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Tuesday, 30 October 2007

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Alan CharlesHe referred to the Education Act 2005 (although that Education Act has been superseded by the Education Act 2006), saying that the school couldn't be closed because it could not be shown that doing so would improve educational standards in the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.


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.

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.


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.


(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.


combsman said...

When's the next Council election?

hb said...

I remain concerned about the competency of Cllr Alan Charles, who used errors of fact and judgement in opposing his own officers' recommendations to keep Combs School open.

He continues to propagate misrepresentative information by radio. Others in influcial positions pick it up and then it's in the public domain. If this is the proper way of cesision making by our councillors, it stinks !

I am alarmed that an educational decision maker in our county council can display such disregard for educational standards and reasoned arguments.

There are other ways of tackling surplus places. Why, oh why haven't these been properly investigated before subjecting the valued staff of the school and the whole community to an unnecesary and (presumably) costly consultation process ?