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Because the site is no longer maintained, those links no longer work.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

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Village Schools - Superb or Superfluous?

This blog was first posted 9th May 2007

I despair sometimes, I really do. Does excellence stand for nothing in this country? Is it really all about ‘the bottom line’? I have just received devastating news - for our little community at least. Our village infant school has been earmarked for closure.

This school is one of the key reasons I was prepared to unpick my life once again and move from the south to the north of the country. It is one of my strongest and most positive memories from when we first came to look at the house and the village. In the Autumn it was awarded the highest possible Ofsted inspection result and, as such, was put into the top 10 per cent of primary schools in the WHOLE country. This is a remarkable achievement for a school of 25 pupils. And it is all down to the dedication, vision and plain hard work of its Head and equally dedicated staff – one teacher, one assistant, one secretary – not to mention the strong parental input and board of governors. It featured in an article in the Primary Review just a month or two back about the quality and value to the community of our village schools. Its pupils leave in Year 2 with the abilities of most Year 4s. Thanks to the drive of the Head Teacher and her understanding that to remain open she has to achieve excellence and go for every financial subsidiary being offered, the school offers an incredible range, for such a small school, of ‘add-on activities’ and extra-curricular activities – swimming, ball skills, basketball, gym club, ICT both within the school and at the local secondary school, French club, card club…indeed, when we first visited the school it had more interactive white boards and computers than the private school our eldest daughter had been forced to attend in London (such was the impossibility of getting her into a decent state school in the over-crowded area of the city that we lived in). It was impressive. Put that together with a magnificent setting – clean air, startling views, quiet lane, sheep and cows and a very full programme of school trips and nature activities - and moving up here, rather than my husband weekly commuting, was an obvious decision. And you know what? – it really made me HAPPY that my children could be educated by the State, as they should be able to be, to a very high standard, in an inspiring environment.

But it seems that all that counts for nothing. Irrelevant the fact that they continue to build new housing without increasing the schools and doctors and dentists so that many of the local schools (again, in just the four years since we’ve been here) now have classes of 30 or more. Irrelevant that the village school brings a heartbeat to the community, already stripped of much of its youth by lack of job prospects and the ever-widening horizons of the modern world. The farming community has virtually been squeezed out of existence, it is now the turn of the young things who, with the tools provided by the excellence of their early education, setting them up for life, are to suffer. Instead of being able to walk to school, we will now have to drive to another, far bigger one, to sit at the back of a huge class and lose all that careful nurturing and attention that creates confident, capable young children, allowing them to make the very best of the next stages in their education. Am I being too idealistic? Or is the local government just being too short-sighted? When money is the issue – they claim the cost of educating each of our children is just too high – it is a hard battle to win. But in the end, you get what you pay for don’t you? Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Is that really what this country needs? Wouldn’t it be nice, just for once, to celebrate success, to celebrate excellence and turn a blind eye to the bottom line? When I think how much taxpayers’ money has been thrown away over the years – don’t get me on Iraq, don’t get me on the Greenwich Dome or the London Olympics. All very different areas of expenditure, to be sure, but I can’t help feeling the domestic coffers could be better prioritised.

I am not a political person. I am simply a person who has paid a lot of money to the government over the years and has, frankly, taken very little back out. I am someone who believes in investing in people, in giving everyone the best start possible in life. I just think it is time someone sat up and took a look at the balance and quality of the education in this country and the importance of the village school in maintaining the heart and spirit of the rural communities. Everything is so weighted towards urban environments that in trying to improve the inner city situation while centralising rural education, leading to the sort of overcrowding that is reminiscent of the urban scenario, there is a real danger of chucking the baby out with the bathwater.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Jargon, bullying and deceit - this is education on ration

Comment by Combs resident and founder-director of Plain English Campaign, Chrissie Maher.

Council's claims 'are unjustified'

This article by Louise Bellicoso appeared in the Buxton Advertiser on 16 May.

GOVERNORS and parents have slammed the criteria put forward as reasons for the proposed closure of Combs Infant school.
Derbyshire County Council last week said that the cost of educating pupils at Combs Infant School and the fact that most pupils move on to Chapel-en-le-Frith Primary School were reasons for closure.

However, parents and governors of the school, which scored an outstanding report in its last Ofsted inspection, say the criteria are inaccurate and misleading.

Chair of governors Nye Rowlands said: "Derbyshire (county council) asserts that many pupils go on to study at Chapel Primary when they reach the age of seven. This is not true. We cannot find a single pupil who went on to Chapel Primary for the last eight years."

A Derbyshire County Council spokesman said the claim had since been removed from a report, which went before the authority's cabinet on Tuesday, but that they stood by the other criteria put forward.

Mr Rowlands also said that the county council's statement about 15 of the school's 25 pupils living outside the school catchment area was untrue.

"Nobody has yet said that defining the "catchment area" for a school is an exact science," he said.

"Arbitrary lines on a map drawn up by bureaucrats do not reflect parental choice or lines of transport.

"The report claims that 15 pupils do not come from the local area but it does not add that no pupil travels more than 2.5 miles to reach the school and that many of the pupils in and out of the local area travel less than two miles to reach the school. Many walk."

County councillors agreed to put the plans out to public consultation when they met during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and there will be a public meeting at the school next Tuesday at 6.30pm.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Stoney Middleton school survives!

Stoney Middleton school was also threatened with closure. Friends of the school have managed to persuade the Schools Adjudicator to keep the school open.


Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Quality, quality, quality...

Combs Infant School is acknowledged as one of the best in the country and a credit to Derbyshire.

The 2006 OfSTED report (National Inspectors) said that: “Combs is an outstanding School ... the school provides outstanding value for money and enjoys great levels of support and confidence from parents and the community.....”

Yet Derbyshire County Council want to close it, despite the high demand from parents and the fact that the numbers attending this year are above the maximum allowed for the school. WHY?

They say it costs too much to run even though the costs are normal for a rural school and the saving achieved by closing it down is a paltry £53,175 a year.

They say that 15 children are from out of their defined local area even though all but one of the pupils live within 2 miles of the school - many walk to school on a daily basis.

They say that pupils go on to Chapel Primary when they finish at Combs so it doesn’t matter if they start there 2 years earlier. Only four from the same family have gone on to Chapel from Combs in the last 10 years (and that was for a specific set of family circumstances). In fact, most of the pupils go on to study in Cheshire and closure will only increase the number of pupils Derbyshire will have to pay for in a neighbouring authority.

The school uses the Methodist Chapel and the Village Hall in partnership with the Village Hall Trust. If the school closes then both the Trust and the Church would have a massive problem sustaining themselves given this major loss of income.

The school, which has been there for 126 years will cease to exist and we believe the problems for the Church and the Village hall will become desperate.

‘Outstanding’ School Under Closure Threat

A press release was issued by the campaign team today with the following text (you can download the MS Word document here)

A village school which is among the top 10 per cent in the country is threatened with closure in a row over funding.

The infants school in the picture postcard Peak District village of Combs in Derbyshire – rated ‘outstanding’ in all categories in the 2006 Ofsted report – has been told it must close next year. Education officials at the county council claim numbers are falling and closure will save around £70,000 a year.

But parents, staff and school governors say that if the 26-pupil school closes then the village hall and church will have to shut too, destroying the local community. Governors say officials are manipulating the figures to the point of dishonesty. When the correct like-for-like calculations are applied the saving is around £50,000 and can be further reduced by value add-ons like existing provision for special needs cases.

Parent governor Steve Lyons is outraged: ’The county claims that numbers are falling – but this is rubbish. Next year there’s a tiny drop but after that the school will be over-subscribed – as it always has been.’

Officials claim that most pupils are from outside the catchment area. But parents insist that all but one live within two miles and many walk to school on a daily basis. Closure would mean more car journeys at a time when the Government is trying to encourage more children to walk to school.

Chairman of governors Nye Rowlands, who spent his entire working life in education, says the closure is a national scandal: ‘They’ve taken leave of their senses. Ofsted got it right when it said the school provided outstanding value for money and enjoyed great levels of support and confidence from parents and the community.’

High Peak’s MP Tom Levitt has also been drawn into the dispute. He’s promised to take up the parents’ case with Derbyshire County Council and the Department of Education.

Governors say the real irony is that closure is likely to prove more costly for the county. The trend has been for parents to move their children across the county boundary into Cheshire – at Derbyshire’s expense - rather than to the primary school in nearby Chapel-en-le-Frith where no pupils have moved on to in the last seven years, contrary to the assertions of Derbyshire County Council.

Governor Steve Lyons adds: ‘We’ll fight this to the bitter end. This is exactly the kind of school the Government wants. It’s a jewel in the education crown and it should be expanded rather than closed.’

Monday, 14 May 2007

Derbyshire County Council's tag line

Improving life for local people? Which people?

Initial Response to DCC

The governors wrote to DCC today, giving an initial response to the Council's proposal for closure. It was hectic work, pulling this together in the very short time* that we have been given. The response need to reach DCC before their cabinet meeting on 15 May.

The full text of the response can be downloaded here.

* Just one week from the announcement being made by DCC. The council has been looking at surplus school places for almost three years.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Political Contacts


Tom Levitt MP (Labour), the MP for High Peak.
20 Hardwick Street, Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 6DH
Tel: 01298 71111

Ed Balls MP (Labour), Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
House of Commons, LONDON, SW1A 0AA
Tel: Constituency office - 01924 898158

Michael Gove MP (Conservative), Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
House of Commons, LONDON, SW1A 0AA
Tel: House of Commons - 020 7219 6804; Constituency office - 01276 472468


Barrie Taylor (Liberal Democrat), the County Councillor for Whaley Bridge and Blackbrook ward.


Tony Bingham (Conservative) Councillor for the Blackbrook ward of High Peak Borough Council.
36 Crossings Road, Chapel-en-le-Frith, High Peak, SK23 9RY
Tel: 01298 813800

Chris Pearson (Conservative) Councillor for the Blackbrook ward of High Peak Borough Council.
2 Portland Grove, Chinley, High Peak, SK23 6AD
Tel: 01663 751880

Andrew Bingham (Conservative), High Peak Borough Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for High Peak.
Dunloe, 11 Eccles Road, Chapel-en-le-Frith, High Peak, SK23 9RP
Tel: 01298 816187

Steve Sharp (Liberal Democrat), High Peak Borough Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for High Peak.
Stone Lea, Alsfield Way, New Mills, High Peak, SK22 3DD
Tel: 01663 740997


Mike Harrison.
126 Manchester Road, Chapel-en-le-Frith, SK23 9TP
Tel: 01298 813450

Peter Harrison.
21 Longmeade Drive, Chapel-en-le-Frith, SK23 0XP
Tel: 01298 812081


The Members of the European Parliament for the East Midlands can be contacted via this web site.

We would be grateful if you would send a copy of any letter to:

Save Combs School Campaign,
Combs Infant School,
Lesser Lane,
High Peak, Derbyshire,
SK23 9UZ

E-mail messages can be copied to the Campaign Team

Opposing the Closure
- Who to Write To

If you want to oppose the closure of Combs School, you should write to Derbyshire County Council.

The 6th July was the deadline for written comments on the consultation to be received by DCC, but the decision on whether to close the school will not be taken until September. So, if you feel strongly about the threat to the school, you should still write to:

Bruce Buckley,
Strategic Director of Children and Young Adults (ref: DEV/DAH),
Development Section,
Derbyshire County Council,
Chatsworth Hall,
Chesterfield Road,

You can also e-mail Dee Hill at DCC, by the same closing date.

You could copy your letter to one or more of the political contacts listed here.

If you need help with writing your letter, go here.

We would be grateful if you would send a copy of your letter to:

Save Combs School Campaign,
Combs Infant School,
Lesser Lane,
High Peak, Derbyshire,
SK23 9UZ

E-mail copies should be sent to the Campaign Team.

Ofsted Report: 'A Special Place'

Here's the opening of the last Ofsted report, in September 2006:

Combs is an outstanding school and inspection evidence fully endorses the school's judgement of its own effectiveness. The school provides outstanding value for money and enjoys great levels of support and confidence from parents and the community. A comment made by one parent and echoed by others was, 'This is a special place.'

Full Report