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

Image

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

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: