BROKEN LINKS: Some of the links in this site use the domain savecombsschool.org.uk.
Because the site is no longer maintained, those links no longer work.
But if you substitute that part of the page's address with savecombsschool.blogspot.com, they will work for you.
Sorry, but there's no time to go back and edit the whole site!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

DCC Announces Decision

This press release was issued on 31 October by DCC. See below for some observations.

COMBS INFANT SCHOOL TO STAY OPEN

An infant school threatened with closure is to stay open, Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet has decided.

Members of the cabinet followed a recommendation by education officers to keep Combs Infant School in Chapel-en-le-Frith open.
[NOTE 1]

Before a council can take a decision to close a rural school it has be satisfied – under the terms of the 2006 Education Act – that pupils would receive a better standard of education if they were moved to alternative schools.

Councillors were told that although the nearest alternative school, Chapel-en-le-Frith Primary School, provides a good quality education standards at Combs Infant School are currently higher.

The cabinet decided against closing Combs Infant School but to keep the problem of surplus places in the Chapel-en-le-Frith area under review.

Councillor Alan Charles, cabinet member for schools, said: “Currently there are only seven pupils from the catchment area
[NOTE 2] of Combs that attend the school.

“In theory there could be no pupils from the catchment area but we would still have to keep the school open if we cannot show that educational standards would be improved by moving pupils to an alternative school.

“Keeping the school open means we are providing a costly and privileged education for children not directly from the Combs community
[NOTE 3]. This is at the expense of tax payers and every other child attending a Derbyshire school.”

The cost of educating each pupil at Combs Infant School is £5,447
[NOTE 4], compared to £2,635 at other infant schools [NOTE 5] in the county.

The decision followed an informal public consultation during which there were 180 letters and a petition with 1,687 signatures
[NOTE 6] opposing the proposals to close Combs Infant School.

There were also concerns expressed about the impact that closing the school would have on community groups, who use the same building.

(Ref: JF.375.07) Media enquiries to John Fern on 01629 585234 or email john.fern@derbyshire.gov.uk
[NOTE 7]
OK, ready for the explanation? Go and grab a cup of tea, because the explanation is almost as long as the original press release.

Note 1:That's a subtle one, isn't it? Quite easy to miss on first reading. Combs is not 'in Chapel-en-le-Frith', although if it was it could make sense for all the kids to go to Chapel-en-le-Frith school, couldn't it? Combs is 'in Chapel-en-le-Frith' like St. Albans is 'in London'.

Note 2:DCC told us that there was no such thing as a 'catchment area' any more. So why is Alan Charles referring to it now, how is it defined, and what effect is it supposed to have legally?

Note 3:Similarly, how is 'not directly from the Combs community' defined?

Note 4:That's a budget number, not the actual cost, which is lower. Budgets were most recently discussed here.

Note 5:The £2635 is an average for primary schools, not infant schools as stated here.

Note 6:They're still getting the petition numbers wrong. There were 2141 signatures - that's about three times the population of our small village of Combs. They're out by about 20%. Not enough to matter? The amount they're wrong by is about two-thirds the population of Combs. What else do you think they'll have got wrong?

Note 7:Just in case you think that these press releases could be misleading by accident, this is what DCC's press officer told us: "All press releases are approved by the senior officers involved in the particular issue concerned and by the relevant cabinet member. If there are legal issues involved they are also checked by one of our lawyers."

School Closure Plan Was Vandalism

This letter appeared in today's Buxton Advertiser. It comes from Barrie Taylor, County Councillor for Whaley Bridge & Blackbrook. He is the Liberal Democrat Group Leader on the Council.

The County's grudging agreement not to close Combs Infant School is a huge relief to the local community, and a great credit to all those who have campaigned so hard and so effectively to keep the school open.

Barrie TaylorHowever, joy at the decision is tempered by annoyance that the closure procedure was ever started, and that it was allowed to go on for so long.

The final report to Cabinet recommended that the school should survive, but hardly referred to all the compelling evidence provided by the school governors and the local campaigners. The decision was based entirely on the fact that closure of the only "Outstanding" school in the area, as declared by Ofsted inspectors, could not improve local standards of education. That was glaringly obvious from the outset.

It soon became apparent that none of the other criteria that are set by the Government for the closure of rural schools were met, as the school is also the village hall, and there would be no benefit to other schools that are experiencing falling school rolls.

At the original public meeting I asked for the closure process to be stopped straight away, as the evidence was already so conclusive.

Councillor Alan Charles, Cabinet member for schools, continued to insist that the process had to grind on to the end, despite clear government guidance that it could be stopped at any time. He subsequently accused me of making a "grandstanding speech to get a cheap round of applause".

In the attempt to justify the original proposal to close the school the Council continue to quote inflated figures of the cost per pupil at Combs, despite the Ofsted report stating that it gives "outstanding value for money".

Pupils at Combs are very lucky to be able to attend such an excellent school in lovely surroundings, and it would be wonderful if all infants in the County could have the same experience.

However to propose closing Combs school because this is not possible is the politics of envy.

At the outset I said that to close this centre of excellence at Combs, without any benefit elsewhere, would be an act of vandalism.

The report to Cabinet of the County's education officers comes to the same conclusion, in more diplomatic language.

Peak School Wins the Battle, but Fears a War

Report from today's Buxton Advertiser.

"IT IS a battle won, but not the war," was the reaction from one delighted parent this week after Combs Infants School was saved from closure.

Members of Derbyshire County Council's Cabinet agreed with an officer's recommendation to keep the school open when they met on Tuesday.

Campaigners, who have spent the last six months fighting the plans, were delighted with the decision, but feel there is still more work to be done.

Parent Carah Boden said: "It is a battle won, but not the war. We need to try and stabilise the situation. Now all this is behind us, we need to ensure its ongoing future."

Chair of governors Nye Rowlands added: "We need to move on from this decision, and work with Derbyshire Council to remedy the damage that has been done by their threat to close the school.

"The cabinet said that if you put a lot of money into a school, it is going to be excellent but if you look around Derbyshire, Cheshire or the rest of the country, putting a lot of money into schools does not bring excellence. Being in the top ten per cent of schools in the country, Combs Infant School didn't achieve that through money. It achieved it through the standards of the teachers.

"We have now got to generate an even closer relationship with the community who are very much part of the school. They have stood by us and supported us and the parents have stood by us.

"This has proved a cause which everybody can unite behind."

High Peak Borough councillor Andrew Bingham has supported the campaign group for several months. He said: "There is still a war to be fought and I feel sure that the council will probably revisit the matter again given half a chance.

"When that will be I don't know.

"I'd like to pay tribute to the campaign group for everything they did. Education committe chairman Alan Charles mentioned it had been a well constructed and polite campaign and that is a tribute to the people who have organised it."

Derbyshire County Councillor Barrie Taylor, who represents the Whaley and Blackbrook ward, which covers Combs, added: "I'd like to thank everybody who ran the most impressive campaign in support of the school, which has brought all the community together."

The campaign group are holding a celebration at the school on November 9 to thank everyone who has been involved in the fight.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Let's Tidy Up After Ourselves

If you find a 'Save Combs School' sign on the verge, or tacked to a lamp post or gate, please remove and dispose of it.

Don't leave it for someone else to do!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Tune In To Andrew Bingham

Andrew Bingham, Conservative Parliamentary candidate for High Peak, will be interviewed by High Peak Radio on Thursday.

Is there anything you'd like to ask him in connection with the Save Combs School campaign? Leave your questions in the comments, and we'll pass them along to the station and ask them to try to fit them in to the interview.

High Peak Radio's web site

The station is on 103.3 and 106.4 FM.

Second Stage of Campaign Begins

We issued the following press release at 15:00 today.


SUPPORTERS LAUNCH SECOND STAGE OF SCHOOL CAMPAIGN

Combs, Derbyshire: At a meeting held in Matlock today, Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet voted to accept a recommendation from education officers to keep Combs Infant School open.

The school had been threatened with closure by the Council as part of their search for a solution to their problem of surplus places in other High Peak schools. Derbyshire County Council decided that closing Combs Infant School would not improve educational standards in the area, and would therefore cause them to fail in their statutory duty.

Campaign supporters gathered outside County Hall after hearing the decision to keep Combs School open and were joined by Councillor Barrie Taylor and Andrew Bingham, Conservative Parliamentary candidate for High PeakFollowing the meeting, the ‘Save Combs School’ campaigners announced that their campaign would immediately move into a second stage, which aims to provide long term stability for the school.

Decision Welcomed
Head Teacher, Avis Curry, welcomed the news: “This is such a relief. Everyone connected with the school and campaign has felt under a great strain for months.”

Under Mrs. Curry’s leadership, the school achieved an ‘outstanding’ rating in every category examined by Ofsted in September 2006. The school will now be able to continue to provide up to 26 places for Key Stage 1 pupils.

Combs resident Diane Williamson said: “I was driving when I heard the news of the Council’s positive decision, with tears streaming down my face. We can now make sure that our two-year old daughter will get the best possible start to her education.”

“The decision by Derbyshire County Council is very welcome,” said parent governor Nick Boden, “but it’s regrettable that their decision focused only on the educational merits of the school, and didn’t mention other important elements of the case we put to them, such as the value of a small rural school strongly linked to the community surrounding it. We will continue to explain these points to them.”

Second Stage
The campaigners announced today that the second stage of their campaign has begun. Chair of Governors, Nye Rowlands, said: “The decision today by Derbyshire County Council is only the conclusion of the first stage. The school simply can’t operate successfully if it’s constantly under imminent threat of being re-proposed for closure.”

Nye Rowlands explained: “We need to move on from this decision, and work with Derbyshire Council to remedy the damage that has been done by their threat to close the school. We will assist them in putting in place the support for the school that will help it regain stability. We want parents to have full confidence that the school is now there for their children to attend in the coming years.”

Community Involvement
Combs School rents their use of schoolrooms in a building that began life as a Wesleyan Chapel in the nineteenth century. The building also serves as the Village Hall, which is the only community resource for Combs.

The building is managed and maintained by the Combs Village Hall Trust. Chair of the Trustees, Mike Evanson, commented: “Following the Council’s decision, we want to move on with exciting new environmental projects that will extend the use of the Village Hall. One good result of this campaign is that it has emphasised the wealth of diverse talent we have in the Combs area. A strong sense of community has been evident throughout this campaign, and people are saying ‘OK, what’s next?’”

Celebrating Success
“First things first, though.” said Nye Rowlands, “We need to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who has played a part in bringing the first stage of this campaign to a successful conclusion, and there will be a celebration at 7pm on 9th November at Combs School and Village Hall for everyone who has wanted to see this outcome.”

Full details of the planned celebration will be posted on the campaign’s web site, at save-combs-school.org.uk


Download a copy of the press release (56Kb Adobe Acrobat PDF format).

A Big Thank You

We'd like to say a sincere 'thank you' to:

  • All the people who signed the petitions, including the people of Chapel-en-le-Frith and Whaley Bridge, and the visitors to our village.

  • All the people who put up posters (and then took them down again in July, to keep the place tidy).

  • All the people who wrote letters to DCC.


  • The politicians who looked at the evidence and spoke up in support of the campaign. (High Peak Borough Council and its staff; Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council and its staff; Whaley Bridge Town Council; Barrie Taylor; Andrew Bingham; Tracy Critchlow; Tony Bingham and Steve Sharp).

  • Plain Talk Print in Glossop, who printed leaflets for us, and Staley's Dailies in Chapel-en-le-Frith, who helped to distribute them for us, both at no cost.

  • The governors and staff at nearby schools (Taxal & Fernilee; Kettlehulme; Chinley)

  • The people from the Plain English Campaign in Combs, who produced T-shirts, balloons and the DVD which gave people a real sense of what life in our valley is like.

  • The other organisations who backed us. (Peak District National Park Authority; Derbyshire Rural Community Council; and the Methodist Church)

  • Tom Levitt MP, who came to the school, and then asked questions of DCC.

  • The staff at DCC (in particular, Dee Hill and Dave Molyneux), who were very helpful in answering our many questions.

  • Prof. Chris Woodhead (former Chief Inspector of Schools, now University of Buckingham) for advice on the subject of educational standards.

  • The print and broadcast media who helped to keep the campaign visible. (Louise Bellicoso and everyone at Buxton Advertiser; Glossop Chronicle; High Peak Radio; Dave Guest at BBC North West; David Andrew at Primary Review; Derbyshire Times; Nicola Winship at Best of Buxton)


  • And perhaps most of all ... thanks to those who thought we could and should win, and never faltered in that opinion.

How The Decision Was Made

In the Cabinet meeting at County Hall today, Councillor Alan Charles opened his remarks about Combs School with, “I find myself in the unusual position of presenting a recommendation that I do not agree with, which is for Combs School not to be closed.”

In acknowledging that there had been a lot of opposition to the proposed closure, he complimented the campaigners (of which there were over 20 present) on their polite and courteous conduct of the campaign.

Alan CharlesHe referred to the Education Act 2005 (although that Education Act has been superseded by the Education Act 2006), saying that the school couldn't be closed because it could not be shown that doing so would improve educational standards in the area. Of course, we pointed that out to him when this process began: everything that has followed need not have happened.


Alan Charles maintained that the Act was “intended to protect small rural schools, not small schools for rural communities” and that, “even if the school roll was to fall to zero, the school still couldn’t be closed”. He’s completely wrong on the last point, and goodness only knows what he means by the first bit. We'll have to ask.

With regard to the quality of education at Combs School, he gave a nod to the work of Mrs. Curry and her staff. “Of course,” he said, “with double the funding that other schools get, I would not expect anything other than an outstanding education. You would rightly expect that of any school.”

Why does he continue with that argument? He’s been shown that it doesn’t cost “twice the average” to teach a pupil at Combs, and that there isn’t a clear correlation between money spent and the outcome for pupils. It’s only a few months since he tried to close a school that had a worse performance but a higher per-pupil cost – he must have forgotten that case.

Alan Charles made reference to having got hold of some numbers “ten minutes ago”, which showed that Combs School is “only serving seven children in the village”, and tried to depict it as a small school that, “if it relied on its catchment area, would not have enough pupils”.

We have no idea how he’s defining ‘village’ in that statement, or where his numbers come from. We gave him plenty of well-researched, detailed and accurate numbers. None of them agree with his presentation of the situation.

Two weeks ago, in closing another school, he maintained that there was no such thing as a catchment area, so his reversal of logic is baffling. As we’ve explained before, even the Council can’t explain how the ‘Normal Area’ for Combs is defined, and it bears no relation to the ‘Natural Area’ from which pupils come to the school. He doesn’t seem to understand that it’s in the nature of a rural area for people to be scattered about a bit. We’ve shown him that there is high demand for places at the school now and in the future. And of course, parental choice, a policy supported by the council, allows parents to request that their children go to schools that aren’t on their doorstep.

In closing, Alan Charles said, “I believe it was right for the Authority to propose the closure of Combs School, and it was right that we consulted as we have done. Very reluctantly, I move that the recommendation be accepted.”

The chairman asked for questions and comments. There were none.

The recommendation was put to a vote. A few of the councillors raised their hands an inch or two above the table, the chairman mumbled something, and the decision was made.

So, a conclusion to this completely unnecessary process has been reached. Now it’s time to get on with more positive things, as noted in the press release issued today.


UPDATE: 12 NOVEMBER

Read DCC's version of the meeting: download the meeting minutes.

This formal recording of the decision fails to convey the bad tempered and incoherent way in which the recommendation was presented.

This is the relevant excerpt.
505/07 COMBS INFANT SCHOOL – PETITION

A petition of 1,687 signatures had been submitted to the Authority, opposing the proposed closure of Combs Infant School.

RESOLVED to receive the petition opposing the proposed closure of
the Combs Infant School, as part of the consultation process.

506/07 PROPOSED CLOSURE OF COMBS INFANT SCHOOL

In outlining the background leading to the proposal of the closure of the Combs Infant School, the Strategic Director for Children and Younger Adults outlined the process undertaken for consultation, and in particular the procedures for closing a maintained school, bearing in mind not only the criteria for education and sufficient school places in the area but also the need to preserve access to the local school for rural communities. Whilst this did not preclude the closure of rural schools, it did mean that the case for closure should be strong, with proposals clearly in the best interest of educational provision in the area.

Issues raised during the consultation process included:-
  • standards of education;
  • effect on the village hall and community;
  • budgetary and financial considerations;
  • normal area and natural area;
  • parental choice;
  • consideration of alternatives to closures;
  • increased housing in the Chapel area;
  • portrayal of village;
  • surplus places issue;
  • school as provider of local employment;
  • ethos of school in balance against costs.
Arguably the single most important issue was that of standards and whilst the removal of surplus places supported the core agenda of raising standards, it was acknowledged that Combs Infant School provided a high quality of education, which many parents argued was the most significant for the future development of the child. Standards of education at Chapel-en-le-Frith C of E. Primary were deemed satisfactory by OfSTED, although there was the perception that because of its size, the quality of education was not as good at that provided by Combs Infant School. Some detail was given of the development of Chapel-en-le-Frith C of E. Primary where the quality and provision were improving.

Specific reference was made in the statutory guidance to the issue of standards and the need to ensure that the proposal for a school closure would lead to improved attainment for children and young people.

In accord with current legislation and the overriding concern that any proposal for closure has to be in the cause of raising standards of education, it was felt that the Authority should not proceed with the proposal to close Combs Infant School at this time, but the situation would be kept under review.

RESOLVED

(1) that the Authority does not proceed to the publication of Statutory Notices in respect of the proposed closure of Combs Infant School with effect from August 2008; and

(2) that situation regarding surplus places in this area of the County be kept under review.

Final Decision:
Combs Infant School is Saved!

A large group of campaigners attended the DCC Cabinet meeting in Matlock today.

The report on the school was presented by Alan Charles, and the Cabinet voted to accept the recommendation that Combs Infant School should not be closed.

Campaign supporters gathered outside County Hall after hearing the decision to keep Combs School open and were joined by Councillor Barrie Taylor and Andrew Bingham, Conservative Parliamentary candidate for High Peak

Saturday, 27 October 2007

“And that’s just not fair,
  is it, children?”

Cast your mind back to when this ghastly closure business started. DCC pointed out that Combs School spends more money per pupil than other schools. Of course, that wasn’t a comparison with similar schools, just a crude comparison with all primary schools in Derbyshire.

Do you remember Alan Charles talking about that at the consultation meeting? He talked of his solemn duty with ‘public money’, and the need to ensure that every child in Derbyshire got the same deal. He even explained this concept to the children of the school council, with a weird analogy about why they should feel guilty about getting more Mars bars than other schoolchildren. He ended with, “and that’s just not fair, is it, children?”

Well, let’s look at another example of the distribution of public money.

Each year, DCC’s councillors get a Basic Allowance which is “designed to cover the time commitment of all Members in all meetings including those with officers and members of the public. It is also intended to cover incidental costs such as the use of home and private telephone facilities”. On top of that, a Special Responsibility Allowance is “paid to those Members who perform special responsibilities in relation to the County Council”. The council decides who gets what.

Let’s select a councillor at random, and look at the allowances paid in 2006-07.

Alan Charles, the councillor responsible for schools, gets allowances of more than double the average paid to all DCC councillors. He gets almost three-quarters as much again as the average DCC cabinet member.

Now, that just doesn’t sound fair, does it, children?

But wait a minute. Maybe the allowance scheme has been carefully thought through. Maybe some councillors’ duties are more onerous than others. Maybe their circumstances are different, and they should rightfully claim certain additional allowances. When asked, maybe individual councillors, such as the one above, could give a believable explanation as to why they deserve a significantly above-average allocation of public money.

Although it might not be the right one, there is a plan for spending public money, we can all see what it is, and they’re working to that plan.

Well, guess what? That’s how school budgets are worked out too.

Combs School has been allocated a budget, based on a plan devised by central government and the local education authority. Part of it comes from a fund to protect small rural schools, whose vital role has been heavily acknowledged by government. For that, and other reasons, the allocation per pupil is higher than it is in large schools where economies of scale enable it to be lower.

So Combs School is being penalised for working within the plan devised by its critic – DCC.

And that really isn't fair, is it, children?

Friday, 26 October 2007

Tom Levitt Interviewed

High Peak Radio's web siteTom Levitt MP was interviewed on High Peak Radio this morning. The first part of the interview related to Tom Levitt being in the top ten of MPs claiming expenses in 2006-07. The second part related to the Save Combs School campaign. This is a very quick summary of that portion of the interview. While it isn't a verbatim transcript, it is hopefully accurate*.

High Peak Radio: Are you pleased by the decision to keep the school open?

Tom Levitt: Very pleased. I've always said that it would be the strength of the arguments that would decide the matter, and that's what's happened. A logical, sensible answer has been reached.

HPR: You've come in for a little criticism for not backing the campaign.

TL: It would have been very easy to jump in and believe what was being said by one side rather than the other, but I felt there were arguments on both sides. I met with the parents and governors, wrote to DCC, and asked a Parliamentary Question**. That got important information into the public domain. The answer to my PQ, which restated that there needed to be very strong grounds for closing excellent rural schools, is the very point on which DCC's decision is based. Doing what I did was the most supportive thing that could be legally done.

HPR: How do you respond to criticism that you've tried to claim credit for the campaign's success, unlike parish and borough councillors, who actually backed the campaign?

TL: It would have been very easy to jump in and get headlines about 'MP leads campaign', but as I've said, I thought there were arguments on both sides. If I had done that, perhaps the campaigners would complain now that I had claimed the campaign as my own. I played a large part in getting important information into the public domain which the campaign has been able to use***.

HPR: One questioner on the Save Combs School web site asks "How does Tom propose to halt or reduce the continuous and insidious rural community disengagement by DCC?"

TL: You have to remember that DCC has kept more small rural schools open than any other council. Cheshire, for example, tackled the problem of surplus school places some years ago and closed quite a few small schools. DCC still has to look at the problem of surplus places, though, and find a solution. That's what I meant earlier about there being arguments on both sides. DCC is doing a lot for rural communities. Look at the support for rural bus services, the commission set up to advise on protecting rural life, and the support given to ensure that postal services are still accessible even when a rural post office has to close because it isn't viable. There's a lot being done to support rural communities, and while I understand people's fears about those communities becoming dormitories, sometimes there are market pressures which can't be resisted.

*If anyone who listened to the interview thinks something's inaccurate or missing from this summary, please e-mail the webmaster.

** The exchange of letters between Tom Levitt and Alan Charles is in this post.

*** We previously described the request made to Tom Levitt to correct the factually incorrect information he disseminated. No response has been received to that request.

Use this link to find all posts that mention Tom Levitt.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Reprieve for Peak School?

Read the story online in the Buxton Advertiser

Louise Bellicoso's report made the front page of the Buxton Advertiser today.

The story can be read online.

Tune In

High Peak Radio is the station to tune to today. Nye Rowlands (Chair of Governors) and Mike Evanson (Chair of Village Hall Trustees) were interviewed yesterday, and sound bites from the interview are appearing in the news bulletins.

High Peak Radio's web site

The station is on 103.3 and 106.4 FM.



Tom Levitt MP will be interviewed at 10:30 on Friday. What would you like him to be asked about the Save Combs School campaign? If you leave your question in a comment on this post, we'll pass it along to High Peak Radio and ask them if they can include it in the interview.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Another New Baby In The Village

We gave DCC lots of information about how many pupils there would probably be in years to come at Combs School. Our maps included dots for those yet to be born. We were given the information in confidence, and that's why we haven't published the maps, even though they were key pieces of evidence submitted to DCC.

Already during this campaign, two of the dots marked on the map we gave to DCC have become real live people.

And on the same day that DCC has announced their recommendation to keep Combs School open, it's wonderful to be able to report that another dot on the map has turned into a newly born baby.

He and his mother are doing fine. We send our congratulations.

DCC Issues Press Release

This has just been issued:

RECOMMENDATION TO KEEP SCHOOL OPEN
24 October 2007

Members of Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet are being recommended to keep open an infant school facing possible closure.

During an informal public consultation there were 180 letters and a petition with 1,687 signatures
[NOTE 1] opposing proposals to close Combs Infant School in Chapel-en-le-Frith.

When councillors meet on Tuesday 30 October they will be told that although the nearest alternative school, Chapel-en-le-Frith Primary School, provides a good quality education standards at Combs Infant School are currently higher. In its last Ofsted inspection Combs Infant School was rated ‘outstanding’.

As a result they do not believe there is a strong enough case to close Combs Infant School but are recommending that the problem of surplus places in the Chapel-en-le-Frith area is kept under review.

Councillor Alan Charles, Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet member for schools, said: “The purpose of the public consultation was to get the views of people in the Combs and Chapel-en-le-Frith area about the problems being caused by surplus places in the area.

“We have never had any concerns about the quality of education at Combs Infant School. The issue has always been whether it is fair to the tax payer and pupils at other schools in Derbyshire that it costs £5,447 to educate every pupil at Combs
[NOTE 2] compared to the county average of £2,635.

“The majority of pupils travel to Combs
[NOTE 3] which leaves surplus places available at their local community schools.

“Members of the cabinet will be able to look at all the responses from the consultation and the recommendations before taking a decision.”

Councillors will be told that there are also concerns about the impact that closing the school could have on the community as the building is used by a variety of local groups.

(Ref: JF.362.07) Media enquiries to John Fern on 01629 585234 or email john.fern@derbyshire.gov.uk

This press release repeats some inaccurate information that DCC has used previously, and which they've been asked to correct.

NOTE 1: There were 2141 signatories to the petitions, not 1687.

NOTE 2: It doesn't cost £5,447 per child. That's a budget figure, not an actual figure. We've explained that before.

NOTE 3: The majority of children, current and planned, live within Combs valley - the natural area for the school.

Andrew Bingham Expresses Delight At Recommendation

High Peak's Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, Andrew Bingham has spoken of his delight at the news that the recommendation to the DCC Cabinet meeting next week is not to close Combs Infant School.

Andrew said, "It is a tribute to all the residents, parents and activists that they have managed to force a change of heart from the County Council. Whilst it isn’t absolutely sorted until after the decision is made, we can only be pleased at the recommendation.

"It seems a long time since many of us attended the public meeting at the school, indeed, the huge attendance meant that the meeting was held outdoors, but all the work that has been done appears to have made the difference.

"I said from the start that the suggestion was unacceptable, badly conceived and illogical, and from the recommendation it now appears that DCC have come to the same conclusion. It is a shame that such a lot of public money has been spent on this when it was obvious from the start that closure was wrong.”

Andrew added, “As well as my own objections as the Parliamentary Candidate for the High Peak, I also objected on behalf of High Peak Borough Council following a discussion by its Social Inclusion Select Committee.

"I am sure that DCC, when faced by the weight of evidence accumulated by local people, must have realised what a mistake they were about to make. I reiterate, that I don’t want to pre-judge the decision, but the recommendation is there for all to see, and I fervently hope that the Cabinet at DCC follow it.”

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

DCC To Spare Village School

The following press release has been issued by the campaign.

Derbyshire County Council To Spare Village School From Closure

Combs, UK; 23 October 2007: In a report issued today by Derbyshire County Council, a recommendation has been made not to proceed with the closure of Combs Infant School, in High Peak, Derbyshire. The recommendation will go before the Council’s Cabinet for confirmation of the decision, on 30 October.

The report has been issued following a consultation process that began in May, in which the Council sought to solve their problem of having surplus places in other schools by closing Combs School.

The council received more than 2000 signatures on petitions, and almost 200 letters of opposition. Detailed arguments against the proposed closure have been set out on the campaign web site at save-combs-school.org.uk.

The campaigners have stressed, throughout the consultation, that Combs School was rated in September 2006 by Ofsted as “outstanding value for money”, and was unique in High Peak in providing an outstanding level of service in every category evaluated.

In their recommendation not to proceed, the Council has recognised that by closing the school, they would not – contrary to their statutory duty – be raising educational standards in the area.

Welcoming the report, parent governor Nick Boden commented: “Thankfully, common sense has prevailed, and we look forward to the Cabinet accepting the recommendation put forward by education officers.”

The Council’s recommendation also commented on the unusual arrangement whereby the same building is used for the school, as a village hall, and as a chapel.

“The School operates within a building maintained by the Village Hall Trust.” explained Chairman of the Trustees, Mike Evanson, “There’s a long history of the community providing financial support to the school, and we were very concerned that closing down the school would severely impact our ability to continue to operate the village hall on behalf of all who benefit from its use.”

The campaign opposing the proposed closure has drawn strong support, from within the community of Combs, and far beyond. All of the local parish and borough councils gave their support to the campaign to keep the school open, as did Peak District National Park Authority, Derbyshire Rural Community Council, and the Methodist Church.

The problem of surplus school places in the area will be kept under review by the Council. Chairman of the school Governors, Nye Rowlands, said: “This is undoubtedly good news, but we aren’t complacent, and know that we will have to sustain the strong community support, for this excellent school to continue to be spared the threat of closure.”

ENDS

Report Released:
Closure NOT Recommended

DCC has released the report written by their Education Officers.

Their recommendation, which is NOT to close Combs Infant School, will be put before the DCC Cabinet on 30 October.

You can download a full copy of the report. (123k, Adobe Acrobat Format)


The report ends:

Strategic Director for Children and Younger Adults’ Recommendations

7.1 That the Authority does not proceed to the publication of Statutory Notices in respect of the proposed closure of Combs Infant School with effect from 31 August 2008.

7.2 That the situation regarding surplus places in this area of the County be kept under review.

We want to know what you think, so please leave a comment on this post as soon as possible. If you're not sure how to do that, read this post to find out how to leave a comment.

UPDATE 23 OCT, 16:20
A press release has been issued on behalf of the campaign. Download (65k, Adobe Acrobat format)

UPDATE 23 OCT, 21:04
In response to questions and concerns we've received, we can pass on something we've been told by a good source:
"It is unthinkable that the Cabinet wouldn't accept the recommendation. It would be indefensible at a judicial review."

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Be Brave, Mr. Charles

Dear Mr. Charles,

On 30 October, you will have the future of Combs School, Village Hall and Chapel in your hands, when you are in Cabinet.

Councillor Alan Charles, the DCC Cabinet member responsible for schoolsTo back away from an intended action sometimes requires as much courage as to press on. Please be brave, and lead the Cabinet to a decision to keep the School open.

We realise that you will need to find alternative solutions to the problem of surplus school places in other schools. But you've been presented with a very strong case against closure, and we think you should know by now that closing Combs School is not the right solution.

You've been told about the damage that will be done to our community. You know that the elected bodies at parish or borough level, who intimately understand our area, oppose the proposal to close the School. You know that Combs School is unique in High Peak in providing an outstanding service, in the view of Ofsted, which ranks Combs in the top 3% of infant schools in the country.

So, be brave, Mr. Charles. Acknowledge the inadequacies in the calculations that DCC has made. Show that you've listened to the arguments that have been put forward, and you're prepared to act on them. Use your imagination and the resources of DCC to find an alternative solution to your problem.

Be brave, and stop this closure plan.

Yours,
The 'Save Combs School' Campaigners



NB: Mr. Charles has been invited to comment on this post.

Friday, 19 October 2007

'H’ is for HARVEST,
‘H’ is for HOPE


It is Harvest Festival in the Church calendar.

This week, Combs Village Hall has seen two services to celebrate Harvest.

The Reverend David Philo presided over both occasions and led the congregation in thought and prayer.

First it was the turn of Combs 1st Brownies. On Wednesday 17th October, their regular weekly meet at Combs Village Hall & Chapel became a Harvest service.


The Brownies performed a delightful short play, Five Brown Bulbs, with accompanying songs and poems.

The audience joined in with some well-known Harvest hymns and songs such as ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’.

The service was followed by a chocolate and sweet tombola, Bring and Buy, and refreshments.

All proceeds will be going to help build a vocational training centre in war-torn Beirut for young people with cerebral palsy who want to learn a trade to help support themselves and their families.

Today, Friday 19th October, it was the turn of Combs Infant School.

The children had worked hard at learning songs and poems with a Harvest theme which they sang and read beautifully to parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters.

Mrs Curry spoke briefly about her recent experiences in Africa and the problems with transporting food to market.

A collection was made for Rwandan children whose lives have been devastated by the years of genocide.

H is for Harvest and H is for Hope. We hope that some lives will be improved by our fundraising activities in Combs this week.



We also hope that both these services will continue to be performed in our School, Chapel and Village Hall next year and in the future, as they have been for so many years - until a bad day last May when our Local Authority decided, in their wisdom, to threaten the age-old established rhythms of our quiet community for an extra few pence in their pot.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Outstanding Achievement Recognised

This logo will now be proudly displayed on the school letterhead, as a result of receiving a letter from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools today.

The letter opened with, "One of my most enjoyable duties is to publish a list of providers that were judged to be outstanding when they were inspected. Please accept my warmest congratulations on achieving this very high standard of practice. I do not underestimate the enormous hard work that it takes."

The letter goes on to invite headteacher Avis Curry to a conference in Birmingham, in January 2008, that will recognise schools which have achieved an "outstanding" classification. The conference will gather ideas on best practice and aims to use them to 'provide better outcomes for all learners'.

Ofsted's web site has the list of outstanding providers.



Remember, this isn't the first time that the work done by Avis Curry and her team has been recognised as outstanding by Ofsted.

In 2000-2001, the same 'outstanding' award was made to Combs School.

Avis was quoted in DCC's own newspaper "NW Insight", in 2002: "We're delighted that all our hard work has been recognised. The fact that we are a small school means that we can develop a really close relationship betweeen the home, school and children."

Another quote in the article also highlighted the role of small schools: "I would like to add my congratulations to staff, pupils, governors and parents at Combs Infant. It's particularly pleasing to see smaller schools on the OfSTED list and it provides a shining example of how smaller schools provide an excellent education for their communities."

Who said that? That's right, Councillor Alan Charles.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Other Schools Fight On

As reported by Zena Hawley in today's Derby Evening Telegraph.
PARENTS TO FIGHT SCHOOL CLOSURES
Furious parents have vowed to fight on after the county council decided to go ahead with plans to close their children's school.

Derbyshire councillors voted yesterday to publish formal notices which could close Highfield Primary School, in Long Eaton, next summer.

They also agreed to proceed with closure plans for Castle Gresley Infants School and Apperknowle Primary, near Dronfield.

The move is designed to eliminate some of the 8,000 surplus places in schools across the county.

But parent Karen Beck, who has been helping to co-ordinate a campaign to keep Highfield Primary open, said that everyone at the 114-pupil school felt very angry about the situation.

Together with a number of parents from Long Eaton, Castle Gresley and Apperknowle, she attended the council cabinet meeting at Matlock yesterday.

When the council first proposed closing Highfield Primary School, it mistakenly estimated that it had 39 per cent of surplus space.

But it had taken into account two disused classrooms and, without them, surplus places were down to 24 per cent - just under the figure that triggers a review of surplus places in a school.

Mrs Beck said: "We feel that everything we have put forward has been turned around to suit the council's aim to close the school.

"And we are unhappy over the way the council keeps putting different pupil numbers forward to justify its stance."

....

Full Story on the Derby Evening Telegraph web site.


So, it's not just with Combs School that DCC has been accused of using inaccurate information. Are they incapable of using information that is correct, or just unwilling because they wouldn't win their argument if they did?

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

A Cry to Cabinet

A heartfelt appeal to DCC's Cabinet from a villager with children at Combs School.

I walked out of school last Thursday morning and I wept - yes, real tears - at the thought that this remarkable little place could be closed down.


I had left the children in the ‘big’ classroom being introduced, and introducing themselves, to the trainee teacher who has been seconded here for the ‘observation’ part of her course. They were all sitting cross-legged on the carpet, backs straight, eyes bright and interested. The discipline, yet the warmth, is exceptional. The soft smile on the face of the trainee teacher in response to the children said it all.

You cannot help but feel good in this school. They start five minutes early every Tuesday and Thursday now in response to new Government initiatives for children to get more exercise during the school day. Those little people are all out in the playground, the hills as backdrop down this quiet village lane, clutching white ropes and learning to skip. I often linger just to watch them. It’s wonderful seeing them trying to master this basic skill - some better than others! It’s wonderful to see them out in the fresh air, cheeks turning pinker by the minute. And it’s wonderful to hear from the teachers that it really sets them up for the day, helps them concentrate.


Yet again, it shows how this school consistently – even under the threat of closure – is making an effort to provide the very best for its pupils. Many would have given up, said ‘why bother?’ But this school hasn’t. It has immense spirit – and, once again, the example the teachers set rubs off on those small shoulders. It is these less tangible aspects of school life and education which this school excels at – not just the academic ones.

Is it really right that such a fine example of education in this country should have the sword of Damacles hanging over it? Just because it is a small village school? Just because it is a bit less economical to run? (Though let’s not forget its ‘outstanding value for money’ accolade in the eyes of Ofsted, eh?) Just because only a small number of children are actually lucky enough to have such a great start in life? If the Cabinet members at Derbyshire County Council decide on 30th October to push ahead with the closure, against all sense and logic, significantly more children will be deprived of a fantastic launch pad. This school could be open for many many more generations of children if they just left it alone. Every little helps, surely, in this broken world that we live in?


Combs Infant School is not broken. The things that need fixing are beyond Combs. We are victims of a situation not of our making. The teachers are doing everything that Government wants. Money is not the issue here. I implore those decision makers to understand that it is the teachers with their management skills and their passion for the job, where the children are the sole and primary focus of all that they do, that makes a school great. It is not all about money.

Yesterday I drove past the Village Hall and thought of the young children of Combs and surrounding area inside those old stone walls enjoying their hot lunch served up by Alan who calls them all ‘mate’ as he asks them what they want to eat. It is a micro world in there, a hive of learning activity, fun, games, music, art and sport. It is the beating heart of our community. Who in their right minds could even think of killing it dead?

The village would become very silent, a shadow of its former self, without the life that revolves round that hall and chapel – from infant education to adult education, from Brownies to baptism, from community fun days to weddings.

Think hard. Think very, very, hard. There is no going back, after all.

Closure Recommended
for Other Schools

At the DCC Cabinet meeting today, the future of the other schools that have undergone a public consultation will be discussed. (Agenda for the meeting)

DCC's web site has the news stories (and the reports being presented to Cabinet):

   Apperknowle PrimaryNewsReport
   Castle Gresley InfantNewsReport
   Highfield PrimaryNewsReport

Education officers have recommended to the politicians that the schools be closed. In response to the concerns of campaigners at each of the schools, it is said that "Councillors will be told that education officers believe these concerns can be addressed".

If this meeting acts on the recommendations of the education officers, formal notices of closure will be published.


UPDATE 16 Oct, 18:20
The recommendations were unopposed by anyone on the Cabinet, and barely even questioned. As we suspected earlier, it did appear that they weren't bothered.

DCC will now proceed with the formal closure procedure for the three schools.

UPDATE 17 Oct, 11:30
The presentation of the recommendations was said by observers to have contained "trivia", "contradictions" and "cheap shots". We'll post a link to the minutes of the meeting when they're posted on the DCC site, so that you can make up your own mind about that.

Monday, 15 October 2007

A Little More History

Do you know when this photograph was taken outside Combs School, or the identity of the children pictured? Please let us know if you do.

Old photo of Combs School - Thanks to Stefan at The Beehive for the loan of the photoWe've talked about the long history of Combs School before on this web site, to put into proper context what DCC proposes to bring to an untimely end.

Here's a little more history: the following is an extract from the book 'The Story of My Village' written and published by Marguerite A. Life Bellhouse in 1968.

Both the Sunday and Day School are now held in the Wesleyan Chapel, which was built in 1864. Prior to this, the Sunday School was held in a cottage near the Chapel, for some years, but at one time, both schools were held in the Reading Room at Rye Flatt.
1721John Wright of Baghouses, by Will, gave a rent charged of £2 per annum, "for the encouragement of a Schoolmaster into Combs Edge", providing the neighbours in the Edge would make up more within 12 months". The neighbours did not respond.*
1861The Day School was held at Ivy Cottage, and was kept by Miss H. Morten assisted by Mary Ann Fox. Miss Morten, who was to have been married, fell ill and decided it was not fair to her fiancé to wait for her recovery, which might not happen. Adam Fox encouraged her to start this school, which was very successful. Ivy Cottage, near the Bee Hive, has been enlarged (there were two then), and is now called "Little Corner"**.
1881The School was at the Wesleyan Chapel, and the Teacher was Miss Jackson, with a salary of £35 per annum.
1882The Teacher was Miss Bebbington.
1883The Teacher was Miss Goldstraw, and according to Mr. Jim Lomas, who was a pupil at the Chapel, she was the "best writer in Combs". His brother and sister went to "Ivy Cottage" School.
1886The Teacher was Miss Washington.
1887-94The Teachers were Miss Proctor and Miss White, the latter came from Leicester, and lodged with Mrs. Bagshawe at Smithy Cottages.
1894-97The Teacher was Miss Muir, who lodged at Smithy Cottages. One of the older girls, Abigail Clayton, held the post of pupil teacher to the infants. At this time, there were 42 pupils at the School, all taught by Miss Muir, until she had an assistant. Children came from the remote farm "Moss House", which is nearer Buxton than Combs, perhaps more than three miles distant. After Miss Muir came Miss Hetty Mortin, Mrs Shilton, Miss Voles and Mrs Coates.
1900The Sunday School was kept by Mrs Ollerenshaw.
1907 (Dec 21st) "A meeting, which may prove to historical, was held in the little hamlet of Combs on Thursday, December 12th. It was the first meeting of the Managers of the recently established Combs Council School, which hitherto, had been a Wesleyan School. The Managers are Mr. J. E. Lomas, Mr. Thomas Yates, Mr James Brocklehurst, Mr. Francis Bramwell, Mr. John Fallows and Mr. J. Hague. There followed a list of Teachers, and a discussion ensued about new chairs, desks and books."
1914Mrs. Shilton, of Lane End Cottages, taught here for some years around this time.
* Hmmm...not an easy start!
** Which happens to be the current home of this campaign's webmaster.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Report Due on 23 October

Mark your diary for 23 October. We expect to get the report compiled by DCC on that day, and make it available on this site.

We'll want to know what people think of the report, so you might want to look at this post, which describes how to add your comments to posts on this blog.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Learning from Experience

Is education not all about widening horizons, broadening the mind? Certainly, in large part, it is. Through the eyes and ears of their head teacher, Avis Curry, the pupils of Combs Infant School have a window on Africa in their small reception hall in the heart of the Peak District. This area of the reception is frequently used for displays of the children’s work but, for now, it is an ‘interactive’ corner of Africa, a learning experience for all.

Mrs Curry has written eloquently about her time in Rwanda in an earlier post. It is well worth a read and puts us to shame in a number of areas – from the Rwandan attitude to plastic bags and recycling to the smiles on their faces despite suffering years of horror and hardship.

The children at Combs school smile a lot too. Not because they are smug and know how lucky they are, but simply because they are happy. They enjoy learning. Their teachers make it fun. They have a wonderful environment in which to develop a love of learning which they will hopefully carry with them through the rest of their lives. A lot of children in large, urban schools leave with quite another attitude. They are the ‘lost’ children of our education system. Victims of over-large classes, poor discipline, bullying and no natural beauty around them to inspire and energise them.

Small schools are like a large family. They share experiences together and they learn from them. They talk about things, they help each other. Mrs Curry was able to go to Rwanda confident in her team to look after the children she was leaving behind – and confident that the children wouldn’t let her down or misbehave in her absence. This sort of school is a blueprint for society. It would be a crime to shut it down – and extremely short-sighted.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Date Finally Set for Cabinet Review

The report on the proposed closure of Combs Infant School will go before DCC's Cabinet on 30 October 2007. A copy of the final report will be available to the campaigners on 23 October.

It will be posted on this site as soon as we get it. Remember to come back and look for it.

Do you want to attend the Cabinet meeting?
The Cabinet meeting will be in Matlock on 30 October, from 10:30am, for two or three hours. If you want to show your support for Combs School, Village Hall and Chapel, you might want to be there, to look the Cabinet up and down as they make their decision. If so, please e-mail the Webmaster, as soon as possible, to be added to the list. DCC needs to know how many people will attend.



P.S. We understand that the other three schools slated for closure will be considered by the Cabinet on 16 October, and that the first version of the report on Combs had to be redrafted before Cabinet could review it. We're trying to find out why.

UPDATE 04 October
The information we received was incorrect. The report sent to Alan Charles by David Humphrey was not a full Cabinet report, but a report on the consultation and the issues involved. It did not contain a recommendation. The full report for Cabinet is being worked on now, and will contain a recommendation for what action should be taken.

Friday, 28 September 2007

Reflections On Rwanda

Let's take a break from the long wait for DCC to make up their mind about the closure of our school, and find out what headteacher Avis Curry got up to in Rwanda.

Remember the goodbye messages that the children gave her, back in May? Here are Avis' reflections on Rwanda.


My time in Rwanda was an experience that I shall never forget. It was challenging, thought provoking, exciting, exhausting, fascinating and sad, all at the same time. So why did I go? After such a successful Ofsted report at Combs, as well as enjoying the moment, you ask yourself ‘what next?’ Some head teachers might look to ‘move on’, but I really enjoy what I do at Combs. So I saw this as an opportunity to refresh and revitalise my role as a school leader by revisiting my vision and values, whilst developing my leadership and management skills.

I was able to positively engage with capacity building at a strategic level whilst reflecting on my own current practice. Enriching the curriculum at Combs with my experiences as well as contributing to the global perspective, both at Combs and our cluster schools will be another benefit. So after all the excitement it is wonderful to return to Combs and carry on leading the teaching and learning here.

Lining up for classThe curriculum in Rwanda is not too dissimilar to our own and amazingly it is delivered without basic resources. The school to which I was attached had neither electricity nor running water, yet taught all subjects (except ICT!). From the age of about 8, all subject teaching is done through the country’s second language, French. All children from the age of 6 were taught 3 languages, English, French and Kinyrwanda (local dialect). They had few text books or pictures, no paints, crayons (etc), no formal music, but the sound and sight of the children singing, drumming and dancing was just wonderful. PE was football, volleyball or marching. Football is very big in Rwanda and English clubs are avidly followed, with the favourites being Manchester United and Arsenal. The children could tell me more about the players names and positions than I knew.

In the classroomMy remit was vast and unrealistic, but one of the foci was to improve the capacity of the school to improve, and yes, Rwanda also uses exam results to ‘league table’ their schools! Some of the problems faced were very reminiscent of the UK many years ago and from this aspect I felt most helpful as I could stop another head teacher from having to ‘re-invent the wheel’! Other areas of involvement were working with the parents and the community to improve the educational outcome for the children, training the teachers in current teaching methodology and starting up self-help cluster groups of schools, both within their own districts and across the country. So I was kept fairly busy!

Head teacher arriving at schoolI worked with my head teacher to introduce him to the computer and the internet. He now has an internet account and is keeping in touch through e-mail. Now he desperately wants a computer! It is amazing to think that in the middle of a very poor country, which is still recovering from the genocide, with an underfed and unemployed population, that you can find 2 or 3 internet cafes in the middle of a town. Where there is no electricity, people are using solar cells! The only bad thing about these cafes is that there was no protection against unsuitable sites and I often found children accessing explicit pornography and no one seemed to care, not even when I made an issue of it and threatened the police.

Living in Rwanda has made me realise that everybody doesn’t need to jump through the same hoops to develop. For instance Rwanda is very ‘green’. If you are lucky enough to have light bulbs then they are always low wattage. No plastic bags are allowed in the country, and just about anything you can think of is recycled or reused. Everyone grows food in any and every available space without pesticides (even if it is for the wrong reason - that they cannot afford them), and mobile phones are the norm. I don’t know that they will ever totally replace the landline grid and mobiles also double up as watches. It was worrying to observe the teachers picking up their mobiles in class and looking at them until I realised they were looking to see if it was time to change lessons.

Design & Technology ClassThe worst part of living in Rwanda was the feeling of inadequacy experienced when people talked of their experiences during the genocide and the thousands of children that have been left with absolutely no one to look after them. The lucky ones are orphans living with a relative, but for so many all the relatives were also killed and they are totally alone. So many children also have Aids and are not expected to become adults, so therefore are largely totally ignored.

Having lived in Rwanda I now really appreciate being able to turn on a tap and have a drink or a wash, and a hot shower is still a treat! Food was also a problem, as even when you could buy it I never quite mastered the kerosene stove, which repeatedly turned myself and the food black!

Always SmilingWhat I miss about Rwanda are the smiling faces; they have relatively little to smile about but a smile is always there. Perhaps I’d better not dwell on the warm sunny weather also (although it could be quite chilly morning and night.)

Avis Curry
October 2007


In case you're wondering, no-one from Rwanda has visited this blog yet. Of the 35 countries where visitors have come from, only three are in Africa: Morocco, Egypt and South Africa. There's lots of information on the web about education in Rwanda, so if you want to know more, start here.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Uncertainty Over Decision Day

During the consultation period, which closed on 6 July, we were told that DCC would review the results of the consultation and make a decision on what happens next by the end of September.

That became an expected date of mid October for a DCC Cabinet meeting. The reason we were given for the delay was that there was a large amount of documents and letters for DCC to process, and compile into a report.

But now we've learned that the DCC Cabinet members have not been able to set a date on which they will have finished 'gathering views' and will decide the fate of Combs Infant School, Village Hall and Chapel.

Meanwhile, our village school has opened for a new term and is operating as normally as it can, given its uncertain future.

The decision by DCC affects dozens of children, and scores of families, for a long time to come. We wish DCC would get on with their decision-making.

How hard can it be, for DCC to recognise that preserving a precious asset is the right thing to do?



A reminder of what can happen next...
Once DCC has (in their own good time) reviewed all of the input they received during the consultation period, their Cabinet, led by the member responsible for schools (Alan Charles, pictured right, defending the indefensible) will decide whether to press on (if they haven't come to their senses) and publish the formal notice of intended closure of the school. If they (stupidly) do that, there's then a further six-week period in which they will accept more input. At the end of that period, they decide whether to continue with the closure (against all reason).

So, be prepared for this to run on into (at least) 2008.

Read the post on "The Legal Framework" for more details.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Appalled... After All The Hard Work

Another letter to DCC.

I am a long-time resident of Combs, and I am writing to express my opposition regarding your proposal to close Combs Infant School.

In 1990 I was elected a parent governor of Combs Infant School and played an active and rewarding part in the school management. My daughter was part of the fourth generation of our family to attend the school with two of my grandchildren currently attending as pupils today.

During my second year as governor, a structural fault in the building was identified and four years later the toilet facilities were deemed inadequate.

The Village Hall Trust was formed to secure an agreement with the Methodist Church, who owned the building, in order to seek the necessary funding to correct the structural problems. In 1996, temporary toilet facilities were brought onto the site, and the Village Hall Trust set about the task of incorporating the new toilets into an enlarged and much improved School/Village Hall.

I am appalled that fifteen years later, after all the hard work (manual in some cases), and fund raising by our community you are considering closing this success story on the grounds of economy. The school has gone from strength to strength with amazing academic and social results.

It appears likely that the closure of the school could be profoundly damaging to the local community, to the survival of the current, vital facilities, and to village cohesion. The Village Hall provides a critical facility, regularly used by all age groups, and this would potentially be no longer available if the school was closed.

I urge you, considering all these factors, to reconsider this proposal.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Village Life Is Gravely Threatened

This letter to DCC is from a Combs resident.

I am writing to add my voice to the many that are protesting against the authority's proposal to close our village school. I would like to draw attention to the wider role of the school and village hall as the focus of village life and our small community.

Combs is a rural farming community, the sort of village that keeps Derbyshire's tourist industry alive - yet the authority threatens to destroy the nature of the village that contributes to the wealth of the county as a whole.

In the last five years, Combs has lost its post office. We have not had a shop or newsagent in the village for many years. The library bus does visit once a week, but apart from that, the school and village hall is the only place where people can meet. Closing the school will damage the long term viability of the hall and strike yet another blow at rural life.

I do hope that my representatives on the county council do not knowingly destroy the fabric of life in the village that I enjoy living in so much.

Derbyshire County Council has a responsibility to those of us living in the rural parts of the county as well as those living in the county's towns and cities. I do not underestimate the challenges facing the county council but I think it would be a huge loss to the county as a whole if small communities like Combs become dormitories, with no local focus. Without the school and village hall, the fabric of our village life is gravely threatened.
DCC have had more than 200 letters about the proposed closure.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Manifestly a Happy School

This is another extract from the letter written to DCC by an ex-headteacher.

I understand that managing long-term issues like falling rolls is extremely difficult given short-term needs to balance annual budgets, but I would ask you to consider a long-term need which is of growing concern in the world of education and which will need to be addressed - namely, the happiness of children.

Any parent or teacher knows that children who are happy learn better than if they are distressed. Please therefore consider carefully not only the huge degree of distress that would be caused to the parents, children and community of Combs by the closure of its vigorously supported Infant School but the fact that it is manifestly a happy school.

In future years, given an unacceptable degree of unhappiness in the nation's school children, educational planners and teachers are going to have to give more thought to what makes children happy. Here at Combs you have a manifestly happy school, indeed the 'flagship' school that one of the parents mentioned. In many ways it could be the model for future infant schools and thought should be given to the notion that were Chapel Primary School smaller, it might well be better.

Balancing the books (and it's not as if a great deal of money is at stake here at Combs) is surely of less importance than the preservation of a school which has the secret of making children happy and wanting to learn. As Ofsted noted, it is a conspicuously successful school and you run the risk, by closing it, of replacing happiness - a rare thing in education - with unhappiness.

Can you really believe that you have picked the right school to close as you search for solutions to falling rolls (generally speaking) in the county?
Just a reminder: if you haven't already told DCC what you think about their plan to close an excellent school, write to them before they meet in October to decide the school's fate. Get involved: find out who to write to.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Dear Mr. Charles ...

A message from a six-year old pupil at Combs Infant School to Cllr. Alan Charles, DCC's Cabinet member for schools.

"I don't want you to close Combs Infant School, because I will lose my friends. This school is a church and people get married. I want my brother to go to this school."

Monday, 17 September 2007

Educationally Wrong Thing To Do

This time, the letter to DCC is from someone in Buxworth.

I understand well the problems of falling rolls, having worked in state secondary schools since 1963 and ending my career as Headteacher of Bramhall High School – one of England’s largest and most successful comprehensive schools.

Though I recognize the difficulties that DCC is under with regard to falling rolls, I accept the arguments so ably put forward at the meeting on 22nd May by the school, its parents and governors, and by those who operate the Methodist Hall as a community facility.

It is evident that anticipated rolls at Combs Infant School are not falling. Presently, far from there being a surplus of places, the school is actually two over its standard number and I am certain that it will continue to be under pressure for places for many years to come. Had there been surplus places the case for closure would have been stronger. As it is – and it makes sense to think of the area of Chapel-en-le-Frith, Whaley Bridge and Chinley as a whole in terms of the provision of education in the area – there is a great deal of building activity at the moment and Whaley Bridge and Chinley schools are already under pressure for places.

Moreover, as the parents demonstrated at the meeting, it is unlikely that the surplus of places at Chapel CE Primary School will be filled by parents who would otherwise have sent their children to Combs. Indeed, some will be tempted to take up places at Kettleshulme Primary School, which will cost DCC to send them to Cheshire.

I am certain that to close it now, for all those reasons which parents, governors and the community of Combs gave at the meeting, would be educationally the wrong thing to do.
There'll be more from this letter, later this week.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

MP Leaves Questions Unanswered

Referring to Tom Levitt's letter where he depicted himself as a 'critical friend' to both sides (campaigners and DCC), a Combs resident wrote to him in early August, as follows.

I now understand that you won't be trying to apply any influence on behalf of those of your constituents who are involved in the campaign to save the school.

For you to be the 'critical friend to both sides' that you wish to be, I think you could do more to ensure that accurate information is in the public domain. You repeated the figures that DCC started the closure proposal with, on your web site and in correspondence with people in the area. I'd like to see you correcting that information where it has now been proved to be false - for example, the calculation of per-pupil cost.

I'd also like to know, as I asked in my last message, what you have done to explain the funding arrangement for schools to those people who have complained about 'subsidising' Combs school. As you surely know, that is a view based on a misunderstanding of how the funding is organised.

You would do much to encourage balance if you would make a public correction of some of the key data used by DCC and repeated by you. Will you do that?
Tom Levitt's reply, a month later, left these questions unanswered.
I take exception to your suggestion that I "won't be trying to apply any influence" on behalf of the school in the current process which is being undertaken by Derbyshire County Council.

As I have explained before, I have no influence by virtue of my office and no statutory role in the procedure at all. However, I do believe that by using my status and experience I have succeeded in getting a lot of information into the public domain which is proving valuable to the campaign.

The principle upon which consultations work is that it is the strength of the argument which wins or loses the day rather than undue "influence"