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Saturday, 27 October 2007

“And that’s just not fair,
  is it, children?”

Cast your mind back to when this ghastly closure business started. DCC pointed out that Combs School spends more money per pupil than other schools. Of course, that wasn’t a comparison with similar schools, just a crude comparison with all primary schools in Derbyshire.

Do you remember Alan Charles talking about that at the consultation meeting? He talked of his solemn duty with ‘public money’, and the need to ensure that every child in Derbyshire got the same deal. He even explained this concept to the children of the school council, with a weird analogy about why they should feel guilty about getting more Mars bars than other schoolchildren. He ended with, “and that’s just not fair, is it, children?”

Well, let’s look at another example of the distribution of public money.

Each year, DCC’s councillors get a Basic Allowance which is “designed to cover the time commitment of all Members in all meetings including those with officers and members of the public. It is also intended to cover incidental costs such as the use of home and private telephone facilities”. On top of that, a Special Responsibility Allowance is “paid to those Members who perform special responsibilities in relation to the County Council”. The council decides who gets what.

Let’s select a councillor at random, and look at the allowances paid in 2006-07.

Alan Charles, the councillor responsible for schools, gets allowances of more than double the average paid to all DCC councillors. He gets almost three-quarters as much again as the average DCC cabinet member.

Now, that just doesn’t sound fair, does it, children?

But wait a minute. Maybe the allowance scheme has been carefully thought through. Maybe some councillors’ duties are more onerous than others. Maybe their circumstances are different, and they should rightfully claim certain additional allowances. When asked, maybe individual councillors, such as the one above, could give a believable explanation as to why they deserve a significantly above-average allocation of public money.

Although it might not be the right one, there is a plan for spending public money, we can all see what it is, and they’re working to that plan.

Well, guess what? That’s how school budgets are worked out too.

Combs School has been allocated a budget, based on a plan devised by central government and the local education authority. Part of it comes from a fund to protect small rural schools, whose vital role has been heavily acknowledged by government. For that, and other reasons, the allocation per pupil is higher than it is in large schools where economies of scale enable it to be lower.

So Combs School is being penalised for working within the plan devised by its critic – DCC.

And that really isn't fair, is it, children?

Friday, 26 October 2007

Tom Levitt Interviewed

High Peak Radio's web siteTom Levitt MP was interviewed on High Peak Radio this morning. The first part of the interview related to Tom Levitt being in the top ten of MPs claiming expenses in 2006-07. The second part related to the Save Combs School campaign. This is a very quick summary of that portion of the interview. While it isn't a verbatim transcript, it is hopefully accurate*.

High Peak Radio: Are you pleased by the decision to keep the school open?

Tom Levitt: Very pleased. I've always said that it would be the strength of the arguments that would decide the matter, and that's what's happened. A logical, sensible answer has been reached.

HPR: You've come in for a little criticism for not backing the campaign.

TL: It would have been very easy to jump in and believe what was being said by one side rather than the other, but I felt there were arguments on both sides. I met with the parents and governors, wrote to DCC, and asked a Parliamentary Question**. That got important information into the public domain. The answer to my PQ, which restated that there needed to be very strong grounds for closing excellent rural schools, is the very point on which DCC's decision is based. Doing what I did was the most supportive thing that could be legally done.

HPR: How do you respond to criticism that you've tried to claim credit for the campaign's success, unlike parish and borough councillors, who actually backed the campaign?

TL: It would have been very easy to jump in and get headlines about 'MP leads campaign', but as I've said, I thought there were arguments on both sides. If I had done that, perhaps the campaigners would complain now that I had claimed the campaign as my own. I played a large part in getting important information into the public domain which the campaign has been able to use***.

HPR: One questioner on the Save Combs School web site asks "How does Tom propose to halt or reduce the continuous and insidious rural community disengagement by DCC?"

TL: You have to remember that DCC has kept more small rural schools open than any other council. Cheshire, for example, tackled the problem of surplus school places some years ago and closed quite a few small schools. DCC still has to look at the problem of surplus places, though, and find a solution. That's what I meant earlier about there being arguments on both sides. DCC is doing a lot for rural communities. Look at the support for rural bus services, the commission set up to advise on protecting rural life, and the support given to ensure that postal services are still accessible even when a rural post office has to close because it isn't viable. There's a lot being done to support rural communities, and while I understand people's fears about those communities becoming dormitories, sometimes there are market pressures which can't be resisted.

*If anyone who listened to the interview thinks something's inaccurate or missing from this summary, please e-mail the webmaster.

** The exchange of letters between Tom Levitt and Alan Charles is in this post.

*** We previously described the request made to Tom Levitt to correct the factually incorrect information he disseminated. No response has been received to that request.

Use this link to find all posts that mention Tom Levitt.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Reprieve for Peak School?

Read the story online in the Buxton Advertiser

Louise Bellicoso's report made the front page of the Buxton Advertiser today.

The story can be read online.

Tune In

High Peak Radio is the station to tune to today. Nye Rowlands (Chair of Governors) and Mike Evanson (Chair of Village Hall Trustees) were interviewed yesterday, and sound bites from the interview are appearing in the news bulletins.

High Peak Radio's web site

The station is on 103.3 and 106.4 FM.

Tom Levitt MP will be interviewed at 10:30 on Friday. What would you like him to be asked about the Save Combs School campaign? If you leave your question in a comment on this post, we'll pass it along to High Peak Radio and ask them if they can include it in the interview.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Another New Baby In The Village

We gave DCC lots of information about how many pupils there would probably be in years to come at Combs School. Our maps included dots for those yet to be born. We were given the information in confidence, and that's why we haven't published the maps, even though they were key pieces of evidence submitted to DCC.

Already during this campaign, two of the dots marked on the map we gave to DCC have become real live people.

And on the same day that DCC has announced their recommendation to keep Combs School open, it's wonderful to be able to report that another dot on the map has turned into a newly born baby.

He and his mother are doing fine. We send our congratulations.

DCC Issues Press Release

This has just been issued:

24 October 2007

Members of Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet are being recommended to keep open an infant school facing possible closure.

During an informal public consultation there were 180 letters and a petition with 1,687 signatures
[NOTE 1] opposing proposals to close Combs Infant School in Chapel-en-le-Frith.

When councillors meet on Tuesday 30 October they will be told that although the nearest alternative school, Chapel-en-le-Frith Primary School, provides a good quality education standards at Combs Infant School are currently higher. In its last Ofsted inspection Combs Infant School was rated ‘outstanding’.

As a result they do not believe there is a strong enough case to close Combs Infant School but are recommending that the problem of surplus places in the Chapel-en-le-Frith area is kept under review.

Councillor Alan Charles, Derbyshire County Council’s cabinet member for schools, said: “The purpose of the public consultation was to get the views of people in the Combs and Chapel-en-le-Frith area about the problems being caused by surplus places in the area.

“We have never had any concerns about the quality of education at Combs Infant School. The issue has always been whether it is fair to the tax payer and pupils at other schools in Derbyshire that it costs £5,447 to educate every pupil at Combs
[NOTE 2] compared to the county average of £2,635.

“The majority of pupils travel to Combs
[NOTE 3] which leaves surplus places available at their local community schools.

“Members of the cabinet will be able to look at all the responses from the consultation and the recommendations before taking a decision.”

Councillors will be told that there are also concerns about the impact that closing the school could have on the community as the building is used by a variety of local groups.

(Ref: JF.362.07) Media enquiries to John Fern on 01629 585234 or email

This press release repeats some inaccurate information that DCC has used previously, and which they've been asked to correct.

NOTE 1: There were 2141 signatories to the petitions, not 1687.

NOTE 2: It doesn't cost £5,447 per child. That's a budget figure, not an actual figure. We've explained that before.

NOTE 3: The majority of children, current and planned, live within Combs valley - the natural area for the school.

Andrew Bingham Expresses Delight At Recommendation

High Peak's Conservative Parliamentary Candidate, Andrew Bingham has spoken of his delight at the news that the recommendation to the DCC Cabinet meeting next week is not to close Combs Infant School.

Andrew said, "It is a tribute to all the residents, parents and activists that they have managed to force a change of heart from the County Council. Whilst it isn’t absolutely sorted until after the decision is made, we can only be pleased at the recommendation.

"It seems a long time since many of us attended the public meeting at the school, indeed, the huge attendance meant that the meeting was held outdoors, but all the work that has been done appears to have made the difference.

"I said from the start that the suggestion was unacceptable, badly conceived and illogical, and from the recommendation it now appears that DCC have come to the same conclusion. It is a shame that such a lot of public money has been spent on this when it was obvious from the start that closure was wrong.”

Andrew added, “As well as my own objections as the Parliamentary Candidate for the High Peak, I also objected on behalf of High Peak Borough Council following a discussion by its Social Inclusion Select Committee.

"I am sure that DCC, when faced by the weight of evidence accumulated by local people, must have realised what a mistake they were about to make. I reiterate, that I don’t want to pre-judge the decision, but the recommendation is there for all to see, and I fervently hope that the Cabinet at DCC follow it.”

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

DCC To Spare Village School

The following press release has been issued by the campaign.

Derbyshire County Council To Spare Village School From Closure

Combs, UK; 23 October 2007: In a report issued today by Derbyshire County Council, a recommendation has been made not to proceed with the closure of Combs Infant School, in High Peak, Derbyshire. The recommendation will go before the Council’s Cabinet for confirmation of the decision, on 30 October.

The report has been issued following a consultation process that began in May, in which the Council sought to solve their problem of having surplus places in other schools by closing Combs School.

The council received more than 2000 signatures on petitions, and almost 200 letters of opposition. Detailed arguments against the proposed closure have been set out on the campaign web site at

The campaigners have stressed, throughout the consultation, that Combs School was rated in September 2006 by Ofsted as “outstanding value for money”, and was unique in High Peak in providing an outstanding level of service in every category evaluated.

In their recommendation not to proceed, the Council has recognised that by closing the school, they would not – contrary to their statutory duty – be raising educational standards in the area.

Welcoming the report, parent governor Nick Boden commented: “Thankfully, common sense has prevailed, and we look forward to the Cabinet accepting the recommendation put forward by education officers.”

The Council’s recommendation also commented on the unusual arrangement whereby the same building is used for the school, as a village hall, and as a chapel.

“The School operates within a building maintained by the Village Hall Trust.” explained Chairman of the Trustees, Mike Evanson, “There’s a long history of the community providing financial support to the school, and we were very concerned that closing down the school would severely impact our ability to continue to operate the village hall on behalf of all who benefit from its use.”

The campaign opposing the proposed closure has drawn strong support, from within the community of Combs, and far beyond. All of the local parish and borough councils gave their support to the campaign to keep the school open, as did Peak District National Park Authority, Derbyshire Rural Community Council, and the Methodist Church.

The problem of surplus school places in the area will be kept under review by the Council. Chairman of the school Governors, Nye Rowlands, said: “This is undoubtedly good news, but we aren’t complacent, and know that we will have to sustain the strong community support, for this excellent school to continue to be spared the threat of closure.”


Report Released:
Closure NOT Recommended

DCC has released the report written by their Education Officers.

Their recommendation, which is NOT to close Combs Infant School, will be put before the DCC Cabinet on 30 October.

You can download a full copy of the report. (123k, Adobe Acrobat Format)

The report ends:

Strategic Director for Children and Younger Adults’ Recommendations

7.1 That the Authority does not proceed to the publication of Statutory Notices in respect of the proposed closure of Combs Infant School with effect from 31 August 2008.

7.2 That the situation regarding surplus places in this area of the County be kept under review.

We want to know what you think, so please leave a comment on this post as soon as possible. If you're not sure how to do that, read this post to find out how to leave a comment.

UPDATE 23 OCT, 16:20
A press release has been issued on behalf of the campaign. Download (65k, Adobe Acrobat format)

UPDATE 23 OCT, 21:04
In response to questions and concerns we've received, we can pass on something we've been told by a good source:
"It is unthinkable that the Cabinet wouldn't accept the recommendation. It would be indefensible at a judicial review."

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Be Brave, Mr. Charles

Dear Mr. Charles,

On 30 October, you will have the future of Combs School, Village Hall and Chapel in your hands, when you are in Cabinet.

Councillor Alan Charles, the DCC Cabinet member responsible for schoolsTo back away from an intended action sometimes requires as much courage as to press on. Please be brave, and lead the Cabinet to a decision to keep the School open.

We realise that you will need to find alternative solutions to the problem of surplus school places in other schools. But you've been presented with a very strong case against closure, and we think you should know by now that closing Combs School is not the right solution.

You've been told about the damage that will be done to our community. You know that the elected bodies at parish or borough level, who intimately understand our area, oppose the proposal to close the School. You know that Combs School is unique in High Peak in providing an outstanding service, in the view of Ofsted, which ranks Combs in the top 3% of infant schools in the country.

So, be brave, Mr. Charles. Acknowledge the inadequacies in the calculations that DCC has made. Show that you've listened to the arguments that have been put forward, and you're prepared to act on them. Use your imagination and the resources of DCC to find an alternative solution to your problem.

Be brave, and stop this closure plan.

The 'Save Combs School' Campaigners

NB: Mr. Charles has been invited to comment on this post.