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Friday, 21 September 2007

Appalled... After All The Hard Work

Another letter to DCC.

I am a long-time resident of Combs, and I am writing to express my opposition regarding your proposal to close Combs Infant School.

In 1990 I was elected a parent governor of Combs Infant School and played an active and rewarding part in the school management. My daughter was part of the fourth generation of our family to attend the school with two of my grandchildren currently attending as pupils today.

During my second year as governor, a structural fault in the building was identified and four years later the toilet facilities were deemed inadequate.

The Village Hall Trust was formed to secure an agreement with the Methodist Church, who owned the building, in order to seek the necessary funding to correct the structural problems. In 1996, temporary toilet facilities were brought onto the site, and the Village Hall Trust set about the task of incorporating the new toilets into an enlarged and much improved School/Village Hall.

I am appalled that fifteen years later, after all the hard work (manual in some cases), and fund raising by our community you are considering closing this success story on the grounds of economy. The school has gone from strength to strength with amazing academic and social results.

It appears likely that the closure of the school could be profoundly damaging to the local community, to the survival of the current, vital facilities, and to village cohesion. The Village Hall provides a critical facility, regularly used by all age groups, and this would potentially be no longer available if the school was closed.

I urge you, considering all these factors, to reconsider this proposal.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Village Life Is Gravely Threatened

This letter to DCC is from a Combs resident.

I am writing to add my voice to the many that are protesting against the authority's proposal to close our village school. I would like to draw attention to the wider role of the school and village hall as the focus of village life and our small community.

Combs is a rural farming community, the sort of village that keeps Derbyshire's tourist industry alive - yet the authority threatens to destroy the nature of the village that contributes to the wealth of the county as a whole.

In the last five years, Combs has lost its post office. We have not had a shop or newsagent in the village for many years. The library bus does visit once a week, but apart from that, the school and village hall is the only place where people can meet. Closing the school will damage the long term viability of the hall and strike yet another blow at rural life.

I do hope that my representatives on the county council do not knowingly destroy the fabric of life in the village that I enjoy living in so much.

Derbyshire County Council has a responsibility to those of us living in the rural parts of the county as well as those living in the county's towns and cities. I do not underestimate the challenges facing the county council but I think it would be a huge loss to the county as a whole if small communities like Combs become dormitories, with no local focus. Without the school and village hall, the fabric of our village life is gravely threatened.
DCC have had more than 200 letters about the proposed closure.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Manifestly a Happy School

This is another extract from the letter written to DCC by an ex-headteacher.

I understand that managing long-term issues like falling rolls is extremely difficult given short-term needs to balance annual budgets, but I would ask you to consider a long-term need which is of growing concern in the world of education and which will need to be addressed - namely, the happiness of children.

Any parent or teacher knows that children who are happy learn better than if they are distressed. Please therefore consider carefully not only the huge degree of distress that would be caused to the parents, children and community of Combs by the closure of its vigorously supported Infant School but the fact that it is manifestly a happy school.

In future years, given an unacceptable degree of unhappiness in the nation's school children, educational planners and teachers are going to have to give more thought to what makes children happy. Here at Combs you have a manifestly happy school, indeed the 'flagship' school that one of the parents mentioned. In many ways it could be the model for future infant schools and thought should be given to the notion that were Chapel Primary School smaller, it might well be better.

Balancing the books (and it's not as if a great deal of money is at stake here at Combs) is surely of less importance than the preservation of a school which has the secret of making children happy and wanting to learn. As Ofsted noted, it is a conspicuously successful school and you run the risk, by closing it, of replacing happiness - a rare thing in education - with unhappiness.

Can you really believe that you have picked the right school to close as you search for solutions to falling rolls (generally speaking) in the county?
Just a reminder: if you haven't already told DCC what you think about their plan to close an excellent school, write to them before they meet in October to decide the school's fate. Get involved: find out who to write to.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Dear Mr. Charles ...

A message from a six-year old pupil at Combs Infant School to Cllr. Alan Charles, DCC's Cabinet member for schools.

"I don't want you to close Combs Infant School, because I will lose my friends. This school is a church and people get married. I want my brother to go to this school."

Monday, 17 September 2007

Educationally Wrong Thing To Do

This time, the letter to DCC is from someone in Buxworth.

I understand well the problems of falling rolls, having worked in state secondary schools since 1963 and ending my career as Headteacher of Bramhall High School – one of England’s largest and most successful comprehensive schools.

Though I recognize the difficulties that DCC is under with regard to falling rolls, I accept the arguments so ably put forward at the meeting on 22nd May by the school, its parents and governors, and by those who operate the Methodist Hall as a community facility.

It is evident that anticipated rolls at Combs Infant School are not falling. Presently, far from there being a surplus of places, the school is actually two over its standard number and I am certain that it will continue to be under pressure for places for many years to come. Had there been surplus places the case for closure would have been stronger. As it is – and it makes sense to think of the area of Chapel-en-le-Frith, Whaley Bridge and Chinley as a whole in terms of the provision of education in the area – there is a great deal of building activity at the moment and Whaley Bridge and Chinley schools are already under pressure for places.

Moreover, as the parents demonstrated at the meeting, it is unlikely that the surplus of places at Chapel CE Primary School will be filled by parents who would otherwise have sent their children to Combs. Indeed, some will be tempted to take up places at Kettleshulme Primary School, which will cost DCC to send them to Cheshire.

I am certain that to close it now, for all those reasons which parents, governors and the community of Combs gave at the meeting, would be educationally the wrong thing to do.
There'll be more from this letter, later this week.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

MP Leaves Questions Unanswered

Referring to Tom Levitt's letter where he depicted himself as a 'critical friend' to both sides (campaigners and DCC), a Combs resident wrote to him in early August, as follows.

I now understand that you won't be trying to apply any influence on behalf of those of your constituents who are involved in the campaign to save the school.

For you to be the 'critical friend to both sides' that you wish to be, I think you could do more to ensure that accurate information is in the public domain. You repeated the figures that DCC started the closure proposal with, on your web site and in correspondence with people in the area. I'd like to see you correcting that information where it has now been proved to be false - for example, the calculation of per-pupil cost.

I'd also like to know, as I asked in my last message, what you have done to explain the funding arrangement for schools to those people who have complained about 'subsidising' Combs school. As you surely know, that is a view based on a misunderstanding of how the funding is organised.

You would do much to encourage balance if you would make a public correction of some of the key data used by DCC and repeated by you. Will you do that?
Tom Levitt's reply, a month later, left these questions unanswered.
I take exception to your suggestion that I "won't be trying to apply any influence" on behalf of the school in the current process which is being undertaken by Derbyshire County Council.

As I have explained before, I have no influence by virtue of my office and no statutory role in the procedure at all. However, I do believe that by using my status and experience I have succeeded in getting a lot of information into the public domain which is proving valuable to the campaign.

The principle upon which consultations work is that it is the strength of the argument which wins or loses the day rather than undue "influence"

Why Mend What Isn't Broken?

With just a few weeks to go before the Cabinet at DCC considers the report that is being compiled by a DCC officer on the proposed closure of Combs School, it's time to give you more excerpts from the large number of letters sent to DCC.

This letter to DCC is from a Chapel-en-le-Frith resident.

Ours is a farming area, and children have by tradition been cared for in small schools until old enough to undertake longer journeys. There is also the question of facing large numbers of children in school, when their own environments are fairly enclosed or even isolated. These infants have shown, by the awards they have won, that this system works for them.

They have excelled at this little country school. So why mend it, when it isn't broken?

Please think again about the effects the closure of this little school will have on our local community. Please consider its excellent track record, and leave it open for my grandson to find - he will NEED it.