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Friday, 19 October 2007

'H’ is for HARVEST,
‘H’ is for HOPE

It is Harvest Festival in the Church calendar.

This week, Combs Village Hall has seen two services to celebrate Harvest.

The Reverend David Philo presided over both occasions and led the congregation in thought and prayer.

First it was the turn of Combs 1st Brownies. On Wednesday 17th October, their regular weekly meet at Combs Village Hall & Chapel became a Harvest service.

The Brownies performed a delightful short play, Five Brown Bulbs, with accompanying songs and poems.

The audience joined in with some well-known Harvest hymns and songs such as ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’.

The service was followed by a chocolate and sweet tombola, Bring and Buy, and refreshments.

All proceeds will be going to help build a vocational training centre in war-torn Beirut for young people with cerebral palsy who want to learn a trade to help support themselves and their families.

Today, Friday 19th October, it was the turn of Combs Infant School.

The children had worked hard at learning songs and poems with a Harvest theme which they sang and read beautifully to parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters.

Mrs Curry spoke briefly about her recent experiences in Africa and the problems with transporting food to market.

A collection was made for Rwandan children whose lives have been devastated by the years of genocide.

H is for Harvest and H is for Hope. We hope that some lives will be improved by our fundraising activities in Combs this week.

We also hope that both these services will continue to be performed in our School, Chapel and Village Hall next year and in the future, as they have been for so many years - until a bad day last May when our Local Authority decided, in their wisdom, to threaten the age-old established rhythms of our quiet community for an extra few pence in their pot.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Outstanding Achievement Recognised

This logo will now be proudly displayed on the school letterhead, as a result of receiving a letter from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools today.

The letter opened with, "One of my most enjoyable duties is to publish a list of providers that were judged to be outstanding when they were inspected. Please accept my warmest congratulations on achieving this very high standard of practice. I do not underestimate the enormous hard work that it takes."

The letter goes on to invite headteacher Avis Curry to a conference in Birmingham, in January 2008, that will recognise schools which have achieved an "outstanding" classification. The conference will gather ideas on best practice and aims to use them to 'provide better outcomes for all learners'.

Ofsted's web site has the list of outstanding providers.

Remember, this isn't the first time that the work done by Avis Curry and her team has been recognised as outstanding by Ofsted.

In 2000-2001, the same 'outstanding' award was made to Combs School.

Avis was quoted in DCC's own newspaper "NW Insight", in 2002: "We're delighted that all our hard work has been recognised. The fact that we are a small school means that we can develop a really close relationship betweeen the home, school and children."

Another quote in the article also highlighted the role of small schools: "I would like to add my congratulations to staff, pupils, governors and parents at Combs Infant. It's particularly pleasing to see smaller schools on the OfSTED list and it provides a shining example of how smaller schools provide an excellent education for their communities."

Who said that? That's right, Councillor Alan Charles.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Other Schools Fight On

As reported by Zena Hawley in today's Derby Evening Telegraph.
Furious parents have vowed to fight on after the county council decided to go ahead with plans to close their children's school.

Derbyshire councillors voted yesterday to publish formal notices which could close Highfield Primary School, in Long Eaton, next summer.

They also agreed to proceed with closure plans for Castle Gresley Infants School and Apperknowle Primary, near Dronfield.

The move is designed to eliminate some of the 8,000 surplus places in schools across the county.

But parent Karen Beck, who has been helping to co-ordinate a campaign to keep Highfield Primary open, said that everyone at the 114-pupil school felt very angry about the situation.

Together with a number of parents from Long Eaton, Castle Gresley and Apperknowle, she attended the council cabinet meeting at Matlock yesterday.

When the council first proposed closing Highfield Primary School, it mistakenly estimated that it had 39 per cent of surplus space.

But it had taken into account two disused classrooms and, without them, surplus places were down to 24 per cent - just under the figure that triggers a review of surplus places in a school.

Mrs Beck said: "We feel that everything we have put forward has been turned around to suit the council's aim to close the school.

"And we are unhappy over the way the council keeps putting different pupil numbers forward to justify its stance."


Full Story on the Derby Evening Telegraph web site.

So, it's not just with Combs School that DCC has been accused of using inaccurate information. Are they incapable of using information that is correct, or just unwilling because they wouldn't win their argument if they did?

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

A Cry to Cabinet

A heartfelt appeal to DCC's Cabinet from a villager with children at Combs School.

I walked out of school last Thursday morning and I wept - yes, real tears - at the thought that this remarkable little place could be closed down.

I had left the children in the ‘big’ classroom being introduced, and introducing themselves, to the trainee teacher who has been seconded here for the ‘observation’ part of her course. They were all sitting cross-legged on the carpet, backs straight, eyes bright and interested. The discipline, yet the warmth, is exceptional. The soft smile on the face of the trainee teacher in response to the children said it all.

You cannot help but feel good in this school. They start five minutes early every Tuesday and Thursday now in response to new Government initiatives for children to get more exercise during the school day. Those little people are all out in the playground, the hills as backdrop down this quiet village lane, clutching white ropes and learning to skip. I often linger just to watch them. It’s wonderful seeing them trying to master this basic skill - some better than others! It’s wonderful to see them out in the fresh air, cheeks turning pinker by the minute. And it’s wonderful to hear from the teachers that it really sets them up for the day, helps them concentrate.

Yet again, it shows how this school consistently – even under the threat of closure – is making an effort to provide the very best for its pupils. Many would have given up, said ‘why bother?’ But this school hasn’t. It has immense spirit – and, once again, the example the teachers set rubs off on those small shoulders. It is these less tangible aspects of school life and education which this school excels at – not just the academic ones.

Is it really right that such a fine example of education in this country should have the sword of Damacles hanging over it? Just because it is a small village school? Just because it is a bit less economical to run? (Though let’s not forget its ‘outstanding value for money’ accolade in the eyes of Ofsted, eh?) Just because only a small number of children are actually lucky enough to have such a great start in life? If the Cabinet members at Derbyshire County Council decide on 30th October to push ahead with the closure, against all sense and logic, significantly more children will be deprived of a fantastic launch pad. This school could be open for many many more generations of children if they just left it alone. Every little helps, surely, in this broken world that we live in?

Combs Infant School is not broken. The things that need fixing are beyond Combs. We are victims of a situation not of our making. The teachers are doing everything that Government wants. Money is not the issue here. I implore those decision makers to understand that it is the teachers with their management skills and their passion for the job, where the children are the sole and primary focus of all that they do, that makes a school great. It is not all about money.

Yesterday I drove past the Village Hall and thought of the young children of Combs and surrounding area inside those old stone walls enjoying their hot lunch served up by Alan who calls them all ‘mate’ as he asks them what they want to eat. It is a micro world in there, a hive of learning activity, fun, games, music, art and sport. It is the beating heart of our community. Who in their right minds could even think of killing it dead?

The village would become very silent, a shadow of its former self, without the life that revolves round that hall and chapel – from infant education to adult education, from Brownies to baptism, from community fun days to weddings.

Think hard. Think very, very, hard. There is no going back, after all.

Closure Recommended
for Other Schools

At the DCC Cabinet meeting today, the future of the other schools that have undergone a public consultation will be discussed. (Agenda for the meeting)

DCC's web site has the news stories (and the reports being presented to Cabinet):

   Apperknowle PrimaryNewsReport
   Castle Gresley InfantNewsReport
   Highfield PrimaryNewsReport

Education officers have recommended to the politicians that the schools be closed. In response to the concerns of campaigners at each of the schools, it is said that "Councillors will be told that education officers believe these concerns can be addressed".

If this meeting acts on the recommendations of the education officers, formal notices of closure will be published.

UPDATE 16 Oct, 18:20
The recommendations were unopposed by anyone on the Cabinet, and barely even questioned. As we suspected earlier, it did appear that they weren't bothered.

DCC will now proceed with the formal closure procedure for the three schools.

UPDATE 17 Oct, 11:30
The presentation of the recommendations was said by observers to have contained "trivia", "contradictions" and "cheap shots". We'll post a link to the minutes of the meeting when they're posted on the DCC site, so that you can make up your own mind about that.

Monday, 15 October 2007

A Little More History

Do you know when this photograph was taken outside Combs School, or the identity of the children pictured? Please let us know if you do.

Old photo of Combs School - Thanks to Stefan at The Beehive for the loan of the photoWe've talked about the long history of Combs School before on this web site, to put into proper context what DCC proposes to bring to an untimely end.

Here's a little more history: the following is an extract from the book 'The Story of My Village' written and published by Marguerite A. Life Bellhouse in 1968.

Both the Sunday and Day School are now held in the Wesleyan Chapel, which was built in 1864. Prior to this, the Sunday School was held in a cottage near the Chapel, for some years, but at one time, both schools were held in the Reading Room at Rye Flatt.
1721John Wright of Baghouses, by Will, gave a rent charged of £2 per annum, "for the encouragement of a Schoolmaster into Combs Edge", providing the neighbours in the Edge would make up more within 12 months". The neighbours did not respond.*
1861The Day School was held at Ivy Cottage, and was kept by Miss H. Morten assisted by Mary Ann Fox. Miss Morten, who was to have been married, fell ill and decided it was not fair to her fiancé to wait for her recovery, which might not happen. Adam Fox encouraged her to start this school, which was very successful. Ivy Cottage, near the Bee Hive, has been enlarged (there were two then), and is now called "Little Corner"**.
1881The School was at the Wesleyan Chapel, and the Teacher was Miss Jackson, with a salary of £35 per annum.
1882The Teacher was Miss Bebbington.
1883The Teacher was Miss Goldstraw, and according to Mr. Jim Lomas, who was a pupil at the Chapel, she was the "best writer in Combs". His brother and sister went to "Ivy Cottage" School.
1886The Teacher was Miss Washington.
1887-94The Teachers were Miss Proctor and Miss White, the latter came from Leicester, and lodged with Mrs. Bagshawe at Smithy Cottages.
1894-97The Teacher was Miss Muir, who lodged at Smithy Cottages. One of the older girls, Abigail Clayton, held the post of pupil teacher to the infants. At this time, there were 42 pupils at the School, all taught by Miss Muir, until she had an assistant. Children came from the remote farm "Moss House", which is nearer Buxton than Combs, perhaps more than three miles distant. After Miss Muir came Miss Hetty Mortin, Mrs Shilton, Miss Voles and Mrs Coates.
1900The Sunday School was kept by Mrs Ollerenshaw.
1907 (Dec 21st) "A meeting, which may prove to historical, was held in the little hamlet of Combs on Thursday, December 12th. It was the first meeting of the Managers of the recently established Combs Council School, which hitherto, had been a Wesleyan School. The Managers are Mr. J. E. Lomas, Mr. Thomas Yates, Mr James Brocklehurst, Mr. Francis Bramwell, Mr. John Fallows and Mr. J. Hague. There followed a list of Teachers, and a discussion ensued about new chairs, desks and books."
1914Mrs. Shilton, of Lane End Cottages, taught here for some years around this time.
* Hmmm...not an easy start!
** Which happens to be the current home of this campaign's webmaster.