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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.

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