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.

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We Oppose…but We Support….

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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

A huge disappointment

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*Edited 14th May 2013, to add this disclaimer:

I have seen that political parties have used information from this blog in their political bloggings. While I am very happy for others to use and disseminate this information, I would like to clarify that this is NOT a political blog. It is neither pro- or anti-Labour or any other political party. So, please feel free to use the information here in context, but any ‘political slant’ you put to it is yours and yours alone. The Campaign to Save the Gaer Schools is set up for this cause only, not to serve any political end. Thanks, Debbie.

Last Thursday evening, there was a meeting a Gaer Infant School.  The Ward Councillors had promised us this meeting the week before, telling us (the Chair and I) that this meeting was for us to put all our comments, concerns, objections and questions to the Education Department and the Cabinet Member for Education.

As you can imagine, we were really happy about this as we have repeatedly asked questions face-to-face and in emails and letters, but never had a single clear answer on the main issues.  We spent hours preparing – me in particular! – and I had 10 pages of questions and notes ready for the meeting.  I read countless Welsh Assembly Government documents, Council documents and basically anything I could get my hands on to inform me.

Then, late in the afternoon on the Wednesday, the so-called ‘agenda’ for the meeting was emailed out by the Education Department.  Now, firstly, I am still unclear as to why they wrote and sent out the agenda.  As far as I was aware, they were invited to the meeting to meet with us.  If anyone should have written an agenda, it should have been either us or the Ward Councillors.  Equally, we should have been consulted on the content of any agenda, to include items which we want discussed, but we were not consulted or even contacted.

Secondly, while I cannot give details as to the content of the agenda as it is not open to the press and public, I can say that the only item beyond the introduction given by the Chair in which there was any involvement from anyone other than the Education Department, was a tour of the school led by Mrs Biddle.  There were three items given as ‘presentations’ by the Education Department, and then the agenda ended.

There were no items for us to bring, there was not even an “matters arising” or “any other business” item in which we could bring our points.

This may sound trivial, but official meetings rarely stray beyond the bounds of the written agenda, otherwise meetings would be anarchy.  Items on an agenda are like the hard shoulder and central reservation on a motorway – they guide the discussion and give no room for deviation, unless general items such as I mentioned above are included, giving participants the chance to bring other issues not covered by the agenda.

So, when I received the agenda, I immediately wrote to the Ward Councillors complaining that we had been completely cut out of the meeting, and asking them to have the agenda amended by removing the items that the Education Department wanted to bring, and replacing them with a much more general “To discuss all questions and objections raised by representatives of the Governing Bodies”.  My request was denied, the Councillors explaining that they would ensure we had opportunity to ask our questions.  But where that would happen on the agenda, was unclear.  Cllr Whitcutt even responded saying that the agenda did make provision for us to ask our questions, and went on to quote the item that I had asked (discussion on questions raised by the governing bodies) to have included!!  Clearly, he had no idea what I was talking about even though he was designated Chair of the meeting!

Following this flurry of emails, just a few hours before the meeting, Sarah Osolinski (our Chair of Governors) and I met to discuss the issues with the agenda.  As we talked about it, we became extremely concerned as it became clear that we could not attend the meeting.  The reasons for this are going to be a bit complicated (especially as I cannot tell you the exact details of the items on the agenda), so please bear with me!

We were to attend the meeting as representatives of the Gaer Infants Governing Body.  In that capacity, we had authority from them to discuss our questions and concerns.  However, the three items on the agenda after the tour of the school, were all items that should only be discussed with the Education Department and the whole governing bodies of both schools, as they were to do with the implementation of the proposal, rather than whether the proposal itself is the right one (which is what we were supposed to be discussing).  In other words, they were discussions to be had after the Welsh Minister makes his decision, rather than while there is still some doubt as to whether the proposal will be passed (as we are all so opposed to it and have good grounds to oppose it).

In fact, two of the three items should really be discussed with a shadow governing body if the decision is taken to amalgamate the schools (if this happens, we will quickly have to set up a shadow governing body of governors from both schools).  Now, Sarah and I could not represent a body which does not exist, and which we may not be a part of in future if it ever does exist!  So how exactly did they think that we could discuss these items?!

Even worse, the very wording of the items totally presupposed that the decision will be taken to amalgamate the two schools, and we took offense at that.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss if this proposal should continue, not to tell us what they plan will happen when it does!

So we were left with a dilemma, just two hours before the meeting.

Do we attend, and hope that we will get the chance to put across our views/questions, but by the very act of attending, give legitimacy to the items the Education Department wanted to present and the way that they have presupposed the amalgamation will go ahead?

Do we boycott the meeting, but then risk looking childish and detract from the great strength of opposition in the Gaer Community?

Do we attend until the three items are raised, at which point read a statement stating our reasons for leaving (as listed above) and hand the statement over, plus all the questions we were going to ask, which must then be included in the minutes of the meeting, and then leave?

We felt that we were being played, in all honesty.  We could see that they had backed us into a corner whereby whatever we did, we would lose.  If we attended this meeting, could the Education Department subsequently claim that that had indeed ‘listened and engaged’ with us?  If the decision does go in their favour, could they subsequently claim that there is no need for further discussion on the implementation of the decision, because the discussion had already happened with us?  We could lose all opportunities to input into the initial stages of the implementation if it goes ahead.  (Actual decision on the ‘design’ of the new build would be discussed with the new Head and the Shadow Governing Body, but other aspects could have been predecided, apparently with our ‘agreement’).

If we refused to attend the meeting, we could be criticised as unprofessional, childish, churlish even.  They could claim that we would have been given the chance to ask all our questions, and yet the agenda made no allowance for that.  How could we be sure?  We desperately wanted to be there.  I had so many strong questions to ask.  But ultimately, we had to weigh up the long-term implications of going versus going but not staying.   The way that we had been played, and the ways that they could easily have used our presence to help push the decision through, the fact that we had no authority to be in a discussion about the items they were due to bring (as they should be discussed after the decision is taken, if it is), and the way they were worded presupposing the Minister’s decision, all left us with the clear choice to not stay at the meeting.

Honestly, guys, I am beyond disappointed by the politicking and tricks that the Education Department are pulling.  They should only be looking at the best solution for the education of our children, rather than blindly shoving through a proposal which everyone with eyes and brains can see will severely negatively impact on their education for a generation to come, and which has no legitimacy on the very grounds that they themselves have given.

I wanted to explain to you all what has happened, to encourage you all not to give up but to carry on opposing this proposal with everything you have.  These ‘games’ they are playing, the very fact that they did attend the meeting (even if it was for the reasons I’ve given above) mean that they are not so confident as they were in the validity of their proposal.

I would like to thank the Ward Councillors for arranging the meeting.  They were not behind the agenda (although I wish they had listened to me and added the item I wanted to the agenda before we began, then we could have left the meeting for the items we couldn’t discuss, and come back in for our item).  I believe they genuinely wanted to facilitate a dialogue between us and the Education Department, and were very disappointed with us when we left.  It was not meant as a professional or personal snub to any of them, but as I’ve explained, we were left with no option but to leave.

I’ll post the questions and points we have submitted and wanted answers to in the next blog post.

Thanks for reading!

Debbie x

So, what is it that we want?

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A few days have passed since my last post, and I realise that while I have expounded in great detail (!) our reasons for opposing the proposal put forward by the council and the LEA (Education Service), I have given scant attention to the alternative proposal put forward by the governing body at the Infants, and also reiterated by the Ward Councillors in their submission to the formal consultation in January.

As I have laid out in previous posts, there are numerous reasons why the Infant school site should not be vacated and used for another school.  Obviously, we all know the Council’s plan is to create Newport’s only specialist ASD school on that site.

In all our meetings, in every conversation I or other governors have had, we have not met a single sane person who has said they don’t want children with ASD educated on the Gaer schools’ site.  On the contrary, we would actively welcome ASD children and their parents to our school – if we can be one school, rather than two.

And even if this proposal does go ahead, we as parents and the community need to ensure that we make those families feel welcome.  We would not like the fact that we lost our school for no clear or legitimate reasons, but it would not be their fault.

That said, I do oppose the proposal to put an ASD school at the infant site, as I do not believe there are legitimate grounds for displacing the Gaer infant children, and removing so many spaces from the junior children.

Our proposal, one we have repeatedly put to the Council/LEA, is very simple:

  1. Amalgamate the Gaer schools on a split-site (educational benefits)
  2. Keep all the current facilities for Gaer use and
  3. Use the £3.8m for ASD education to develop the empty annexe at the Infant site into another primary age ASD unit in Newport, part of the amalgamated Gaer school, with full shared access of all the wonderful facilities.
  • This way, the primary-aged pupils with ASD currently being forced to leave the city every day for their education, will now be able to access education close to home, in their own city.
  • This will also slash the £1.1m (or thereabouts) annual transportation budget, taking them to schools far away.
  • Brynglas ASD unit can stay where it is, so no disruption to their lives and education, and they will be able to integrate and be included with Bro Teyrnon (if they move to Brynglas in September).
  • Pupils aged 11-16/19 who the Council had intended to educate on the Gaer site will have to have another solution found for them.  Perhaps some of the £3.8m can be spent on providing a unit attached to one of the comprehensive schools, to facilitate their inclusion/integration? After all, they cannot be included/integrated with the Gaer primary-aged kids as they are a different age and educational level.  What were the Council planning to do to facilitate their inclusion/integration possibilities at the Gaer? Transportation at least 2 miles to Bassaleg or Duffryn?  Another regular transportation budget?

In normal life, if you want something – have even promised someone something – which you later find out you cannot afford, you have 2 options.  1 is to try to find the money, if this is possible; the 2nd is to find an alternative solution, which may not be identical to what you had initially hoped for, but nevertheless provides towards that thing you want.

What you cannot do is try to force someone else to pay for it for you, with no benefit to them whatsoever.

This is what is happening on the Gaer.  The LEA/Council have made a very well-meaning and good-intentioned promise to provide an ASD school in Newport, but have not got the money to pay for it.  So they have had to try to find a building they can use to fulfill their promise. Ours has been chosen.

They have tried to use the issue of current surplus as the excuse to move us onto 1 site, but their own figures blow that argument out of the water.  Over 90% full in less than 5 years does not a ‘surplus problem’ make!

The sad fact is, they have made a promise that they cannot keep without depriving other kids of their much loved, extensively developed and used schools.  This is too unfair.  In future years, maybe they will have the money to build a new school for ASD education, for the whole age-range they intend, but while they have not got the money, they must find an alternative solution:

They need to cancel this Statutory Notice and start again with a proposal, such as the one stated above, that does not remove from some children in order to give to others, however much the latter may need and deserve that gift.

Children in Newport with ASD, and their families, deserve an excellent education and environment in which to learn. So do Gaer children.  Let’s share the environment that we have at the Gaer, for the good of Gaer children and children with ASD in a new unit in the school.  This is the best, and only, solution.

Let’s champion it together, folks.

Why won’t you listen to us?

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Dear Mr Harris, Chief Education Officer, and Councillor Bob Poole, Cabinet Member for Education and Young People

I know that you know that we on the Gaer are opposed to the plan you have for the future of education on the Gaer.

I want to state for the record that we are NOT anti-Council or anti-Education Department.  We know you have difficult jobs with choices to make that sometimes (well, often, let’s be fair) some people don’t like. 

We held a rally last night and I understand some at the Council took offense at that word.  It was not intended to offend: a rally (noun) is “a drawing or coming together of persons, as for common action, as in a mass meeting” (www.dictionary.com).  How is this offensive?  I also understand that in the flyer that has gone out, the reference to the Council “failing” Gaer children was similarly offensive.  Again, it is not intended to offend but it exactly how we on the Gaer see what is happening and we have every right to put across our points.

We do feel extremely aggrieved on the Gaer, regarding your proposal to amalgamate the two schools on the Junior site, because we feel totally ignored.  Many, many people responded during the consultation phase to the proposal, 100% of which were strongly against the proposal, and yet in the report released in March, every single objection was swept aside, dismissed as seemingly unimportant. 

My main points of objection, and the main point of the governors’ letters and many other people – that of the ‘surplus’ issue that you repeat regularly, will (by your own figures in the proposal document but not repeated in subsequent reports) be reduced to less than 10% in 5 years, and that’s without having to take any action at all – were not even mentioned. 

You must know that we have given you a plausible, better alternative. We believe the best solution is to keep the 2 schools as they are, amalgamate us on a split-site basis (the same as every other school in Newport in recent years), and use your £3.8m to make the annexe at the Gaer Infants’ site into another ASD unit in Newport.  This can house the primary-aged children from Newport with ASD that currently have to leave the city every day for their schooling, thus reducing your annual transportation budget significantly. 

Why do you need to move the Brynglas ASD unit from their current site?  Why is it not possible to integrate them with the Welsh Medium pupils of Bro Teyrnon (assuming that the proposal to relocate Bro Teyrnon to that school is passed)?  How are Welsh Medium primary pupils different from Gaer schools pupils?

We know you want a specialist ASD school, in line with other areas in Wales, that can cater for children from 3-16 or even 19.  We know that our proposal means that you would not be able to create that school at this time; but in fairness, you don’t have the money to create such a school which is the reason why you are trying to push through this proposal.

£3.8m is, I would imagine, more than enough to transform the annexe into a fully kitted out ASD unit, with the chance for those children to benefit equally from all the amazing on site facilities we have at the Gaer, shared with Gaer children.  It may even – who knows? – be enough to make the annexe fit-for-purpose for 3-11 year olds, whilst leaving money to create another ASD unit attached to a secondary school, for the 11-16/19 year olds.  After all, if the proposal does go ahead, that age group of children would not be able to integrate with the Gaer school on the Junior site due to age differences.  You would have to provide opportunities for integration for them in one or more of Newport’s secondary schools, which would involve transportation and other costs.

Can you not wait, see if within a few years you would have the funds available to create a whole school that you desire, without destroying the educational prospects of thousands of Gaer children over the coming years?

Please, sirs, reconsider your position.  Can you not accept that there is an alternative – fully supported within the Gaer community – that will tick two of the three boxes that (I imagine) you need ticking right now: an amalgamated Gaer school and more ASD provision with integration opportunities for primary-aged pupils in Newport.  I am sure if you put your minds to it, you can find a solution for the 11-19 year olds which would tick that box too, but without removing everything that the Gaer schools have developed over decades.

I hope you see this, and read it.  Please understand our deeply rooted concerns, and take action to withdraw this statutory notice.  Start again with a proposal we can champion with you. 

Yours sincerely

Debbie Haile

on behalf of the Save the Gaer Schools Campaign.

 

Wow, what a great evening!

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Thank you so much to all who were able to come last night, and to those who wanted to come but couldn’t.  I was so proud of our community for standing up for our children’s education and the future of the Gaer.

I have had a response from Cllr Whitcutt (he emailed at 5.30pm when I had already left the house) to explain why the Ward Councillors would not be attending. 

“In the circumstances, please accept our apologies for not attending, as whilst we will of course, as ward members have full regard to the views of our constituents which is why we attended the meeting organised in January, we do not consider that it would be appropriate to attend what you describe in your leaflets as a “Rally” directed against the Council.”

I shall be responding to Cllrs Whitcutt, Wilcox and Thomas soon.  But I thought it only fair, as I did state last night that 2 of the 3 of them had not responded prior to the meeting, to correct that now as it turns out they did (albeit when I was already out of the house at the Governors’ meeting.)

More soon….

Debbie

Key points…

Here is a simple (I hope!) list of the key points you might want to consider including when (I hope it is a ‘when’!) you write to the Council. Please don’t copy my wording exactly and don’t feel you need to include everything, write what YOU feel strongly about – the more the letter is from you, the better).

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General:

  1. Unjustifiable proposal – the ‘surplus’ issue will right itself in just 5 years to under 10% across the two schools, with no intervention needed, and the Monbank Housing Development MAY push us in the right direction even more quickly; the benefits of a through-primary can easily – and with no financial outlay – be gained through amalgamating the schools on a split-site (and this option has the full support of the schools, governing bodies, parents and community)
  2. Absolutely NO SUPPORT – school, governing body, parental or community – for this proposal.  Everyone is completely against moving the Infants into the Junior School
  3. If school space is needed for pupils with ASD in Newport, the Infant school has an annex that can easily be redeveloped for ASD use, thus allowing full integration with an amalgamated, split-site Gaer Primary, and shared use of the Gaer schools’ wonderful facilities.

Infants:

  1. Local children may well not be able to come to the nursery as rising threes as they slash nursery places.  You may have to find a private provider to cover their government-funded 2.5 hours per day of nursery provision.  What a 3 year old receives in the Gaer nursery goes way beyond basic childcare – they are fully immersed in a fun, educational environment with qualified teachers guiding them through.  These youngest children’s educational prospects will suffer.
  2. The children will lose their amazing, second-to-none outdoor facilities, many paid for by the Gaer community: the timber trail (they love this, playing on it as often as they are allowed), the amphitheatre, the large playground with bridge and ‘pond’, the beautiful nursery garden, the adventurous reception garden, the creative year 1 and 2 garden.  Their education will suffer.
  3. Inside they will lose: the ‘happy’ room (used to support children struggling emotionally, and for group work), the ‘ocean’ room (multi-sensory, for children with additional learning needs, such as ASD), the ‘technical’ room (for group working and for professionals to meet with staff and children), the art room, the excellent library, their hall, and the staff room.  Their education will suffer.
  4. They will be crammed down into a much smaller space, with no specialist outdoor provision (‘statutory requirements’ merely specify outdoor space must be available, not that it has to reach the quality we have achieved at the Gaer).  Their education will suffer.
  5. They will have no library, and no group working spaces as they do now.  Their education will suffer.
  6. There will have just one dining room to share with the older children – double the children, 1 lunch hour.  They will have to eat quickly. Their educational experience will suffer.
  7. At the moment, they do shows and concerts every term – even the nursery children – in the hall for parents and relatives to come and enjoy.  This gives them confidence and fun at the same time!  With just 1 hall available for all the children, rehearsal and performance times will be extremely difficult, and may mean they cannot continue to do performances every term.  Their confidence and abilities will not be supported as they are now.

Juniors:

  1. The Juniors will lose a huge portion of their outdoor space to a large car park and to the ‘wing’ to be built for some of the infant children, as well as the designated outdoor spaces for every infant class (this is statutory).  Their education will suffer.
  2. Inside, they will lose: the library, the ICT room, the film club/break out room, the staff preparation room.  Their education will be severely affected by these loses.
  3. There will be no group working spaces – there will only be classes and corridors.  Their education will suffer.

Local Residents:

  1. On the first day of the amalgamated school (if they succeed in pushing this through), the number of children arriving at 9am will almost double from the current number of pupils.  There will be CHAOS at drop off and pick up times, as nearly double the number of parents arrive at the school.  If you think Gaer Road/Lansdown Road is bad now, wait until the proposal goes through!
  2. Where will the parents park?  In the Gaer Inn, at the Gaer shops?  Outside your house?  Your quality of life may well suffer.
  3. If you have nursery-aged children, you may find that you cannot get them into the Gaer nursery and have to find a place elsewhere, even in a private provider.  This may impact your ability to organise your family/working life (there is no guarantee that you will find a place on the Gaer). Your child’s education and your working life may suffer.

If I have missed any off…please let me know in the comments below!

Get scribbling, friends.

Debbie

Help Needed….

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We urgently need legal advice.

Are you a solicitor or lawyer? Do you know one who might be able to help the campaign?

We need someone who can give us a few hours, to help us to understand our legal position and create a ‘plan of action’ for the next few weeks of the consultation.

Thing is, we can’t use the school budgets to pay for legal advice (can’t take money allocated to education, as I’m sure you’ll agree!).

So, can anyone help us pro bono?

Pretty please?!

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(that’s the cherry on top!)

ps Thanks to James whose comment on a previous blog post highlighted that we don’t seem to have enough of a strategy and haven’t looked at the legal side – fantastic advice, mate!  Thanks so much!