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Friday, 24 August 2007

Cabinet Review

The likely date - still to be confirmed - for the DCC Cabinet to review the report on Combs School is 16 October.

The report will be released a week before the meeting, so that's likely to be 9 October.

We'll update you if these dates change.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Tom Levitt, "Critical Friend"

Tom Levitt MP sent the following letter to several constituents at the beginning of July, giving his assessment of the 'state of play'.

Letter from Tom Levitt. Click on the image for a larger view.

(Click on the image for a larger view)

In the letter, Mr. Levitt says:
I committed myself from the beginning to helping make sure that this process was conducted in a manner which was transparent, open and fair to all concerned. To that end I have:
  • Visited the school and met children, staff and (on several occasions) parents

  • Worked closely with the Chair of Governors and other campaigners

  • Contacted DCC on several occasions, not least to challenge claims made by the authority, and made my findings available to the campaign

  • Tabled a Parliamentary Question on the criteria for closing rural schools, which produced a reply which was helpful to the campaign

  • Advised campaigners on which elements of your campaign to concentrate upon and which to refine; and on tactics

  • Highlighted your campaign on my web site and invited the public to comment

  • Contributed to a debate at a High Peak Constituency Labour Party meeting which voted to support your campaign.
What I have not done is behave in a way which raises your expectations unduly, hijacks your campaign to my own ends or supports claims which are not relevant or cannot be substantiated.

Meanwhile, you have generated an excellent campaign web site, several powerful documents about the school and its role in the village and significant support from third parties such as High Peak Borough Council.

It is clear that the impact on surplus places and the capitation levels of other schools, were Combs to close, would be minimal. What will not be clear for some time yet is whether these arguments are sufficient to win the day.
In an earlier letter to a constituent, defending himself against a charge of being 'limp and pathetically non-committal', Mr. Levitt wrote:
I do not have a say in the final outcome. I am not part of the decision-making process but I do want to see justice be done. The best way to achieve this is not by screaming opposition to the County Council but rather by helping the campaigners mount a strong, credible and well-argued case.
He laid out the steps he has taken so far (similar to the letter above), and went on:
I have also said that I understand the position of the County Council in needing to reduce the number of 'surplus places' in the school system. Quite frankly, any school that spends over £5,000 per year on each child would be able to produce 'excellent' results and it is difficult to justify maintaining the existence of a small school to serve a small community when most children do not live in the immediate environs of that school.

Tom Levitt, Critical FriendSo I think that I have been 'a critical friend' to both sides in this argument and I believe the campaigners have a strong chance of saving the school.

I should also tell you that I have had several letters of concern from parents of children in other schools, asking in strong terms why it is that children at Combs merit having 50% more cash spent on them than their children do at other schools.
Mr. Levitt has been made aware of the following by the campaign:
  • Cost per pupil is not £5,000 at Combs: it's significantly lower. This has been acknowledged by DCC's finance department.

  • There is no evidence of a simple correlation between amount of money spent and the results that a school produces. There are more expensive schools than Combs which achieve lower ratings. Results are determined by how well resources are used.

  • Most of the students attending Combs School do live in the valley. That's also true for the projected intake in the next few years.

  • Larger schools tend to have a lower cost-per-pupil because of economies of scale.
Mr. Levitt was asked at the beginning of August if he will correct misleading information on his web site (relating to per-pupil costs, school roll numbers, and location of students) which is a restatement of inaccurate information supplied by DCC. He has not replied.

What do you think? Could Tom Levitt do more? Should he?

Have your say in the comments, or e-mail Tom Levitt.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

"All The Things We Do Are Fun"

These letters were sent to Cllr. Alan Charles by two seven year olds at Combs Infant School.

"Please don't shut this school because all things we do are fun and all the friends that we have made we would have to split up. Little brothers and sisters that would like to come will not be able to do all the exciting things that we have done. We learn about exciting artists. We have lots of fun activities that we do with our fun teacher. There are no bullies in this school and if there is we sort it out straight away. When we learn things we learn them really quickly."

"Please do not close our school because it has no bullying and we learn a lot in our topics. We have fun when we play games. I really like my friends when they play with me. If you close our school I will have to go to a school far away. I don't want to do that because I live in Combs."

Monday, 20 August 2007

Trying to Destroy a Jewel

With Combs Fun Day behind us, let's return to the serious business of keeping Combs School, Village Hall and Chapel open, with another excerpt from a letter sent to DCC. This time it's from a concerned grandparent, who is also a long-time governor at another school.

I write in support of maintaining Combs Infant School as a valuable cog in DCC's educational wheel.

There are many arguments in favour, not least the need to continue to attract younger families to the village, thus ensuring that the community remains viable and well balanced in socio-economic terms. The school, and its associations with the chapel and the village hall as a homogenous unit and focal point for village life, is vital to the well-being of Combs.

Starting full-time school is no hurdle for very young children if they feel part of an extended family in familiar local surroundings. Throw them in at the deep end of a large county primary and they can founder and some will drown. Educationally, Combs is not about drowning (see the most recent Ofsted report) although DCC is currently proposing to push this successful school's head under water.

The decision to consider the closure of a successful and much-acclaimed village school further demonstrates that in the drive for bureaucratic correctness and budgetary 'efficiency', the human factor is very low on your list of priorities. I do urge you to think long and hard before destroying what ought to be one of the jewels in the crown of the Derbyshire Education Authority.
If you haven't already made your feelings known to DCC, find out who to write to.