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Saturday, 9 June 2007

It Could Be Stopped Now

Since the consultation began, DCC has become aware of additional and more accurate information. More than one politician who has looked at the matter has concluded, contrary to DCC's proposal, that Combs School, Village Hall and Chapel should stay open.

On June 13, representatives* of the campaign will go to the Council meeting in Matlock, and ask the following question of Alan Charles (pictured right):

"Since the consultation process began in May, we have sought to explain the strong community support for the School, Village Hall and Chapel. We have shown in meetings with the Council and others, to be supported by the submissions that we will make to Council, that the objectives of the Council to reduce surplus school places and improve educational standards will not be achieved by the Council's proposal. Has this strong evidence and support for the continuance of Combs School, Village Hall and Chapel already persuaded the Council that the proposal for closure should be set aside?"

We believe that Councillor Charles was misinformed when he said, at the consultation meeting, that he wasn't able to halt the process now. Section 4.69 of the DfES guide to LAs ("Closing a Maintained Mainstream School") says "Proposals may be withdrawn at any point before a decision is taken". The DCC meeting will be the opportunity for Councillor Charles to join with the other politicians who've already expressed their views on this web site.

*If you're able to go to Matlock to support him, please let Mike Evanson know.

Friday, 8 June 2007

More Support from High Peak Council

We just received this message from Tony Bingham:

"Recently elected to High Peak Borough Council as the Councillor for the Blackbrook Ward, which includes Combs, I attended the public meeting at the school.

After my meeting with the headteacher, I fully understand the issue, and offer my full support."

Let's Kick this Closure into Touch!

Yet another example of the 'added value' that is Combs Infant School, as mentioned in their 'outstanding' OfSTED report - two football coaches from Derby County Football club are at the school this morning teaching the children how to kick!

First off, though, after some initial warming up, the coaches asked the children: "Who is the only person in the football team who's allowed to touch the football?" Hands were enthusiastically stuck up. "Yes, the goalie".

Catching and bouncing skills were duly entered into with the warning, "But don't throw your ball into the wildlife garden!"

If ever there was a multi-faceted learning environment, it is Combs Infants - and much of that goes down to the leadership skills of the Head Teacher.

Indeed, this is the first day that the school is without Avis Curry until her return in September. She is boarding a plane today to take her to Rwanda to carry out her mentoring role to teachers over there for three months. The school is left in the more than capable hands of Mrs Irwin, Mrs Jackson, Mrs Whittaker, Mrs Smith and student assistant Charlotte.

As the new pupils, due to start in Reception in September, today begin their Friday initiation sessions into the vibrant life of this remarkable little school - is this not the time to shout 'LET'S KICK THIS CLOSURE INTO TOUCH!'?

We want the school to be there for many more children in the years to come, to enjoy and benefit in their future lives from the marvellous start they get at this resoundingly HAPPY village school - just as many generations have done before them.

It's not just the school that has heart, it's the heart of the village. Let's keep it that way.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

1993: Combs School Lifeline

No, this isn't a current headline, it's from The Reporter in 1993. It was a report of how villagers in Combs came up with a rescue plan for the school, village hall and chapel, so that a large repair grant could be secured from the Peak Park. Without that 'lifeline', we wouldn't have a school and village hall to defend today.

Download a scan of the newspaper (5Mb TIF file)

Help with Letters to DCC

We've had a few questions from people around the village. While they're passionate about keeping the school open, they're not sure how to go about writing a letter of opposition to DCC. So we want to provide some assistance.

Now, DCC aren't going to take any notice of the letters they receive if they've just been copied from a template. They need to hear everyone's views, in their own words.

But if you're stumped as to how to put your letter together, here are a few suggestions.

Start your letter by explaining who you are, what your attachment to the school and village hall is, and how long that connection has been.

Then, list the reasons why you think the proposed closure shouldn't go ahead.

And finally, tell DCC how strongly you feel about the importance of keeping Combs School, Village Hall and Chapel open, for yourself and the wider community.

These are some of the reasons that people have already written to DCC about - they may correspond to some of your own ideas. A good letter would probably only talk about three or four of these ideas at most.

  • Village Hall and school is centre of community (make reference to any event you attend there e.g. fun day)
  • Closure would take away the heart of the community, since financial viability of Village Hall is linked to the school
  • Only other village amenity is the pub
  • Village hall provides community centre (community group, brownies, sewing circle etc.)
  • I have attended weddings, christenings etc at Village Hall
  • The school has recently achieved an “outstanding” assessment by Ofsted
  • Why would you close an excellent school when the government and opposition is focused on improving education?
  • Closure of the school will not address the surplus places at Chapel, since there is not a history of children going from Combs Infant School to Chapel
  • Given that Combs Infant School is an outstanding school, its closure cannot serve to improve the overall standard of education provided in the area
  • There is a presumption against the closure of rural schools
  • I/my children/other relation received a great education and start in life at Combs pupils
  • Closure of the school will require the provision of additional transport from the village, increasing the carbon footprint
  • The cost saving in closing Combs Infant School will be of no material benefit to the wider population of Derbyshire pupils

Various villagers have offered to help anyone with letter-writing - particularly the elderly - so if you know of anyone who needs help, please let the Campaign Team know.

Find out who to write to, and read excerpts from letters that have already been sent to DCC.

School takes fight to
Prime Minister Tony

This article by Johanna Dollerson and Louise Bellicoso appeared in the Buxton Advertiser on 6 June 2007.

PARENTS fighting to save an outstanding village school from closure have created a petition on the Prime Minister's official website. The petition has so far attracted over 25* signatures since it was created on Monday.

And it is in addition to a petition launched around the village which has already been signed by more than 1,000 people as the fight continues to save the school which has been earmarked for possible closure by Derbyshire County Council.

You can view and sign the online petition at

A unanimous vote of support for Combs school was given by Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish councillors at their meeting on Tuesday, June 5.

They agreed to send a letter to Derbyshire County Council backing the villagers' fight to save their school.

Councillor Guy Martin said: "It would destroy the centre of Combs to lose this excellent primary school.

"The village centre will die with the double loss of the village hall and the school."

*Over 50 as of this morning.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

When Are You Coming, Gordon?

From a letter sent to a Combs resident by the "Gordon Brown for Britain" campaign team:

"I have noted the issues you raise regarding Combs Infant School. As Gordon travels the country over the next few weeks, meeting people in all areas, these are exactly the kind of issues he wants to discuss ..."

Gordon has been photographed a lot in schools lately. This was the photo on the home page of his campaign web site today.

So if the potential closure of Combs School is exactly the kind of issue he wants to discuss, let's make sure he knows we'd like to explain to him why an outstanding school shouldn't be closed.

Let's all contact his campaign team, telling him we're ready to discuss Combs School, if he'd like to drop by on his campaign travels.

(Please leave a comment to tell us what response you get.)

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Unanimous Support from
Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council

At tonight’s meeting of Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council, councillors unanimously supported a motion of opposition to the closure of Combs School.

Hugh Barton spoke on behalf of Combs School, Village Hall & Chapel. In a carefully reasoned presentation to the Council, he described:
  • DCC’s objectives in reducing surplus places and making a fairer distribution of public funds, and how they would not be achieved by the moves DCC have proposed.

  • The flaws in the consultation process being carried through by DCC, where errors in the financial calculations have already been admitted, and the consideration of alternative solutions required by law has not been carried out.

  • The negative impact that the removal of the school and other community facilities would have on Combs and the whole parish.

Cllr Stewart Young, as Chairman of the Council, ensured that all the councillors who were able to – two had to abstain because they had declared an interest, in that they are governors of other local schools – could ask questions and give their views on the proposed closure of the school.

Cllr Peter Harrison informed the meeting that he had been a governor of Combs School until five years ago. He asked for clarification of whether the building was still in use for religious services, and was informed that marriages and baptisms still occurred, there having been recent examples.

Cllr Guy Martin recalled that he had attended the consultation meeting on 22 May. Going to the meeting, based on the evidence that DCC had presented, he had thought there was a case for Combs School to be closed. But having heard the case presented by DCC, and then seen the presentations made by parents and villagers, he had completely changed his mind.

Cllr Ann Young commented that the closure of the only community facility in Combs would be a ‘body blow’, which would leave Combs ‘irreparably damaged’.

Cllr Sara Armstrong wanted to understand some of the details of Hugh’s argument, including the inaccuracies contained in DCC’s proposal. She recommended deeper analysis of the effects of changed transport arrangements, should Combs School close, which Hugh undertook to do on behalf of the school. She ended her comments with, “I give this [the opposition to the closure] my full support. I would be very distressed to see the school closed.”

Cllr Stewart Young closed the discussion by saying, “You have a very good case”. With that, a motion was proposed to write to DCC to express Chapel-en-le-Frith Parish Council’s support for the continuance of Combs School, Village Hall and Chapel.

The motion was unanimously carried by all voting councillors present.

Mars Bars and Apples

With regard to the earlier post about Councillor Charles meeting the Combs Infants 'School Council' children, I think it was extremely unfortunate, let alone inappropriate in a school that promotes healthy eating, that he chose to use the following analogy to explain to the children why the school should be closed:

'It is all about money, children. Now, if I were to give you TWO Mars bars, and I were to give you (looking at another child) THREE Mars bars, now that wouldn't be fair, would it?'

The children were certainly no clearer as to why all their hard work and achievement should come down to Mars bars, and, frankly, neither am I.

And indeed, would it not have been more fitting and in the better interest of ALL the local children for DCC to have gone instead to the pupils at Chapel Primary and said, 'now, children, if you have two apples and others have three apples, then that wouldn't be fair would it? So, you know what, I'm going to give you ALL three apples.' I feel this would be rather more in the spirit of Education, Education and Education – and apples are cheaper than Mars bars too.

There is a perception at DCC that the education at Combs Infants is ‘Rolls Royce’ and that, with its closure, the children in Chapel-en-le-Frith would at least get more of a ‘Ford Mondeo’ education (but by the time you’ve spread the paltry savings around the whole county, even this seems idealistic). I wonder what Prime Minister Tony Blair (or even Gordon Brown) and his 2005 Educational Regeneration White Paper (‘Higher Standards, Better Schools for All’ - and the subsequent ‘Education and Inspections Bill 2006’) promoting ‘EXCELLENCE’ and ‘ASPIRATIONAL EDUCATION’ would have to say about this ‘dumbing down’ for the supposed, but highly questionable, greater good?

Why not email the Prime Minister and see? The link can be found on the No. 10 Downing Street website.

(The White Paper/Education and Inspections Bill 2006 is one of the growing number of research resources listed in this post.)

From a Combs Pupil's Granny

Excerpts from a letter sent to DCC:

"Our daughter has recently sent us news of Derbyshire County Council’s (DCC’s) proposal to close Combs Infant School. I write to express deep concern at this proposed measure, as my husband and I have been delighted by the phenomenal progress our granddaughter has shown in her two years at this excellent school.

"The DfES directive re closing rural schools advises that there should be ‘a presumption against the closure of rural schools…and that the case for closure should be strong and the proposals clearly in the best interests of educational provision in the area’.

"However, I feel the case is strong against closure of Combs School. These factors include the school’s outstanding record, its running at capacity with a waiting list and no spare places, and the superb leadership of Avis Curry. Further, the school’s excellence in providing value for money and efficient and effective use of resources is an important contribution in assisting DCC in its responsibility to ensure just such results, and also to maintain the area’s balance of faith and non-faith schools and thus maintain parental choice; the school also has a vital part in ensuring the continuing viability of the Village hall – central to the life and cohesion of the village.

"Considering all these factors, I urge DCC to reconsider this proposal."

Cllr Andrew Bingham Opposes Plan

Andrew Bingham, High Peak Borough Councillor and Conservative Parliamentary candidate for High Peak, was asked for his reaction to the proposed closure of Combs School. This is what he had to say.

"I find the proposals for the closure of Combs School unacceptable, badly conceived and illogical.

"The closure of an Ofsted rated ‘outstanding’ school in the hope that it will in some way address a surplus places issue in an alternative lesser rated school seems somewhat ludicrous. When you consider the further consequences such a course of action the proposals become even more incredulous. Should the school be closed, then the displaced children would be highly unlikely to be placed into Chapel school where the surplus places problem exists. This is evidenced by the present arrangements whereby children leaving the present school do NOT go to Chapel school, instead preferring better performing schools such as Kettleshulme.

"The very survival of the building depends on its continued use by the school. If it were to close then the future of what is a valuable community asset will be thrown into serious doubt.

"The financial reasoning of DCC also holds little sway when subjected to further scrutiny. The savings amount to approximately £55,000. This figure can be further reduced when alternative transport figures are taken into account. Likewise, as the children are displaced to schools other than Chapel, the savings are eroded even further.

"In short, as DCC claim, the plans are only at consultation stage, I would urge them to use the consultation period to listen to the well reasoned arguments of the parents, residents and locally elected Councillors. Listen, respond and then realise that this plan, if implemented could deprive a local community of a valuable facility, parents of a choice in education, and more importantly, deprive many children of an excellent education and the best possible start to their school career.

"As an elected Borough Councillor representing the Chapel West Ward, and also as the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for the High Peak, I object to this proposal. I will obviously submit my more detailed thoughts to the County Council as part of the consultation process."

Councillor Charles meets
the School Council

This is old news, because it happened on 22nd May, but the photos have only just become available.

Prior to the public meeting that day, Councillor Charles met with the school governors, and with the children at the school.

Councillor Charles is pictured (on the right, alongside officers of the Council) with the School Council.

The children said:

"We sent Mr Charles an invitation to come and talk to us as we were not included in the consultation. He came and talked to us about closing our school down. We know why Mr Charles wants to close our school, because it costs too much money, but we work hard and want our school and village hall to stay open for ever."

It Takes Time To Achieve Excellence

There follows an excerpt from a letter to DCC from a Combs couple who have resided in the village since 1964. The wife of the couple was a pupil at Combs School in the 1940s, and the husband was a Trustee and Treasurer of the Combs Village Hall Trust for a quarter of a century.

We have read with great dismay details of the proposal to close Combs School, and attended the meeting in the village with Councillor Charles on 22nd May. We understand the position of DCC, but cannot accept that the arguments put forward outweigh the fundamental points put by the representatives of the various parties from the school and the village.

The present government has put great emphasis on improving education standards over the last ten years, setting targets throughout the country. In Combs School, over almost twenty years, two Head Teachers and one Acting Head Teacher have raised its level to be in the top 10% in the country. What message does it send to teachers across the County to have such a school summarily closed? It is madness to close such a centre of excellence apparently to help meet a political target to fill places at Chapel Junior School. It may take a further twenty years to build the momentum to attain such excellence again.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Online Petition Launched

An online petition has been launched to supplement the petition that is gathering signatures in Combs and the surrounding area.

Full Details

Please note: Signing the petition is a two-step process. First you put your name and address in. You'll be sent an e-mail to the addressyou give. You need to click on the link in that e-mail to confirm your 'signature' on the petition.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Leaflet Distribution
in Chapel-en-le-Frith

The new leaflets will be distributed in the Chapel-en-le-Frith area next week as part of the regular delivery of newspapers by the kind people at Staley's Dailies. We are very grateful to them for their generosity in helping us to raise awareness of the campaign in this way.

Combs Community Group

The following is an edited version of a letter sent to DCC on behalf of Combs Community Group.

I am writing on behalf of members of the ‘Combs Community Group’ as we are extremely anxious to partake in a full and meaningful way in the DCC consultation, following our members attendance at the public meeting held in Combs on 22nd of May.

We use the Village Hall on a monthly basis, providing a programme of lectures, talks, demonstrations, organised visits, and social events for our membership. Our group also acts as a sounding board, identifying problems and issues affecting Combs village, individuals, groups and our environment. We provide a social platform for new villagers to find companionship or support and act as a local information signpost point.

Our survival depends on a constantly refreshed programme, speakers and events, and given the rising cost of speakers, our ability to develop and offer such a programme has only been possible through dedicated members and the close partnership with the Combs Village Hall Trust, with its strategy of supporting small village groups by supplying affordable facilities.

Our membership predominantly resides within the Combs Valley and Cockyard, and the Hall is the natural centre for our activities, as there is no other such socially inclusive group or equivalent facilities existing within the area.

Given this background, and the integrated nature of the operation of the ‘Combs Community Facilities’, we consider there would be damaging effects from the proposed closure on the rural community.

We respectfully request that the closure proposal be dropped, as we (in Combs and High Peak) would lose a school which is a proven model of educational excellence, and potentially also lose a well used and greatly appreciated community facility.