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

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3 thoughts on “Our Ward Councillors – What have they REALLY said?

  1. debbie1haile says:

    PS Sorry about the font changing size throughout – don’t know why it did that and I can’t find a way to change it!!

    • debbie1haile says:

      Thanks Chris. No-one can hide from what they have publicly written. That’s why I try to be so careful and fair here. Once it’s out there you can’t take it back! The Councillors have said these things publicly, written them so there’s no room for doubt, so I think it fair that I point out the discrepancies and differences.

  2. Chris JH England says:

    Totally succinct Debbie! I comment as an individual and not as a member of any association in case there is any doubt – I too am apolitical.

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