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Saturday, 26 May 2007

Tom Levitt MP writes to DCC

After his visit to Combs on 25 May, and his meeting with us, Tom Levitt has written to Councillor Alan Charles at DCC with a series of questions:

  1. What impact would closure have on the county’s finances and surplus places reduction programme?
  2. What other measures could be used to reduce surplus places?
  3. How have you calculated the net travel costs and carbon footprint implications of closure?
  4. Does DCC have the final say?
  5. Parental choice: are not all but one of the nearest schools to Combs faith schools?
  6. Is there not a presumption in favour of ‘excellent’ schools being protected in the Act?
  7. How do you assess the impact of closure on a rural community?
Under 'Political considerations', Mr. Levitt says:

‘Closing a school renowned for its excellence’; ‘taking the heart out of a rural community’; ‘taking steps which will not make significant progress towards reducing surplus places’ and ‘reducing parental choice’ are all damaging accusations which need to be addressed by DCC. This is especially true if there is no longer a ‘safety net’ which parents can use to obtain an independent assessment of the Authority’s decision and the process being adopted.

Read the whole letter. We hope to be able to publish a copy of Councillor Charles' reply.

Tom Levitt has also tabled a written Parliamentary Question: "What weight should a local authority give to a consistent rating of ‘excellent’ when considering a small rural school for closure under a surplus places reduction strategy?" We'll keep you informed of the answer when we hear of it.

UPDATE 12 June

The following answer to Tom Levitt's written question was provided by Jim Knight (Minister of State (Schools and 14-19 Learners), Department for Education and Skills)

"Before publishing proposals to close a school a local authority must consult all interested parties on its proposals, including the school's staff, governors and parents, and other schools and local authorities likely to be affected. The authority must provide sufficient information and allow adequate time for those being consulted to form a view and make their views known, and it must take those views into account in deciding whether to go ahead and publish its proposals.

"When deciding proposals to close a school the local authority must take account of statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State. The guidance does not specify the weightings that decision-makers should apply to the various factors they take into account, but it makes clear that they must be satisfied that closing the school would contribute to raising the standard of provision locally and lead to improved attainment for children. The statutory guidance also includes a presumption against closing rural primary schools. Although this does not mean that no rural primary school will ever close, the case for closure needs to be strong."

UPDATE 22 June:

Read the reply from Alan Charles at DCC.

High Peak Labour Party requests rethink by DCC

The High Peak Constituency Labour Party met on 25 May as the Local Government Committee and General Council. There were no councillors from Derbyshire County Council present, but they nevertheless passed a resolution requesting the DCC Labour group to reconsider the closure of Combs Infant School.

Stoney Middleton Adjudication

Although there are very many differences between the situation of Combs School and Village Hall compared to what happened when Stoney Middleton school was also under pressure to close, we've been advised to look at the findings of the School Adjudicator in that case.

So, here's a link to the judgement of the School Adjudicator on the proposal by Derbyshire County Council to close Stoney Middleton School.

How do you think that relates to our position in Combs? Please comment.

DCC Cabinet Meeting - 15 May

A report put before the DCC Cabinet on 15 May has now been posted on the web.

Snappily titled "Report of the Strategic Director for Children & Younger Adults School Places Planning and Surplus Capacity Proposed Re-organisations of Primary School Provision (Schools)", you can download it here (PDF document).

About Combs, it said:

It is proposed to close Combs Infant School and for the normal area to be absorbed into that of Chapel-en-le-Frith CE Primary School, the neighbouring school to which most pupils transfer for Key Stage 2 education. There are just 25 pupils on roll (Jan 2007) at this Infant School and of these, only 10 live within the normal area. Hence, this is providing a high cost education for a majority of out of area pupils, 13 of whom live in the normal area of Chapel-en-le-Frith CE Primary school. However, it is acknowledged that Combs Infant School is classified as an isolated rural school as it is approximately 2.8 miles to Chapel-en-le-Frith CE Primary School from Combs. Hence, transport would need to be provided for some if not all of the small number of pupils living in that normal area. A further issue is that Combs Primary School received an excellent OfSTED Report in 2006.

DCC's research is faulty. Most pupils do not transfer to Chapel-en-le-Frith, as has since been admitted by DCC. Such a basic error makes you wonder how many other 'facts' they've got wrong.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Look Out Rwanda!
Mrs. Curry is coming!

This morning's meeting with Tom Levitt was interrupted for a while, to watch year 2 pupils say farewell to headteacher Avis Curry.

She will be going to Rwanda for a while, to mentor teachers there and hopefully take a little of Combs' magic with her.

Pupils gave her gifts, and reminders of Combs that she can share with the people she meets in Rwanda.

A poem by the children, accompanied by a rhythmic drum beat, gave a message to the people and animals of Rwanda to look out for Mrs. Curry!

Tom Levitt MP visits Combs

Tom Levitt spent one and a half hours at Combs School today, meeting with school governors, school staff, parents and villagers.

It was an opportunity to discuss with our MP some of the many questions and concerns that we have. The details of the proposal for school closure made by Derbyshire Council were examined, with several elements of their case being brought into question.

Chairman of the school governors, Nye Rowlands, told Mr. Levitt that in his view the threat of closure was something that should receive national attention, and not just be of local and county concern. “How is it possible”, he asked, “when the government talks of ‘education, education, education’, for an excellent school to be threatened in this way, with no guarantee that better education will somehow result from its closure?”

Mr. Levitt replied that the reputation of the school and its headteacher, Avis Curry, were ‘legendary’ and the quality of the education was beyond question. The mentoring role that Mrs. Curry undertakes with other schools was explained to him.

Mr. Levitt ended the meeting by explaining that although the decision would be made by Derbyshire County Council, he would be raising some points with the Council as a consequence of the meeting.

He said, “I have learned some new information this morning, and I feel that the arguments for keeping the school open are stronger now than I thought they were before I came.”

“I believe that the discussion is far from over”, he went on, “and while it will be the strength of your argument that determines whether you win, rather than who makes the points, I am now better able to ask questions and make sure this closure threat is properly considered.”

UPDATE: Read the letter written to DCC by Tom Levitt following the meeting.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

'Daft' Closure is Act of Vandalism

This article by Louise Bellicoso appeared in the Buxton Advertiser on 24 May.

CLOSING Combs Infant School would be "an act of vandalism" to help the County Council meet performance targets, according to a Derbyshire County Councillor.

Cllr Barrie Taylor, who represents the Whaley and Blackbrook ward, which covers Combs, made the comments at a public meeting held at the school on Tuesday night.

More than 200 people attended the meeting, including Cllr Alan Charles, county council cabinet member for schools, who had earlier in the day met pupils, staff and governors.

Cllr Taylor said: "I don't think this is really about money. I think this is very much about performance indicators.

"I would like to ask Alan Charles, based on what he has heard tonight, and the details in the presentation, can he immediately make the decision to take this no further?

"To propose the closure of a school with such high standards of excellence as this school, for no benefit elsewhere, I think that would be regarded as an act of vandalism."

The meeting began with Cllr Charles outlining the reasons why the school had been earmarked for possible closure.

"There is a problem with falling rolls right across the county," he said.

"It is a very difficult position every local authority is in and the council have to grapple with.

"We know the distress that can be caused to people with possible closures.

"People quite rightly have an awful lot of attachment, a lot of sentiment.

"However, we have to deal with the amount of funding allocated by government.

"Strategically we have a responsibility to ensure we get the very best value for money that is put in by the public purse."

Cllr Charles added that he could not make the decision to end the proposals because he did not have the authority, and that the decision would ultimately be made by the council's cabinet.

Parents and parent governors put forward a presentation outlining their case to save the school.

Suzie Denton said: "Can the closure of an "outstanding" school be in the best interest of pupils and teachers? We think not.

"We think there is not a strong case for the closure of Combs Infant School.

"This school is in the top ten per cent in the county* and we certainly don't want to close a school in the top ten per cent.

"It is at the heart of the community: let's have it at the heart of the community for another 130 years."

The meeting also heard that the village hall, which is in the school building, could be under threat if the school were to close.

Mike Evanson, chairman of the village hall trust said:"We can't say at this point in time how we can continue in the present form and we need this because the community gets so much out of it."

Chair of governors Nye Rowlands said Stoney Middleton School had been saved after 9,000 letters of support had been sent to the education authority:

"We need to make sure every letter put forward has the village community at heart," he said.

"If people do this I am quite sure that Derbyshire County Council would be forced to reconsider its proposals, which are the daftest thing I have ever come across and I have been in education for 46 years."

*Actually, Suzie said that the school is in the top 10% in the country, not county.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Not the First Time

Mike Evanson (Chairman of the Trustees of the Village Hall Trust) recalls past community support for the School and Village Hall.

"The story begins in 1865, when the residents of Combs funded the building of a chapel and gave it to the Wesleyan Church. In 1992, structural defects were spotted that meant the 70 or so years of use as a school would be brought to a sudden end.

"But the community of Combs rose to the challenge, and the £44,000 that was raised enabled the school to continue, albeit with no extra space being provided for community activities.

"The next challenge came in 1996, when an Improvement Notice was served, requiring changes to the toilet facilities. The Trust put in a short term solution by renting portaloo toilets and then set out to find the means to enhance the village amenities. In 1997, a project team in the village had fought for and won grant funding of £53,000. This was matched by funds - either in kind or cash - raised by the community, and the £106,000 project to build the village Hall began.

"The result was what you see today - a multi use facility comprising a school with two classrooms, a Village Hall and a community Church, which is used by all ages for a wide variety of community activities.

Mike concluded, "We believe that the responses to the past challenges within Combs demonstrate beyond doubt the wholehearted and energetic community support. However, given the nature of the partnership model - between Methodists, Village Hall Trust, and the School - our view is that the proposed closure of Combs School would have a significant detrimental effect on the ability of the community facilities to survive."

Plan of the building at time of 1997 extension.

Help Prepare for Chapel-en-le-Frith Council Meeting

Posted on behalf of Hugh Barton

As part of the campaign to Save Combs Infant School, a presentation will be made to Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council during the Open Forum part of their 5 June meeting.

It is intended to set out a simple argument which will demonstrate why the proposed closure of Combs School is not only against the interests of Combs Infants pupils, but also against the interests of other pupils in schools within our parish, and why the DCC consultation process is inadequate.

We aim to get the Parish Council’s support in our campaign.

We are only allowed to put our views forward in one ‘sitting’ and with this in mind, Hugh Barton is preparing a number of set points and questions.

If you intend to come along, or have any material to be included, please e-mail Hugh Barton (or Tel: 01298 816 618)

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Consultation Meeting
- What Did You Think?

Were you there this evening? What did you think?

Were there arguments on either side that seemed persuasive to you?

Share your reaction: add a comment.

Consultation Meeting - 22 May

Representatives of Derbyshire County Council came to Combs today. After meeting with the school staff and the governors during the afternoon, a public meeting was held in the school playground.

More than 200 people came to the meeting - significantly more people than live in the village.

Alan Charles from DCC explained why the Council believes the school should be closed.

Some of the governors gave a prepared response to the Council's consultation document, and then Mike Evanson (Chairman of the Trustees of Combs Village Hall Trust) explained the long history of support for the school from the community.

The DCC representatives then answered questions, and listened to objections, from school governors, villagers and local politicians.

The sun disappeared behind Ladder Hill, and after two and a half hours, the meeting ended in the chilly dusk. The discussion continued in the pub of course...

More photos in this slideshow.

These documents were used in the presentation to the DCC representatives:
Combs Village Hall Trust presentation (1Mb Powerpoint file)
Consultation Meeting Presentation (5Mb Powerpoint file)

Monday, 21 May 2007

Combs School on BBC TV

The threatened closure of Combs School was featured on tonight's North West Tonight local news programme.

Click the image to show the video. If that doesn't work on your computer, try opening in Media Player.

North West Tonight - 21 May

Dave Guest, chief reporter for BBC North West Tonight, has been at school all afternoon filming and interviewing. His report should go out tonight unless a huge story comes in and bumps it off till tomorrow. So turn on the telly, BBC 1, 6.30pm!

UPDATE (21 May 07): The report was featured on North West Tonight. We hope to be able to post a link to the report if and when it's placed on the BBC site.

Public Meeting - 22 May

There is to be a public meeting at the school on 22nd May at 6:30pm.

Please come along to express your views. If you care, you need to speak up!

This is a consulation meeting organised by Derbyshire County Council, who "... would like to receive the views of all interested parties concerned prior to determining whether or not to proceed to the publication of a formal notice on the proposal."*

Find the school with this map:

* See also "The Legal Framework".

The Legal Framework

A Consultation Document has been produced by the Children and Younger Adults Department of Derbyshire County Council. Entitled "Proposals for a Re-Organisation of Primary Education, Combs Infant School", it has this to say about the legal process.

The statutory procedures relating to school closures are contained within Part 2 and Schedule 2 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, Regulations made under the Act, and statutory guidance issued to Local Education Authorities (and other relevant bodies) by the Department for Education and Skills.

Any proposal by a local education authority ("the Authority") to close a maintained school must be preceded by a process of public consultation ith all interested parties following which the Authority will determine, in the light of the responses to the proposal, whether or not to proceed with publication of formal statutory notices. If a decision is made to publish notices, there follows a statutory period for representations during which written objections or letters of support to the proposal may be sent to the Authority. If there are no objections, and the proposals are not related to other proposals, the Authority must determine [within a prescribed period] whether to implement the proposals.

If there are objections to the proposals, the Authority must consider the proposals, [within a prescribed period], and may reject them, approve them, or (subject to certain further consultation) approve them with modifications. If this is not done [within the prescribed period] the Authority must refer the proposals, and the Authority's comments on them, to an independent Adjudicator, appointed by the Secretary of State. The Authority must refer proposals to the Adjudicator in certain prescribed cases, and it must refer proposals that it has already determined to the Adjudicator, if a request is made by the Roman Catholic or Anglican Diocese.

All proposals referred to the Adjudicator will be considered afresh and his or her decision is binding on all parties.

See also "Who to Write To"

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Tom Levitt wants to hear your views

Tom Levitt (MP for High Peak) is asking for people's views on the threatened closure of Combs School, via his web site, where it says:

Tom Levitt met some parents of children from Combs Infant School at his advice surgery on 12 May where he discussed the proposed closure with them and advised them on how best to put their case forward.

Mr Levitt told parents:

"As the number of children in our schools falls of course it is right for DCC to try to remove costly 'surplus places' from the system. This will release money to spend on children's education rather than waste it. In many parts of the country our smallest schools, like that at Combs, would have been closed long ago - but Derbyshire has shown a great commitment to these schools and their communities over the years. Whilst it is clear that Combs Infants provides an excellent standard of education for its 25 children, many of whom do not live in the village, it does so at a cost of half as much more money again per pupil as most High Peak schools enjoy.

"I am not involved in making this decision but I see it as my responsibility to try to help the process work smoothly. Parents must get a fair hearing and DCC's case must be properly evaluated. At the end of the day we need a solution which is fair to all concerned, both in the Combs community and in schools across High Peak."

Mr Levitt noted that parents at Stoney Middleton school, faced with a similar problem, had won the right to appeal against a closure decision and the MP advised Combs parents to liaise with them on how best to campaign on the issue.

Visit Tom Levitt's web site to post your opinion. He can also be contacted by e-mail - the link is on the right hand side of this page.

If you get a response, let everyone know. The comments can be used for that.