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Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Number 10 Responds
to Online Petition

With the characteristic rapidity of national government, Number 10 has today responded to the online petition that ran during the campaign, and which had fulfilled its purpose last October.

"Derbyshire local authority is responsible in law for the organisation of school places in its area and Ministers have no role in the process. However the Government is firmly committed to rural schools, because we recognise that they are an important part of the rural landscape and an important factor in keeping rural communities alive. That is why, to protect rural schools, the Government introduced a presumption against their closure ten years ago. That does not mean that no rural school can ever close, but our statutory guidance makes clear that the case for closure needs to be strong and in the best interests of educational provision in the area.

In making decisions about rural school closures local authorities must have regard to the presumption and must take account of other factors such as transport availability and cost, alternatives to closure and the impact on the local community. We expect authorities to also take account of school performance, as it is our policy that they support popular and successful schools.

On 30 October 2007, in considering the proposals to close Combs Infant School, Derbyshire local authority took account of our guidance, specifically the need to justify rural school closures on the grounds of raising standards, and decided not to proceed with the closure.

We hope the local authority’s decision addresses your concerns and reassures you that we have put in place mechanisms to protect the future of small rural primary schools*.

The Prime Minister sends his best wishes for the future of Combs Infant School."

* Editor's emphasis.

Read the response on the Number 10 web site. The link to the relevant report is here.

Friday, 9 May 2008

A Year Ago Today

A lot can happen in a year. If Derbyshire County Council had got their way, our youngest daughter would have been in her last term at the village school, the place would have been running down in front of our eyes, then dismantled and lost for ever. A piece of history and a slice of excellence in a mediocre world would have been thrown to the four winds with barely a backward glance from the perpetrators of the crime.

But we fought the good fight and we won. This is something to celebrate in a society increasingly crushed by senseless rules and petty bureaucracy, by small-minded people with limited vision and an eye to the main chance and self-aggrandissment. Instead of painfully counting the days till the end of the summer term and the end of an era, facing farewells that should never be and tears that needn’t have been cried, I was able to leave my five year old daughter in the playground this morning happily attempting to jump her spindly little legs over a rope in a brave attempt to learn the art of skipping. The air was soft and warm, the birds were singing, the children were laughing and the cress was bursting through the soil of the grow-bags which they had busily and messily planted last Friday afternoon.

Instead of a sense of heartache and loss, we are able to continue with a sense of well-being, growth and optimism for the future: these children are being given the very best of starts in a beautiful, healthy, sane environment.

I can assure you that the seedlings that come out of this particular grow-bag are strong and vigourous and will grow into beautiful mature plants. They have been given the best of starts in life and they will flourish. These young people are our future and if every child could be given the educational start in life that these children receive, then our world would be a much better place.

Coincidentally on the lunchtime news a youth worker and reformed gang member who was commenting on the brutal knife murder of 16 year old Kodjo Yenga in Hammersmith last year said the problems we are facing with this aggressive youth culture is all down to education. He said that he (as a gang member) was a product of this failure in education. If he can see it, why on earth can’t the people in charge? Why does this government (and others before it) continue to mess up our education system, swamping it with mindless health and safety rules, absurd levels of administration which take away from teaching time and, perhaps most significantly, insisting, in the vein of globalisation, that big is beautiful and that one size fits all? When will they learn that ultimately it is more economical to produce well-educated, well-rounded young people from smaller places of learning than to produce ill-educated dysfunctional people from large anonymous institutions where each child is barely no more than a statistic? This is not rocket science. This is just common sense.

Instead of taking money away from village schools, they should be investing in them. They are the heart of a community, they instill community spirit and a sense of belonging and society to the children whom they educate. It is not just about results and league tables. It is about appreciating what it is to be part of a family, it is about developing self-respect and self-confidence, and understanding what can be achieved by team effort and a positive, optimistic approach to life and learning.

The achievement of our small community in fighting the big boys and beating them at their own game is surely proof enough that small can be beautiful too. We pulled together, we worked as a team, we never gave up and we came out smiling. It can be done.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Labour should value
village school benefits

Where was the leader-writer of the Daily Telegraph during our campaign?

This editorial is from today's edition.

How hollow the promise now rings. Fresh into power, Labour's then schools minister, Stephen Byers, pledged in 1998 to give "tough new protection for village schools" to end the "wholesale" closure process that had seen 450 of them shut their doors over the previous decade and a half.

"Closing a village school can be a death-blow to the community," Mr Byers observed. He was absolutely right; regrettably, his promise is now unravelling. Weekend reports of a new purge of village schools on economic grounds suggest that up to 300 are already being targeted for closure and the total could reach 1,000.

This is the unthinking politics of the bean-counter in action. In strictly economic terms, small village schools will never be as cost-effective as larger schools in towns or cities. But their value to a local community cannot be measured solely on a balance sheet.

It is not just that small schools, by and large, are better schools - one day, policy-makers will accept that the failings of many schools are related more than anything else to their sheer size. It is because the local school is the beating heart of a village and if it closes, the community suffers, as Mr Byers wisely noted.

A place that no longer educates its young is sending out a signal that it may not have much of a future. Educating children away from their community will slowly but surely undermine it. As for "joined-up government", how does busing or driving children miles to be educated fit in with the Government's environmental commitments?

Sadly, this casual neglect of rural Britain is symptomatic of a government that sees no votes in the countryside and therefore treats it with something approaching disdain. This attitude was detectable in the plans to close rural post offices, which were scaled down under intense pressure, not least from this newspaper, but will still be pushed through in many areas.

Rural Britain has no clout at the Cabinet table and the result has been the accentuation of the rural/urban split to a dangerous degree - witness the ludicrous amount of parliamentary time devoted to the foxhunting ban.

There is an opportunity here for the Conservative Party, whose exploration of the politics of the "post-bureaucratic" age points towards greater self-reliance and local solutions. This promises to be the key ideological battleground at the next election. Among other things, it should mean that the fate of a village school is decided by the community and not by the pen-stroke of some distant bureaucrat.

Also, in The Observer, 27 January 2008:
Hundreds of village schools face axe and
This will rip the heart out of our community.