Journey to the Senedd….

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Well, we have finally come to the end of a long and fraught process.  Yesterday at 5.30pm, a small delegation from the Gaer went to the National Assembly in Cardiff to hand over a dossier of concerns, objections, and – most importantly – newly discovered information since the end of the Statutory Notice phase.

William Graham, AM facilitated the visit, and met us on the steps of the Senedd with the officer from Mr Leighton Andrews’ department.  We were extremely pleased that no less than FOUR Newport City Councillors came with us!  Cllr Miqdad Al-Nuaimi (Labour) has been a strong voice in this campaign, and a great support to our schools (he is on the Infants’ Governing Body).  Also joining us (having gone to the Bay specifically for this purpose) were Cllrs David Atwell, David Williams and Charles Ferris (Conservative).

We spent some minutes with the officer, handing over the dossier and also a smaller copy of the wonderful artwork book done by the families during the Family Learning Programme.  He was kind and professional, promising to pass everything to those handling this proposal within the department.

After that, the AM William Graham and all the Councillors stayed – still on the steps of the Senedd!! – to discuss further with us the situation and how it had come to this.

Cllr Atwell was particularly interested, as in the previous Administration (which ended in May 2012) he was Cabinet Member for Education and Children in Newport.  He was surprised to hear the way he have been treated, and said it seems we are being ‘rail-roaded’ into a single-site amalgamation.

All Councillors were surprised when I told them that we have recently received our full figures for September, and in Gaer Infants we will have reduced our surplus to just 7%.  Yes, you read that right – 7 PERCENT THIS SEPTEMBER!!

So all the Education Department’s claims that this proposal is to deal with ‘falling pupil numbers’ and to help us to come into line with Welsh Government guidelines of no more than 10% surplus are blown out of the water.

We also discovered that monies paid by the MonBank Sidings and Whiteheads Developers to help provide additional school places in the area for the children who will live in their development (called ‘Section 106 Monies’) will be going to Maesglas Primary as the Council anticipate the children will go there.  Now, whilst we don’t begrudge some money going to Maesglas, it raises a few questions:

1. Why have they not told us this before? We raised the issue of these developments back in December, and asked in our letters then where those children will go to school. 

2. When was the decision made that the money would go to Maesglas? 

3. Why is none going to the Gaer schools, despite the fact we are the same distance from the developments, and on a far safer walking route?

4. Why did Cllr Wilcox, who has publicly supported the proposal to amalgamate our schools on the Junior site, not admit at any point that the school at which she is a Governor (Maesglas) is going to receive this funding, even though I and others talked with her and the other Ward Members more than once about this specific issue – where the children would go and any funding that goes with them?

Some of you may also have read the ‘Summary Document’ that they sent us after the end of the Statutory Notice.  If not, you can find it here: http://www.newport.gov.uk/stellent/groups/public/documents/report/cont712658.pdf 

You may have been happy with the ‘promises’ made in it, that all community-funded equipment would be replaced, that the Head Teacher and the Shadow Governing Body would be the ones to decide which internal facilities are required, such as a happy room, library, multi-sensory room, etc and that there has been no limit set on how much money will be spent on creating the ‘new school’.

However, are these promises binding? Do they have to fulfill them if the proposal is agreed?  We (the Infants’ GB) have asked this question of the Legal Officer in Newport City Council, as well as of the Education Department and – surprise surprise – neither have answered the question.

What James Harris has replied, however is:

No costs can be clarified at this stage without an initial assessment of the site and provisional design concept which will be undertaken in consultation with the Headteacher designate, shadow governing body and statutory organisations. Tenders have recently been invited for the appointment of cost consultants to work closely with the client project manager to deliver the council’s 21st Century schools programme. The cost manager will be required to liaise with the design team and contractor to achieve the financial objective of containing the cost of the work within the available budget parameters without compromising the key aim of delivering fit for purpose 21st Century schools. The key stakeholders in the Gaer schools project will form part of the project team and will be available for decision-making to help progress the project to a successful conclusion.”

This is markedly different from the Summary Document, in which the Head and GB will be the ones to decide what facilities we would get, not just that they would “form part of the project team and will be available for decision-making to help progress the project to a successful conclusion“.

Equally, whereas the Summary Document claims that there is ‘no limit’ on the sum to deliver the ‘new school’, here he says “No costs can be clarified at this stage without an initial assessment of the site and provisional design concept which will be undertaken in consultation with the Headteacher designate, shadow governing body and statutory organisations. […] The cost manager will be required to liaise with the design team and contractor to achieve the financial objective of containing the cost of the work within the available budget parameters without compromising the key aim of delivering fit for purpose 21st Century schools.

Can you spot the glaring differences?!

And still no word on whether the promises are ‘legally binding’ (but I think we can safely assume, from the response above, that they are certainly not binding on them in any form at all).

So, now we just have to wait. Mr Andrews and his department will look at the proposal at some point in the coming weeks, though his department have told me they don’t expect it will be until after the end of term.

I have some confidence that he will see the truth of this situation, as we wrote in the letter to him, “The only reason why they will not consider [a split-site amalgamation] that really makes any sense, is that the LEA need a building for an ASD school and they have decided that the Gaer Infants is the one they will use.”

Thank you all so much for your support.  Thank you for writing letters and ensuring that our community knows the truth.  The Gaer Infants’ staff and Governors are so proud of our community, and thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

And as one of the Councillors said to me last night on the steps of our country’s government – “You must remember, you have right on your side, and that counts for a lot”. 

Amen to that!

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