the community meeting in January which you all attended, your joint submission to the Consultation was welcomed by the community. Although it did not go as far as we would have liked, you clearly iterated some of our main concerns,

  1. The loss of existing amenities for children at the present site
  2. The need for appropriate facilities for the Foundation phase
  3. Nursery provision in future years
  4. Potential over-crowding and size issues in terms of the Gaer Junior School site

You also proposed a number of alternatives (1-2) and necessities (3-5) which we support fully:

  1. The possibility of the establishment of amalgamated provision on a split site
  2. Accommodation in the ASD unit into the Gaer annexe and/or new build
  3. The need, whatever the outcome, to ensure that there is no detriment to the children of the Gaer infants and Juniors in terms of the overall learning environment
  4. The necessity to ensure that wherever possible outdoor facilities are guaranteed for the future needs of the Foundation phase at the Gaer school
  5. That officers should place at the forefront of their assessment the needs of the children of the Gaer and the necessity for the fostering of improvement and educational excellence

You concluded with an explanation of your joint desire “to ensure the best possible outcome for the children in our ward. We want therefore to maximise the potential for investment in education for the good of all our children, including both mainstream and those with special educational needs” and with the exhortation to the Education Service, that they “take these representations into account in determining the future of educational provision within the Gaer”.

The report which was ultimately published, in which the recommendation was made by the Education Service that the Cabinet Member move to Statutory Notice, did not satisfactorily address any of the concerns listed above. Nor did it even mention the main one, which is that there is no justification for the move to amalgamate the two schools on a single site due to the issue of ‘surplus’, as:

  1. The proposal still recommends that the capacity of the amalgamated school be the joint combination of the two current schools (although they suggest this could be amended post-decision)
  2. The Education Department’s projected pupil figures in 2018, is 379 being 90.2% of the capacity of 420
  3. There is no proof that they have considered what will happen to families moving into Monbank Sidings later in the year, before any school which may be built there is started, never mind completed. The Gaer schools are the only non-religious based, English Medium schools in the entire area with any kind of space for those primary-aged pupils.

With regards to the ‘responses’ given by the Education Service to your main concerns as written in the submission above, please see a comparison of your concerns, versus their ‘responses’:

  1. The loss of existing amenities for children at the present site
    1. The potential build project to deliver the amalgamated school will ensure that fit for purpose accommodation including a range of external learning environments is provided, which meet statutory requirements for the Foundation Phase or any similar education requirement. The new Headteacher, the Shadow Governing Body and the pupils would be involved in any design work should the decision be taken to amalgamate the two schools onto the Junior site. ” (p2)
      1. The facilities currently provided, as you know, far exceed ‘statutory requirements’. Minutes from previous meetings with representative(s) from the Education Department, clearly show that they have no obligation to replace ‘like-for-like’ and indeed, will not. So while we will have outdoor space as this is statutory, it will in no way resemble the facilities and fixed play equipment that the children currently have access to, nor will it be a requirement to replicate the amount of external space they currently have access to.
      2. Equally, it does nothing to respond to your point that there is “the need, whatever the outcome, to ensure that there is no detriment to the children of the Gaer infants and Juniors in terms of the overall learning environment” northat there is a “necessity to ensure that wherever possible outdoor facilities are guaranteed for the future needs of the Foundation phase at the Gaer school”
        1. How can we infer from the proposal that there will be “no detriment” to the children of the Gaer, when there is absolutely no indication given as to what the finished school would look like?
        2. How can there be “no detriment” when it is pretty clear that neither part of the school would have a library, nor any of the other non-classroom spaces they currently enjoy and learn in (the ‘empty’ four classrooms will be used as Foundation phase classes, and the minimum size of wing will be added)?
        3. What facilities does this proposal ‘guarantee’ other than that there will be some outdoor space?
  1. The need for appropriate facilities for the Foundation phase
    1. As above
  1. Nursery provision in future years
    1. The current nursery is a feeder for other primaries in the area; there is a current nursery expansion programme with proposals to set up nurseries in all local primary schools, including those currently fed by this nursery; there is also a local registered provider who is situated on the Gaer estate in the Gaer Park Hall, called “Buzzy Bees” led by a fully qualified Teacher who has capacity for funded nursery places including ‘Rising 3’ places”. (p2)
      1. So Gaer children who cannot access rising threes provision in the Gaer school (due to a cut in nursery spaces) can go to a private provider? Are you in agreement with this?
    2. A school re-organisation proposal to increase nursery education across the city is currently out to formal consultation, the aim is to expand the level of current provision in all areas, with a mixed economy of both school sites and non-maintained (early years) settings. A local non-maintained (early years) setting has capacity to take more children – Buzzy Bees. ” (p3)
      1. This is given as a reason for cutting the numbers, but even a cursory glance over data at Gaer Infants will show you that every September, a couple of children go on to Reception in other schools such as Glasllwch and Highcross, and between 8-10 go on to Catholic primaries, especially St David’s. The Diocese has no plans that we know of to put nurseries in their primary schools. The vast majority continue to the Gaer Reception class, or are rising threes.
      2. Cutting nursery provision so there are only 4 more places (64) than Reception places (60) means that we cannot guarantee that we could continue to take children going on to the Catholic schools, and almost certainly means that few if any children will be given rising three places.
    3. Neither of these responses they have given, impact on your initial concern, that “officers should place at the forefront of their assessment the needs of the children of the Gaer and the necessity for the fostering of improvement and educational excellence” as this part of the proposal will clearly reduce rather than improve the education of the youngest children of the Gaer, and detract from the educational excellence already in place. There is no indication in any of their reports, that the motivation behind the proposal is “the needs of the children of the Gaer and the necessity for the fostering of improvement and educational excellence”. Their motivation seems to be purely to move the children to the Juniors, in the face of data that shows their ‘reasons’ for such a move are invalid, in order to make way for the ASD school.
  1. Potential over-crowding and size issues in terms of the Gaer Junior School site
    1. Sufficient accommodation would be built to meet the needs of all pupils; outdoor facilities would be part of the potential new school ”
      1. The current schools have sufficient accommodation to meet their needs
    2. The potential new school would have appropriate accommodation built to host all pupils and staff. ”
      1. This is unclear – there has been no mention of extra staff room space as the wing will only occupy the top playground (they have said unofficially), so where will that be placed?
    3. The Council are able to modify the proposal after the decision has been made and following a more detailed review of the needs of the potential amalgamated school that a more suitable size may be less than 420. Following any decision a review of all current space and all required accommodation could be carried out to incorporate the findings of the formal consultation stage, and only after that has been carried out, would the final capacity of the potential amalgamated school be identified. That modification would be in consultation with the Shadow Governing Body, if the decision is taken to amalgamate the schools. The Junior site is currently identified by fencing between the two schools, the potential amalgamated school could have an extended site to accommodate the required number of pupils and activities to support that cohort, such site dimensions would be determined during the planning of the potential redevelopment of the site as a whole ”
      1. This makes nosense based on their own data. If their projections are correct and by 2018 the school will have 379 pupils (not including nursery), how can they cut the capacity as by then we will have reached 90.2% of the capacity of 420?
      2. If they do cut the capacity – and I really can’t see how they can do this easily – then what will happen to the ‘extra’ pupils up to 379? If each year is reduced to less than 60 – let’s say for the sake of the argument, to 50 – then the capacity of the school will be reduced to 350. What happens to the extra 29 pupils they expect will be in the school by 2018? Which local school will they go to?
      3. How can they ‘extend’ the site? The Infant site is fully developed, so it is not possible to extend the Junior site without taking away facilities from the Infant (ASD) site. This comment proves that they do not know the sites at all.

In comparison to your original submission, your comments in the March 25th report differ substantially.

You mention the compelling case for a through primary on the Gaer, something that we can all agree on. However, you then say “ in our view there is scope to take account of views expressed by parents and stake holders” […] which are reflected in the content of this report.”

I would not agree with this second statement, that the concerns are reflected in the report. Most parents I have spoken to feel that either their concerns were not addressed at all (such as mine with the non-issue of surplus) or that they were casually disregarded (such as the nursery numbers and the suggestion that the parents use a local private provider).

Equally, in no way have the parents’ views been taken into account in the report. There are no changes made to the proposal as a result of the submissions. They are all summarily dismissed.

In the initial statement, you list possible alternatives, none of which are even touched upon in the Council report, yet you seem to fully accept the report, simply asking that “change is carried out in an evolutionary way, so as to maximise support and to allay the fears of participants in both schools”, going on to suggest a delayed implementation date of September 2014, something which seems to be acceptable to the Education Department in their response (“The Council are able to modify the proposal after the decision has been made and it might be that a more suitable implementation date could be September 2014.” p.3)

Whilst a delayed implementation date is something, it hardly “allays our fears” as our fears are based on losing what we currently have without it being replaced, the drastic cut in nursery numbers, and even the necessity to amalgamate on a single site in the first place (surplus). Equally, you again seem to fully accept the content of the report, simply suggesting that the “change is carried out in an evolutionary way”.

You even suggest that the decision will be made rather than if it is made “We believe that this would be an important modification once the decision has been made and that the implementation date should be reflected upon”.

You mention the “manner of implementation” needing to be considered, something which is not the same as whether the proposal should be implemented, and then qualify that statement with the need to find “a compromise ‘half-way house’ solution in the meantime. This may mean retaining the positive characteristics of the two schools in the short term until the ‘shadow governing body’ is in a position to plan the most appropriate way forward.”

Both of these phrases “half-way house solution in the meantime” and “short term” make it quite clear to every reader that you are assuming that the proposal will go through, and as you have not opposed any portion of it in this statement, other than the implementation date and suggested change to capacity, that the content of the proposal is acceptable to you now.

Whilst you qualify your statements with “The outcome must be the establishment of a ‘through’ school with facilities of a high standard that will enable the improvement of educational achievement at both the infants and junior schools” there is nothing in the proposal, nor the subsequent reports, to indicate that this is what will be the ultimate reality. Over 20 years, we may again reach a level where our facilities are of a high standard, but in the interim, we will be left with almost nothing.

We can, however, achieve your desire (that we share) for “the establishment of a ‘through’ school with facilities of a high standard that will enable the improvement of educational achievement at both the infants and junior schools” by amalgamating on a split-site, keeping all the “facilities of a high standard” you wish for the school, as we already have them, whilst benefiting from the through nature of an all-through primary.

Finally, you say “The potential investment offered for the site as a whole is considerable and must be welcomed for the greater good of all of our children who attend the infant and junior schools”.

I ask again, in what ways – other than the benefit of a through education, which can be gained in other less drastic ways – does this proposal benefit the Gaer? How does it add to the “greater good” of all the children who attend the two schools?

The “potential investment”, as you remark, is not for the site as a whole. It is for the added wing at the Junior school and to make the existing classrooms intended for Foundation Phase use fit-for-purpose, and to make the Infant site ready for the ASD school. We have been told that none of it is intended to upgrade facilities through the rest of the Junior school, so it does not benefit all Gaer children at all.

The whole proposal is unjust. The one you suggested in your original submission, based on what we would like to see happen is far far better for your Ward. It would mean much more ASD provision for primary-aged children in Newport, the benefits for our children of integration with children with ASD, keeping all the current facilities and sharing them with the ASD unit in the annexe, and the benefits of a through primary based on a split-site amalgamated school. It would mean that they could not offer 11-16 or 19 ASD provision at that site, but in fairness, how were they proposing to integrate that age group with non-ASD pupils on the site? It is not appropriate to integrate them with primary-aged pupils, so they would have to make alternative integration arrangements with the high schools, though the nearest are both 2 miles away (Duffryn and Bassaleg). Is it not better that they create another ASD unit attached to a secondary school to cater for that age group?

To return to my first point, that of your assertion that “This [submission] seeks common ground and consensus as a way forward taking fully into account the views of the stakeholders”, I would respectfully disagree with that, as there is no attempt to find common ground or consensus with the stakeholders in your submission, although there is clear consensus and common ground with the Education Department. There is no attempt made, either in the proposal or the Cabinet Member’s report, to take into account or include stakeholder views. Indeed, Cllr al-Nuaimi’s long submission was not even responded to, dismissed with the words “The comments are noted”. It may be your desire that our views be taken into account, but the reality is that they have not been.

So with that said, if you truly wanted the Education Department to take account of our views, then you should have written a much stronger submission to the Cabinet Member, not one which – to any one who reads it – seems to say that you are now fully content with the proposal (minus the minor ‘tweaks’ of the implementation date and the possibility, however unrealistic, of a reduction in capacity).

Finally, your comments in the Argus today are unclear. “Our comments in the cabinet member’s report regarding the amalgamation of Gaer Junior and Infant school clearly state that we support an amalgamated 3-11 straight through primary school […] What we in fact say is, the manner of implementation needs to be considered and that agreement should be sought on a compromise ‘half-way house’ solution in the meantime. We go on to state our support for retaining the positive characteristics of the two schools in the short term, and task the shadow governing body with the approach to implementation in the longer term. That remains our position.”

Whilst you do clearly state your support for an amalgamated 3-11 straight through primary school in the report, as do all the stakeholders including governors, staff and parents, the consultation is not merely on this it is on the proposal to amalgamate on the Junior site.

You say the “manner of implementation needs to be considered and that agreement should be sought on a compromise ‘half-way house’ solution in the meantime”. The consultation is on the proposal as is which means amalgamating on a single site, losing all the facilities and reducing the nursery drastically. There is no option/mechanism available to change the proposal beyond minor tweaks (date of implementation, etc). What you are saying is impossible, you are either for the proposal as it stands, or against the proposal as it stands. There is no neutral, middle ground that you can occupy here.

If you are not in favour of the entire proposal, single-site, losing the infant school, cut in nursery and with undetermined facilities provided at the ‘new’ school, then now is the time to say so, and to make it clear to your colleague, the Cabinet Member for Education, that you are opposed to the proposal. The proposal cannot be amended now or after the decision has been taken as you seem to suggest, so if you really want them to listen to the community and take into account our views, then this proposal has to be ceased, and a new one begun that incorporates our views – the best would be the one you yourselves suggested in your January submission, being a split-site amalgamated school with new ASD unit attached in the annexe.

If you are in favour of the proposal, then you really need to be clear on that and say so too. Right now, based on everything you have written and said, every parent who has spoken to me believes that you are in favour but trying to find some non-existent ‘middle ground’ from which to side step the issues at hand.

If this is not your position, then only you can clarify it, but not with the sort of statement you have provided to the Argus, as we are aware that your statements are not possible in the context of the proposal – there are only two possible positions for anyone to take, to support or oppose the proposal.

I am not a political person. I am not for or against you or any of your colleagues. I am not trying to discredit you within the community, I have no interest in people’s political opinions on the Gaer and who they say they will or will not vote for in future. That is a matter for them to decide from their own convictions.

I am against this one proposal, as I can see zero benefits to the Gaer from it, and deep losses that will take a generation to recover from. The alternative as you mentioned is far better, and one that I would happily champion with you in the community, as would all the governors and parents.

I look forward to receiving your response to this letter by the end of the week. I will then publish both this, and your full response, on the blog so that the whole community (hundreds do read every blog post) can be sure that they clearly understand your position, and there will be no need for any of us to resort to comments to the Argus in future.

Kind regards to you all.

Debbie Haile

on behalf of the Save the Gaer Schools Campaign

The aftermath….

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Well, we did it! We banged our drums and shouted “Save our School” til we all but lost our voices! The kids were an absolute credit to us all and to our schools and the community. I was so proud of them, chanting and banging one minute, and then sitting so respectfully and quietly in the Council Chamber the next…but more on that in the next post.

I was mildly surprised that all three Ward Members were there. But then I realised that that was surely because the cameras were there. After all, as the Gwent Music Service saw, almost no-one came out to watch/engage with their musical demonstration, and they had no TV coverage.

I was totally blown away that ITV Wales News not only promised to come and cover the story, but actually came and covered it! I felt that the coverage was fantastic, and the best thing is that it was part of a wider story regarding the consultation to downgrade A&E services at the Royal Glamorgan. The reason that is good news is that it is Leighton Andrews, the Welsh Minister for Education (the man who will make the final decision on our schools) who is leading that campaign against the cuts, and here – right in the middle of his story – was a story of how the cuts were affecting children’s education in Newport (his area of influence being the Minister). So he must have either seen or been told about our news item, which will at the very least show him the intense opposition there is to this proposal (which may or may not be accurately reflected in the report that the Education Department here send him, if the last reports are anything to go by!)

The Argus reporter, Emma Mackintosh live-tweeted the demo to the Argus website, and we made yesterday’s front page (with a not-so-flattering ‘live action shot’ of some of us on the front!! Ha ha!!)

Early on in the demonstration, some of the other demonstrators saw some people taking photos and even possibly a video of us from the windows in the Civic Centre overlooking the demonstration. This is appalling.

Just because official media outlets, ITV News Wales, and the SWA had been invited to document the event, and others were openly taking photographs with our consent (e.g, Maria Farrelly, a parent) this DID NOT give anyone else especially unidentified, hidden-behind-curtains employees of the Council the right to do the same.

It is not just that this may be a breach of the Data Protection Act (no permission sought or given, and we don’t know who the people were or why they wanted the photos or videos of us), it is also a Child Protection issue.

I would never dream of videoing or photographing other people’s children in a public park or in the street, so why on earth would Council officials, who should know this better than anyone else, think they could?

Finally, and most importantly to me, these actions speak to a clear narrative thread that has run thoughout the ‘consultation’ process – intimidation and bullying.

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As I have shown in previous posts, our staff feel intimidated and bullied, having been told at the eleventh hour (well into the Satutory Notice period) that they should not have been openly opposing their employer, and if found to have done so, disciplinaries could follow. Why were they not informed before the start of the consultation? Neither were we – the Governors – warned to protect them in this way until after the fact.

Our Chair of Governors was called down to the Civic Centre three weeks ago to be effective grilled by a senior Education Department officer and a representative from HR. The Junior school Chair was not there (that’s Cllr Herbie Thomas for those who are interested).

To what extent have the staff been involved in the campaign? Have they handed out flyers? Was the school photocopier used? Etc etc. Seriously. This is completely unacceptable. Bullying in my view.

And let’s not even go into another senior Education Department officer’s conduct in the December 3rd meetings. A complaint went in at the time about that behaviour and attitude, and all aspects of the complaint upheld.

Questions have gone unanswered, letters unresponded to.

I have been accused of using the Save Gaer Schools campaign as a springboard for my own political ambitions.

How insulting.

How dare anyone suggest that I am not genuinely interested in saving my children’s school, but actually am using it to further my own ends. It would be funny if the claim was not so downright petulant and childish..

I am not the one trying to use this situation for my own benefit.

I am not the one – and neither is the campaign or anyone involved in it – that has sought to get politicise this protest.

The next post will be about the ‘meeting’ with the councillors after the demo. I have invited some of the other parents to share their views, and they are doing so. I’ll collate them and post them together.

Rock on, Gaer.

 

 

 

 

ITV News Wales will come to the demo!

Just to let you all know, ITV Wales News have confirmed they will be attending this afternoon’s demo at the Civic Centre, along with the Argus reporter.

Please come and show Newport City Council that they have backed the wrong horse this time.  Admitting your mistake will make the electorate think much more highly of you than we currently do, Councillors.

 

So now we officially know what we would get…

ImageLast Friday, 17th May, a meeting was held at the Junior school between Haydn Ames, the Council’s Project Manager, and the Head and Deputy Head of Gaer Juniors, both schools’ caretakers, and Sarah Osolinski, Chair of Governors at Gaer Infants (the last by invitation of the Junior Head).

Sarah sent this report to Mr Harris at the Education Department yesterday, asking for permission to report this to the community after 24 hours.  She told him, if he did not respond, she would assume that he has given his consent to us publishing the report.  He did not respond.

Here follows Sarah’s report on that meeting:

Mr Ames had come to re-assure that no plans were, at present, set out for the amalgamated school, but that he would like to give us an outline of the instructions he has been given for this project.

He confirmed that he is in the process of sending out “tender notices” but that nothing further would be undertaken until the Minister has made the decision to amalgamate.

He talked us through the Junior Site as it is now, and outlined his thoughts on what could be done to incorporate the Infant School.

The Juniors would all be located on the “Upper Finger” as there are 8 classrooms.

Year 1 and 2 would inhabit the “Lower Finger” as there are 4 classrooms.

This means a new wing for Nursery (32 place) and Reception (3 classrooms to be built in total)

Questions were asked about Staff provision i.e Staff Room, extra toilets and parking arrangements and Mr Ames stated that these were not items for consideration.

All “Break Out” rooms would disappear as would the Library and I.T Suite.

No extra provision for lunch-time or indeed hall use.

Re-furbishment of the existing Junior School building, which is in a sorry state of repair, is not included in this project.”

So there we have it, exactly as we feared – we get NOTHING.

  • Nothing that is being taken will be replaced.
  • No improvements will be made to the Junior school for the Junior-aged children, and they lose everything they currently have.
  • The Infant and Junior children will cease to have any non-classroom spaces available to them.
  • The hall and dining room will not be extended or additional large rooms created to facilitate PE, lunches, etc

Tell us again, Mr Harris …. this is best for the Gaer HOW?

Don’t forget – peaceful demo tomorrow at 3:45pm, meet at the upper car park at the Civic Centre.

Also, some people have not realised that if they wrote in during the first consultation phase, YOU MUST WRITE IN AGAIN NOW, BEFORE 5pm TOMORROW!  If you do not, they will assume you have withdrawn your objections.  If you still object – TELL ‘EM!!

Peace!

This will not be forgotten….

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Whatever the outcome of this situation, one thing is sure:  the residents of the Gaer will not forget this for many a long year.

How can we forget being ignored? 

How can we forget the sting of disappointment as our Ward Councillors failed to represent us as we expected?

That Rosemary Butler, AM and Paul Flynn, MP refused to even look at what has got us so upset, citing that these are issues for the City Council.

That Education Department officials refused to answer basic questions.

That we still have no idea what we might ‘get’ in the ‘new’ school should the proposal go ahead.

That we all feel that the consultation has been a sham and at no time has there been any intention to engage with us or answer our concerns.

It came as no surprise to me that I – and Hannah Berry, another Gaer Infants parent governor – have been approached to stand in the 2017 Local Elections for another political party, against the incumbent Labour Councillors Wilcox, Whitcutt and Thomas, should they stand next time.

We are strongly considering this, as despite both being Labour voters, we have been so utterly distressed by the total lack of regard for our legitimate concerns by the Labour Administration, that we feel that the Gaer deserves better.  That may or may not be us, but I think it is safe to say that many Gaer residents feel that the next Ward Councillors will not be the current ones.

Please come to the peaceful demo at the Civic on Wednesday at 3:45pm.

Debbie and Hannah

Come to the (peaceful) demonstration on Wednesday!

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YOU ARE WARMLY INVITED

to come to the

SAVE GAER SCHOOLS DEMONSTRATION

Date:  Wednesday 22nd May 2013

Time: from 3:45pm

Where: outside the main door at Newport Civic Centre

Who?: EVERYONE! 

Please come if you are a parent, child, Grandparent, neighbour, relative, local resident, concerned Newport resident – basically, anyone who thinks this proposal is the wrong one and that we have been shockingly unfairly treated throughout this process

Please bring:

  • YOUR CHILDREN!
  • Instruments such as drums and tambourines for the children to play
  • Banners, posters, sandwich boards with “Save Gaer Schools” or whatever you like on them (we cannot make banners for everyone, so please have fun with the kids and make your own)
  • Your lungs: to sing and chant!

NB.  This is a peaceful demonstration aimed at the proposal to amalgamate the Gaer Schools on the Junior site, not at the Labour Administration.  Whilst we truly welcome any and all demonstrators, this is not a political rally or demo and as such politics will not be part of it!  Thanks for understanding.

We Oppose…but We Support….

cartoon36protestingoncampus

Proposal to amalgamate the Gaer schools on the Junior site

WE OPPOSE:

  • Figures do not support need for single-site amalgamation – surplus reduced to less than 10% in 5 years
  • Figures do not support slashing nursery places
  • The massive losses the children will incur far outweigh any minimal ‘gains’ from the proposal
  • The loss of all the wonderful, community-funded facilities, inside and outside
  • Our objections have been completely ignored – this has been a done deal since the start, and no genuine consultation has been held
  • We do NOT ask for, or need, money to be spent on amalgamating the schools – use it solely for the children is is earmarked for.

WE DEMAND

  • Cancellation of the Statutory Notice and return to consultation with a proposal that makes sense and has community backing

WE SUPPORT

  • Cancellation of the Statutory Notice
  • A split-site amalgamated through-primary making use of all current buildings
  • The educational and staff development benefits of a (split-site) amalgamation
  • The extension and development of the Gaer Annexe as either an ASD unit of primary age to accommodate children currently leaving the city who can benefit from sharing the facilities and integrating with the rest of the Gaer primary, or as an extended early-years provision for under-threes.

Signed,

The Gaer community
Gaer Schools’ Governing Bodies
Parents, relatives and friends

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James Harris, Chief Education Officer has responded to the Open Letter sent to him yesterday.  Here is his response:

“Dear Debbie:

 Thanks for your email.  As the state of the proposal to amalgamate is currently in the statutory notice stage your email and the link will be included in any submission to the Welsh Government should this be made.  The statutory notice stage is provided to ensure anyone concerned can express support or objection to the proposal, in this case the latter have been clearly expressed.
Yours, James Harris.”

As you can see, Mr Harris is still refusing to answer any of our questions.  He merely says he will forward on the questions to the Welsh Government should the submission to them be made.

It really makes one wonder: what exactly are they trying to hide by refusing to answer any questions?  Surely responses to them might actually help their proposal as maybe we could then see how this will indeed benefit our kids, as they claim.

A lack of a response clearly indicates that we are right, and there are no benefits to the proposal at all.

If the proposal is indeed the best solution for the Gaer, surely they have proof of this?  Surely they have the answers to all the questions asked, as they are basic questions which strike at the heart of the proposal.

To not answer them makes it clear that either they:

a) cannot – i.e. they have not done their due diligence and do not want to expose themselves to accusations of incompetence or to risk the future of the proposal by showing that they have not worked it out properly, or they

b) will not – i.e. they have no intention of engaging in a true consultation, and that they are aware that if they answer the questions asked it will tear away the foundation to their proposal because the answers would not support the proposal and their whole schools reorganisation proposal will be shot down in flames.

Can no one in power in Newport SEE what is happening here?  It feels like they have closed ranks against us because our opposition is just too dang inconvenient for them, and is just a storm they must weather until the decision is made in their favour.

I say again: there has been no genuine consultation.

Fight the good fight, guys.  We can’t let them get away with this.  This is Wales, for goodness sake, not North Korea!

Debbie

Still no answers…

Questions to Mr James Harris, Chief Education Officer at Newport City Council

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Dear Mr Harris

As you know, I have asked you many questions over the last year or so, most of which you have either ducked or answered in such a political way as to basically say nothing at all.

For the public record, I list here the questions that were presented to you and your department at the meeting last Thursday evening.

Please show us the courtesy of responding to these questions.  I will publish whatever you send on this blog for all to read and understand.

If the proposal is so strong, and you have handled correctly the process you have taken us through, then answering these questions – although it will take some of your time – will not be a problem for you.  You surely have answers to them, as you must have considered these things prior to the commencement of all this, right?

Please respond within 7 days, so your responses can be put here before the end of the Statutory Notice Period next Wednesday 22nd May 2013.

I look forward to hearing your explanations.

Kind regards

Debbie Haile

Vice-Chair of Governors, Gaer Infant School

Questions to be Answered by The Chief Education Officer

1. What is your reason for amalgamating the two schools? You have given the reasons as:

    1. Educational benefit of an all-through primary/teacher development
    2. Surplus – see question 2
    3. Finance available (However, contrast this with what Ms Davies stated in minutes of March 2012 meeting: “It was also confirmed that there is no pecuniary advantage or financial incentive in order to attract schools to be amalgamated. There are also many instances where schools on the same site in separate premises can successfully operate as an amalgamated school, without a full refurbishment.” (p3, minutes from March 2012 meeting)
  1. What is your reason for amalgamating on the Junior site?
  2. Why have you given surplus as the reason? [Figures in your proposal document state that by 2018 the projection is 379 pupils in a capacity of 420 = 90.2% of capacity, or 9.8% surplus within 5 years]
    1. School projections produced by the local authority on an annual basis indicate that whilst there has been a decline in pupil numbers in the junior school since 2008, the number of pupils at the infant school has been increasing and is likely to further increase over the next five years. The forecasts generally demonstrate that an amalgamated primary school would have approximately 379 pupils by 2018” (page 4, proposal doc)
      • Why do these figures only apply to an amalgamated school, and by implication, only a single-site amalgamated school?
      • Why is no percentage given showing that this equals less than 10% surplus?
      • P7 of the proposal document:
Risk Impact of

Risk if it

occurs*

(H/M/L)

Probability

of risk

occurring

(H/M/L)

What is the Council doing or

what has it done to avoid the

risk or reduce its effect

Failure to

move to

Formal

Consultation

on the

proposal to

amalgamate

High Low The surplus places in both

schools will increase over

time, increasing the financial

burden on both school

budgets, with insecurity for

staff.

      • Why do you say that there is a high risk of “The surplus places in both schools will increase over time, increasing the financial burden on both school budgets, with insecurity for staff” when you have already stated that pupil numbers are rising and will reach less than 10% surplus in 5 years?
      • What makes amalgamation on a single site the ‘cure-all’ for this perceived risk?
      • Why will a single-site amalgamated school mean a reduction in surplus, when separate schools, or a split-site amalgamated school will not?
    1. The proposal to consult on amalgamation would include details of how an amalgamation into an all-through primary school could be on the basis of a 60 year group, a 2 form entry throughout the school. This would allow the new governing body to work with the new Headteacher to stabilise the budget and develop long term plans for staffing of a whole primary school team. (P3, proposal)
      • Again, how is this any different to the status quo? Numbers are rising.
      • And, why can this not be achieved on a split site as every other school in Newport?

Benefits of the amalgamation for Gaer children?

  1. In what way does the proposal to amalgamate the two Gaer schools on the Junior site lead to the delivery of “the best possible educational experiences” (WAG guidelines, page 3, 1.2)?
  2. In A Practical Guide to Managing School Reorganisation…, p14 says “Authorities,therefore, need to work through the building requirements and design implications of their options for change to a sufficient degree, so as to be able to show that the capital funding will be sufficient to provide the reorganised/new schools with facilities appropriate for improving the education offered to pupils affected by the changes.
    1. How does your proposal show us that the facilities provided will improve the education as we have no idea at all of what the new school would look like/facilities it would have?
  3. What will be the effect on the standard of education to be provided to the children of the Gaer of the proposal to amalgamate the two schools on the Junior site? (page 6, point 1.11.i)
  4. To what extent will the proposal (to amalgamate on a single site, not just the concept of a through-primary) “contribute to specific Welsh Assembly Government Policies for improving educational outcomes for children and young people in all phases”? (page 7, 1.12.iv)
    1. The total to be spent to deliver a new special school will incorporate the essential works to modify Gaer Junior School so that the infant school cohort can be accommodated into one amalgamated primary school.” (p6, proposal doc)
      • How does this proposal benefit the Junior aged children, as the spend will solely be on “essential works” to accommodate the infant cohort, taking facilities and space away from the older children and yet they get zero benefit as no their part of the school will not be improved?
  5. How can you show that the proposal’s prime consideration is the positive effect on educational standards on the Gaer, rather than just a buildings’ management exercise? (p7)
  6. In what ways have the “effect of the proposed change on the standard of education to be provided in the area” been given prime consideration? (page 9, 1.16)
  7. How can you justify the proposal in light of the “Core Aims for Children and Young People and the Children and Young People’s Plan”? (listed page 8, 1.14)
  8. How have you considered the “interests of the learners” currently/in the future at the Gaer schools and how can you show that these interests override all other considerations in your proposal?
  9. How will the proposal impact Early Years Education and the Foundation Phase, and “contribute to the effective delivery of the Foundation Phase”? (page 14, 1.27 and page 23, 2.3)
  10. How will the proposal, and all that the schools will lose, mean that it is likely to “maintain or improve the standard of education provision in the area”? (page 20, 2.2)
  11. Have you considered the “impact that proposals may have on local families and the local community, through the preparation of a community impact assessment”, especially important as the Gaer is a Communities First area? (page 7, 1.12.i, also page 23)
  12. In what ways does your proposal “take into account the desirability of further integrating early years education and childcare services”, when nursery numbers will be severely cut and therefore rising threes miss out on a school-based nursery provision? (page 14, 1.27)
  13. Your report states such parents should access private providers. How will this facilitate the “approach to providing a holistic early years curriculum based on active learning”? (page 14, 1.27)
  14. Although a nursery class is not being removed, a large percentage of the nursery places will be removed. With that in mind, have you ascertained “the views of the Children and Young People’s Partnership and the Early Years Development and Child Care Partnership, a key consideration in deciding such proposals”?
  15. What are these views? (page 23, 2.3)
  16. What will be “the standard of nursery education and facilities offered, both in the classroom and in the outdoors” if this proposal goes ahead, with a comparison to what the school already provides? (page 23, 2.3)
  17. How will the proposal to reduce nursery numbers and totally remove all current outdoor play areas/outdoor classrooms as well as specialist indoor provisions “maintain or enhance the standard of education provision”? (page 23)
  18. How does it affect efforts to tackle child poverty on the Gaer? (page 7, 1.12.iii)
  19. How will it aid the “raising [of] educational attainment amongst children from economically deprived backgrounds”? (page 7, 1.12.iii)
  20. (How does the “proposal contribute to “A Fair Future for our Children””? (page 7, 1.12.iii))

Handling of the Consultation Process

  1. Do you feel that the period prior to the publication of the formal consultation was handled in line with the following statement “A difficult but necessary objective at this early stage is to focus on the problem to be solved and avoid jumping too quickly to discussion of preferred solutions. The aim should be to restrict discussion to identifying a range of possible ways forward.”? (Practical Guide, p19)
    1. What other options were discussed with GBs or Heads?
    2. Why were were we not allowed to work through our scoping procedure, as recommended by Ms Davies, when she then said that we were ‘dragging our feet’ on the amalgamation?
  2. Do you feel that you have given stakeholders sufficient information on the type of changes you are proposing, in line with the statement “The authority may, however, wish to give an idea of the type of changes to schools that are being considered, as schools and the public justifiably want to know the possible implications for their school”? (p19, Practical Guide)
  3. Recommendations Based on Evidence from what LAs have Found to Work Well (p22-23 of the Practical Guide).

Recommendations based on evidence from what LAs

have found to work well

Avoid consulting with a blank sheet of paper – instead, consult initially

on the broad issues and principles and then consult on a range of

options, showing the potential implications for individual schools.

Anticipate and respond to parental concerns about proposed changes,

for example: Will the school hall and playground at an expanding school

be big enough? Will there be sufficient pupil places at receiving school?

Be open in response to schools’ and parents’ views and requests for

information. Where additional requests for information or concerns are

raised, respond to these positively.

Ensure parents and schools understand the practical implications and

consequences of the policies and principles underlying the proposed

school reorganisation.

Ensure thorough documentation of the process and keep clear records

of views received.

A suggested outline for a consultation document is given in Appendix 6. In

addition, a summary consultation document can provide a useful focus for

discussion at consultation meetings, and can be used as part of the evidence

of consultation required by The Education (School Organisation

Proposals)(Wales) Regulations (National Assembly for Wales, 1999). It can be

reviewed and revised later to form the basis of the statement of case, which is

required to be submitted to the Welsh Assembly Government once proposals

are published.

Make sure in the final stage of formal consultation that the council’s

preferred option for each school is made clear to parents and schools,

so that they can put forward any counter-arguments to this, as well as

offer alternative proposals they would like the Council to consider.

Present specific benefits/possibilities in relation to accommodation and

facilities, as this will encourage support from staff, pupils and parents to

proposed changes.

Plan ahead for PR and effective working relationships with the local

media.

Provide clear explanations of the authority’s decisions, giving full acknowledgement and value to all views expressed, and an explanation

of why some views were discounted.

  1. Do you feel that you have conducted a consultation that in any way lines up with the WAG recommendations as listed above?
  2. Can you demonstrate that you have understood, and responded to, all objections received during the formal consultation phase? “The authority has to prepare a sufficiently detailed account of their response to consultation, and demonstrate how, when reaching a decision, they have taken into account the views expressed during consultation.” (p23, Practical Guide)
    1. The ‘Surplus’ issue. This point has been totally ignored, though put by Debbie, Sarah, at least 9 other parents, many staff and the governors at the Infants
      • In the report, it was poorly summarised as “no need to amalgamate on single site”, and the reason given for why the amalgamation should be on 1 site is “finance” available – NOT the benefits to the Gaer children, how this will improve their educational chances. It does not even state that ‘surplus’ is rendering it a necessity (as we all know that the ‘surplus’ issue is not really an issue at all).
        • BUT – Ms Davies clearly told us there is “no pecuniary advantage” to amalgamation (see point 1. c) above)
      • It is clear that surplus is projected to be reduced to less than 10% in 5 years (according to the figures in the proposal document). In contrast, until the proposal was published, we had been led to believe that we had a surplus issue that would not rectify itself:
        • In minutes of meeting held in March 2012, Ms Davies clearly stated that the surplus problem will not resolve itself: “Mrs Davies advised that the projected School figures were lower than the birth data. There is an analysis which can be shared with all governors by the Head Teachers which shows only 70% of the catchment pupils elect to attend the Gaer schools. Low numbers impact on School’s budget and subsequently on the provision for pupils.” (p3)
      • Is the ‘surplus’ issue still now considered by the LA to be the reason for a single-site amalgamation?

    1. The Infant equipment paid for by community – at least 13 parents put this, plus the governors’ letter and others
      • 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. ”
      • No suggestion that those facilities will be replicated, even though paid for by the community
    2. Traffic on Gaer Rd/Lansdown/ Drinkwater Gardens and access to Junior school site
      • Traffic on the Melfort Road and impact on the site is a concern” Response: “Transport issues on the site and surrounding area would be part of the design work for the potential new school
      • Problem is not Melfort Road at all. The compiler of the report hasn’t read or understood real concerns here. At least 5 people included this in their letters.

    3. Nursery

      • What number of pupils per year do not continue in to the Gaer Infants’ reception class? How many move to maintained schools? How many to faith-based, such as the Catholic schools?
      • The direction to use a private provider. Is this really NCC’s proposal? To take away places from a very popular nursery, also impacting on staff numbers/employment and expect those parents affected to use a private provider?

  1. Reason for moving to Statutory Notice: “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.”
    1. This is a ridiculous, cyclical reason for moving forward: it is the LA’s own proposal that has created the uncertainty, along with their refusal to answer or respond to fundamental questions.
    2. Also they have been incredibly slow, so ‘speedily’ really grates. It took ages to:
      • come up with their proposal (they said it would be September, in the end it was November 2012)
      • respond to consultees’ submissions during the formal consultation phase (ultimately we only got ‘thanks for your letters’ responses after Debbie wrote to complain that we had heard nothing at all for nearly 7 weeks since the close of the consultation)
      • move to statutory consultation (the period between consultation periods was over 2 1/2 months)

  2. Have you contacted Communities First, as the Gaer is part of the West Newport Cluster, to ascertain their views on the proposal? (page 17)
  3. What are their views?
  4. In what way can you demonstrate that you have taken into account the “views of those most directly affected, including children [… and] parents”? (page 6, 1.11.v)
  5. How have you ensured that the school children “have had the opportunity to participate in the consultation process”? (Page 23) Please note, it is not up to the schools to facilitate this participation.

Alternative Options Considered?

  1. Decisions on whether to move forward with the proposal “should be taken in the light of local circumstances, bearing in mind the need to ensure fairness. If the consultation throws up strong objections or genuine reasons to rethink, a choice has to be made between persisting with proposals that may well be flawed and reopening the formal consultation.” (p23, Practical Guide)
    1. How can you show that you are ensuring fairness, when the reasons given to cease the Brynglas/Crindau amalgamation (actual figures in Brynglas lower than expected, overwhelming opposition within the community) are ignored in the case of the Gaer (actual surplus figures in 5 years under 10%, overwhelming opposition from the community)?
    2. Do you not think the objections are strong? Have we not given you genuine reasons to rethink?
    3. Can you show, “if challenged, that all relevant issues that emerged during consultation have been considered?” Furthermore, “It may be judged that the views expressed are unpersuasive, but these views cannot be wilfully ignored. The decision must be taken on the merits of the case in the light of all the evidence.” (p23)
      • Show us how you have made your decision on the merits of the case in the light of ALL the evidence (surplus, nursery numbers, educational benefits that can be achieved on a split site, etc)
  2. Does the Infant school currently come under the banner of “significant surplus”, as defined as at least 25% surplus and at least 30 unfilled places? (page 10, 1.19)
  3. Have you considered whether “savings can be made or services can be provided cost effectively to the community by using parts of school premises for another purpose”? (page 11)
  4. Stow Hill Library recently closed, but could have been relocated in either school, or the Community Centre. Did you consider this or any other community-use? (page 11)
  5. Did you consider a multi-site school, as requested by both governing bodies and the entire community? (page 11)
  6. If you did, what reasons do you have for not including this possibility as one of the options to the Cabinet Member at the time of the creation of the proposal? (page 11)
  7. To what extent does the proposal take into account “evidence of a current or future need for additional places in the area”, specifically, to cater for the children in the new Mon Bank Sidings development at the bottom of the hill, less than 1 mile away? (page 21)
  8. When will a school be provided for those children? (page 21)
  9. Where do you expect them to go in the meantime? (page 21)

ASD provision

  1. In NCC’s 21st Century Schools fund Bid in November 2011, it was stated that the application for £1m funding for ASD provision in Newport, will:
    1. enable pupils with ASD to spend more time in education than travelling to out of county placements” (p1)
    2. Autistic Spectrum Disorder provision has been curtailed from the previous ambition £10m to £1m, from a new build to capacity building within the current estate at one or more school sites” (p2)
    3. This project is aimed to support increasing demand for specialist place for pupils with a diagnosis of ASD, within the city, reducing the number of out of county placements” (p3)
      • This makes clear that funding available has NOT been linked to the establishing of a specialist ASD school, simply that more ASD places are needed on one or more school sites. Is this the case?
      • Why, therefore, can you not provide more places at various sites throughout the city – for example, at the annexe on the Gaer Infants site?
  2. Why can you not use some of the £3.8m to extend and prepare the annexe at Gaer Infants for ASD use for 3-11 year olds, and use the rest (and more if it can be found) to provide an unit attached to a high school for 11-16/19?
  3. In addition to this, please answer:
    1. How were you planning to facilitate inclusion into the Gaer site for the 11-16/19 year olds?
    2. Surely another annual transportation budget – on top of the travel to school budget for the ASD pupils to the site – is not what your stretched budget needs right now?

Finally, Estyn say “Any school reorganisation strategy should set out to improve standards. School reorganisation programmes should be primarily about school improvement rather than a resource management exercise that is separate from the interests of learners. In 2007, Estyn recommended that local authorities should identify the contribution that new and refurbished school buildings make to raising standards and school improvement. This would help to inform the debate about future schemes. However, there has been little progress in implementing this recommendation. Too often, local authorities make generalisations about the benefits of reorganisation without monitoring the impact on learner outcomes from the resources released.” (p6, How do surplus places affect the resources available for expenditure on improving outcomes for pupils? May 2012)

    1. Your proposal does not set out to improve standards.

    2. It is quite clearly a resource management exercise, designed to remove the Infants school from Gaer children, so you can make good on your promise to provide an ASD school in Newport.

    3. There are no real grounds to force through a single-site amalgamation, no reason why you have ignored our objections on the issue of surplus, other than it is an inconvenient truth that could hinder you from gaining something you need – a school site.

    4. The Gaer is not responsible for ‘paying’ for something that NCC cannot afford themselves.

    5. If you cannot afford to build an ASD school, and there is no empty building in Newport that you can use, then you have to consider legitimate alternatives, such as the one we have repeatedly put forward – keeping Brynglas unit where it is, extending the annexe at Gaer Infants for another 3-11 ASD unit in Newport (with the aim of reducing to 0 the number of pupils of that age range leaving the city for education), and maybe you will be left with enough money – especially taking into account the reduction by £1.1m of the annual ex-county transportation budget – to add an unit to a secondary school, to cater for ASD pupils of that age range.

Documents referred to

A practical guide to managing school reorganisation in Welsh local authorities, EMIE report 97, , Shirley Goodwin

How do surplus places affect the resources available for expenditure on improving outcomes for pupils?  Estyn, May 2012

School Organisation Proposals Guidance, Welsh Assembly Government Circular No: 021/2009, Date of issue: September 2009, Replaces Circular No: 23/2002