Tuesday, 19 November 2013

If You Tolerate This Then YOUR Children Could Be Next

Given the background of savage cuts to services and a possible increase in council tax charges facing residents of Rhondda Cynon Taff we could all be forgiven for thinking the future of one primary school is of little consequence in the greater scheme of things. We could not be more wrong. The fate of Pentre Primary has become a test case for all schools within the Authority. Quite simply, “If you tolerate this then your children could be next.”

It is time everyone woke up to what is actually happening. If the closure of Pentre is confirmed by Education Minister Huw Lewis then this Council will have been given ‘carte blanche’ to deal with schools as it sees fit. A disturbing prospect when you consider how the Council has acted in respect of Pentre Primary.

During the cabinet meeting that took place on the 18th of November deputy leader Paul Cannon refused to allow any member or officers to answer questions posed and deferred them to full council. Councillor Pauline Jarman described this refusal as amateurish. Councillor Cannon’s response was that he was abiding by the rules. If the deputy leader has such a high regard for ‘the rules’ perhaps he should be more vigilant in ensuring that his cabinet members and officers follow his lead. With regard to Eudine Hannigan (cabinet member for Education) and Chris Bradshaw (Director of Education) they demonstrably have not.

The closure of Pentre Primary was proposed under the conditions relating to ‘The Schools Organisation Proposals’ that has since been replaced by the ‘School Organisation Code’. It is clear that ministerial guidance was ignored when the Council failed to produce a community impact assessment at the formative stages, hardly a glowing example of ‘abiding by the rules’. This issue is addressed by AM Leighton Andrews in his letter to the Welsh Government Minister for Education, Huw Lewis.

“It is clear that Paragraph 1.8 of the Guidance intends that the community impact assessment should be prepared before the consultation which takes place prior to statutory procedures.

No Community Impact Assessment was prepared by RCT CBC for the consultation that took place prior to statutory procedures. This is not in dispute, and is confirmed in a letter to me from the Director of Education and Lifelong Learning of RCT CBC dated 25th June 2013. In his letter to me, the Director stated:

Community and Equality Impact Assessments, as required under paragraphs 1.12 (i) and (v) of the Guidance (which you have also stated have not been given consideration) are always prepared and sent to Welsh Government as part of the evidence base we are required to provide.  These assessments are informed by the community feedback we receive from the consultation.  As a result they better reflect the views of key stakeholders and not those of the officers drafting these assessments. 

This statement demonstrates that the Council did not prepare a Community Impact Assessment for consultation prior to statutory procedures, but only did so after receiving feedback from the consultation. The Council was therefore in clear breach of the Guidance.”

Under the new ‘School Organisation Code’ this becomes a statutory requirement but there is a nasty sting in the tail. In future if objections are made to a proposed school closure they will no longer be referred to the Welsh Government. In effect RCT CBC will police itself. Not a prospect that fills me with confidence. During the meeting Councillor Hannigan again raised the spectre of ‘surplus places’ choosing to ignore the far more important issues of child poverty and child safety as she has done consistently throughout every stage of the process.

May I remind Councillor Hannigan that Aberllechau Primary School and more recently Caegarw Primary school both had the threat of closure removed by cabinet. In both cases the dangerous route to school children would have to negotiate was cited as a primary factor. Indeed Councillor Andrew Morgan stated:
“My biggest concern was the location and journey to the secondary school. It’s safe for savvy teens to negotiate the roads, but the A4059 is a very busy road for parents with one, two or maybe more little ones.”
The route children will have to travel from Pentre to Treorchy is at least as dangerous as those faced by the children of Caegarw and Aberllechau so what is the difference? Could it be that both those schools were sited in the wards of Labour Councillors? It cannot surely be the issue of surplus places as what responsible Council or Council member would elevate such a consideration above the safety and well being of the children entrusted to its care?

Councillor Hannigan apparently, as during the meeting she stated that on the previous Friday she and the Director of Education met with Mr Lewis and was assured that the issue of surplus places was still a top priority. She explained to the Minister that there were still outstanding school closure proposals and had been further assured that these would be dealt with speedily. Councillor Hannigan confidently predicted that it was even possible a ruling on Pentre would be made before March 2014.

Councillor Hannigan can be assured that we will make our own enquiries as to whether this meeting actually took place as it would seem to me to be prejudicial to the whole process of ministerial review. Not that flouting procedures established in case law appears to worry RCT CBC. Among the letters of objection that were not allowed to see the light of day due to Deputy Leader Cannon’s ruling was one from our barrister Jerry Heap Q.C. It in fact forms the basis of our legal objection to the proposed closure and is based on well established case law with regard to the process of consultation. It could prove to be the basis of a very important test case for schools within Rhondda Cynon Taff. If RCT CBC is allowed to take action that a court would rule unlawful then what recourse do we have as individuals other than to turn to the law itself? It seems that RCT CBC believes in the majority of instances people will simply give up.

The Law is an expensive option but what is the alternative when elected members are prepared to act as if they are somehow elevated above it. Q.C. Jerry Heap has clinically analysed our position and his legal objection on behalf of the Pentre Primary Action Group clearly demonstrates that RCT CBC’s decision to implement the proposal is unlawful. Below is an extract:

4.1  That the Council lacked the intention of taking into account any responses it might receive is demonstrated by its ignoring or belittling the factors which tell against the proposal to close Pentre Primary School and in particular –
(i)     its ignoring in formulating that proposal the vital issues mentioned in sub-paragraphs 3.7, 3.8 and 3.9 above (community impact, child poverty and road safety issue);
(ii)   the attitude of its cabinet member for education, Eudine Hannigan, in glibly if not brutally dismissing any consideration of the impact the proposal might have on the local community.
4.2  The Council’s failure properly to take into account the responses it has received is clearly demonstrated by its failure to publish a balanced report which evidences that the Council has taken into account the many objections it has received in response to its proposal.  PPAG is unable to identify any documentary or other evidence which demonstrates that the Council has taken any account (whether conscientiously or otherwise) the responses it has received during the consultation process.

It was interesting to note that Counsellor Heap refers to the Council ‘ignoring or belittling the factors which tell against its proposal’. It is exactly the same approach used to justify the proposed changes to nursery education. First they propose the changes and then they seek to denigrate and belittle the tremendous work that has been undertaken in nursery and reception education in RCT throughout the years, a service that has been the envy of almost every other Authority. Shame on them!

Be assured we have no intention of giving up the fight.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Waiting Game

Waiting is the hardest thing to do but that is all we can do for the moment. The RCT Cabinet is meeting on the 18th of November when Mr Bradshaw will present the Cabinet with the objections we have made to the closure. These objections have already been forwarded to the WAG and now we all have to await their deliberation.

The report is available here:  http://www.rctcbc.gov.uk/en/councildemocracy/democracyelections/councillorscommittees/meetings/cabinet/2013/11/18/reports/agenda-item-3improving-primary-education-in-pentre-(report--appendices).pdf

I honestly believe that the Cabinet have more cause for concern than us. The letters of objection from our A.M. Leighton Andrews and our Barrister Mr Jerry Heap Q.C. clearly identify why the consultation conducted by RCT would be considered unlawful in a court of law. Hopefully the WAG will agree with their assessment. If not we are prepared to contest the decision in court because we are confident of our position with regard to the law.

Although written in legal jargon the objection raised by our barrister is very well worth reading!

We are unlikely to get a decision before next March so it is important everyone keeps the faith. Until then please support all the fundraising activities that not only raise the necessary legal costs but also help keep us together as a community. They are also very enjoyable events even if I am fast becoming an alcoholic!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

An Open Letter To Parents and Supporters.

The Action Group would urge everyone who wishes to save Pentre School to submit letters of objection to the Director of Education ASAP.

Many of you may be discouraged by the treatment we received at the hands of cabinet last July when not one member appeared interested in listening to anything we had to say. You probably reason that if they could treat us with such contempt face to face what chance is there of them even considering a letter?

The simple answer is none. The final consultation paper presented to cabinet was over 500 pages and many of them were comprised of letters of concern written by parents and residents of Pentre and Treorchy primary schools. It is very doubtful if any member of cabinet read them all, if any.

However, this time the letters will be sent to the Welsh Assembly and the Minister for Education, Mr Huw Lewis, has assured us he will scrutinize them carefully. Remember, we are not only fighting to save the school and community but, above all, to ensure the safety and well being of our children. A comprehensive survey of the safety of our roads around schools was recently undertaken by insurance giants AXA and Road Safety Analysis. They state:

“(We) examined over 1 million pieces of data related to local areas around all 29,142 schools in Great Britain. The results are shocking. It found that in the past six years more than half a million vehicle collisions have occurred within 500 metres of a school. Tragically, more than 85,000 children were casualties (injuries reported to the police) of these incidents – equating to a deeply worrying 1,192 every month.”

You can access the data related to Pentre and Treorchy primary schools' online by following this link on the internet: http://www.axainsurancezone.com/local

I have no idea if the cabinet or the Director of Education are aware of these statistics. They certainly were happy to ignore ministerial guidelines that clearly state, “Proposers should assess likely walking or cycling routes for safety and accessibility prior to bringing forward proposals.”

This did not happen in the case of Pentre and the survey contained in the consultation document is hardly worthy of the name. This really angers me because, as a former head teacher, if I had ignored health and safety guidelines before embarking on a school trip or educational visit and an accident occurred to one of my pupils I would have been disciplined and possibly dismissed, and rightly so. We should expect no less concern and rigour from our local LEA.

So please, get writing.

(This letter has been submitted to the Rhondda Leader and hopefully they will print it next week.)


Thursday, 1 August 2013

No Comment Needed

To the Rhondda Leader. RE:- Pentre Primary School Closure
I feel I must write to you to enlighten your readers as to the behaviour of our County Councillors with regards to a member of the public who had permission to speak at the Council Cabinet meeting for Education attended by a number of Pentre Primary Parents and Residents Action Group on Monday 22nd July 2013.

Whilst some of the members sat and listened to each speaker in turn. Many of them decided that when Mr Phil Rowlands stood to speak to Cabinet as chair of the Parents for Pentre Primary Support Group. Mr Rowlands was allowed 5 minutes to put their views and concerns forward. During the time that Mr Rowlands was speaking the chair of the Committee and many others seem to find something amusing and talked and giggled and even sent a note around the assembled group of Councillors like naughty little schoolboys. This continued the whole time that Mr Rowlands was addressing the Cabinet. I wonder if they know what valid points regarding the closure of Pentre Primary they missed. They reminded me of ostriches hiding their heads in the sand and hoping that the world will carry on regardless without any difficulties to them. I think it is time that they are held accountable for the problems in RCT.

Does being in a democratic society allow for rudeness to be the norm? We vote these people onto the council to act on our behalf regardless of the ward they represent they should be there for the people of Rhondda-Cynon-Taf and as such should listen to the voice of the people who are passionate enough to ask permission to speak and gather up the courage to speak to the elected members of this, our council.
Are we slipping back into the days of towing the party line regardless of what happens to the people of our constituencies and it does not matter who we vote in, (as long as we look to be seen as helping the area with a few photo’s in the Rhondda Leader).

I think it is about time the people living in RCT woke up to what our Councillors really do in our name.
Attend a cabinet meeting and sit in the viewing gallery did you know you are allowed to do this? Are our Councillors all afraid to disagree with the chair in case they rock the boat and not welcomed onto the cabinet with the extra cash this gives them to top up their pensions. Did you know that they are paid a small income for their services to us the people of RCT. I say small to those of you who cannot find work or are struggling financially in this present climate it is a fortune.

I am not saying that all the councillors are the same just the majority of labour Councillors who made up the Cabinet on Monday 22nd July 2013. Those who could vote for Chris Bradshaw’s proposals without knowing the area, and agreeing to a safe walk to school on paper, when in reality it is a death walk.
Apart from Mr Phil Rowlands Chair of the Pentre Primary Parents and Residents Action Group. It was the Plaid Cymru Councillors who spoke for the Children of Pentre School and the Community. Apart from Leighton Andrews our AM they are the only ones who have bothered to do their homework and meet the parents. visit the schools and look at the area and distance the children will be forced to walk if they maintain their position and close the much valued Pentre Primary School.

 RD Evans

REMEMBER: It's NOT about surplus places or finances BUT the SAFETY of our CHILDREN!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Writing Was Already On The Wall

Well now I know what it feels like to run into a brick wall. A wall with graffiti scrawled all over it that said "WE'RE NOT LISTENING". Even though I half expected the wall to be there it still knocks the breath out of you when you hit it.
Our local councillors spoke well as did a gentleman from Treorchy, Councillor Kennard Davies I believe, but to no avail. The writing had already been engraved on the wall.

What we must ensure is that our voice is heard. We must ensure the focus shifts to CHILDREN'S SAFETY and WELFARE and FINANCIAL HARDSHIP, CHILD POVERTY and COMMUNITY IMPACT.
From the arrogant manner in which the speakers were ignored by the Chair and his associates it is obvious our input was merely an unwelcome delay in proceedings.
Thankfully a member of the press was present and she commented on we were not even given the courtesy of being listened to.

What happens next?

"If Cabinet decides to go ahead, there would be a second statutory procedure to follow to close Pentre in September 2013. A statutory notice outlining the proposals would need to be published for a one-month period and any formal written objections would be invited during this time. If there are objections, the Welsh Government will need to consider the proposal. The Welsh Government could then accept, reject or modify the proposal.

The provisional timetable and procedure which is required by law will be as
July 2013: The outcome of the consultation will be reported to Cabinet and subject to their wish to proceed, the statutory public notices will be published in September 2013 (followed by a one month statutory notice period).
November 2013: The Cabinet will consider the proposal again. If  there are no objections, the Cabinet can decide to proceed with the closure. Any objections to the proposal, which have not been withdrawn in writing, will be forwarded to the Welsh Government for the Minister to make a decision."

We will of course be objecting. We will also be taking legal advice as to what is the best course of action to follow.
We may have lost the battle at local level but the fight goes on.

Below is a transcript of the speech I gave on behalf of the action Group (I don't have a copy of the others).
I've added notes in yellow highlights.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Pentre Primary Action Group.

The LEA’s proposal to close Pentre Primary is driven solely by financial considerations. We understand Treorchy Primary is in urgent need of repair but should this be done at the sacrifice of children attending Pentre Primary? All children are important and I think this has been lost in the desperate attempts to finance the remedial work needed at Treorchy.

To this end the Director and his officers have taken every available opportunity to denigrate the standard of education in Pentre Primary.
Yet they consistently ignore the outstanding performance of pupils in the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1.
Or improvements made by the school under the acting head teacher.

The school is due another inspection this September so, if educational standards are really at ‘the forefront of any school reorganisation proposal put forward by this Council” why not wait until the outcome is known before taking any decision? It makes no educational sense. 
* Considering that Mr Bradshaw and Mrs Hannigan placed such an emphasis on educational standards was the reason they were not prepared to wait until after the inspection because they are worried the school will receive a very positive report. Still it could leave egg on a lot of faces.

With regard to surplus places there are currently 100 pupils on roll and not 73. This fact was conveyed to the Director very early in the consultation process but apparently ignored. 
* Still ignored!

Our concern has never been about surplus places but:

·        The safety and wellbeing of our children and . . .

·        The financial impact upon families and how it would affect the community.

The consultation report includes numerous letters from parents who powerfully articulate the many deep concerns they have for their children’s safety and the impact the proposed closure will have on them and their families. If their arguments cannot influence Council then nothing will.
* Did they even read your letters? Given the respect the speakers were shown I very much doubt it.

At a meeting with the Governing Body early in the consultation process Mr Bradshaw, clearly stated that children’s safety was paramount yet could give no details of any risk assessment having been undertaken. Mr Bradshaw is obviously aware that School Reorganisation Guidelines require a risk assessment be undertaken before any proposal is brought to cabinet because his extraordinary explanation for not complying with clearly stated ministerial guidelines is “it would cause unnecessary unrest.”
 * No matter what Mr Bradshaw says to the contrary this was not complying with clear ministerial guidelines on the most important aspect of the proposal - the safety and well being of children in his care as Director of Education for RCT.

We were informed a more detailed survey would be undertaken after the consultation period, hardly strategic forward planning with the interests of children’s safety paramount. In fact, strategic forward planning does not seem to be a feature of this proposal.

The ‘initial survey’, appears to be little more than a generic tick list that does not take into account the massive impact on any risk assessment the proposed Tesco development on the Cae Mawr estate will inevitably have. However Mr Bradshaw seems determined to ignore the elephant in the room although ministerial guidelines clearly state
1.17 Proposals should . . .take account of:
·        Local plans for economic or housing development.”

*Apparently this could not be used as an argument by our ward councillors because it has not yet gone through the planning stages. Which begs the question why didn't the LEA wait until they know exactly what is happening with the Tesco development? Do they know more than we do? If the development goes ahead it would obviously make the route even less safe. It's the safety of children we are talking about for goodness sake.

The Minister for Transport is currently revising the safe walk to school guidelines as she believes they do not include a broad enough range of safety factors, do not include the views of children and does not take into account ‘social factors’. Apparently the Minister believes the prime consideration must be the safety and welfare of children.
* I wonder what the Minister of Transport would think of the way the LEA and Council have handled the safe walk to school aspect of the proposal!

The Director states:
“It is not for me or any other officer of this Council to advise any parent on how they should transport their child to school. . .”
Yet Council has the power to place a considerable financial burden on these parents. Parents who can least afford it at a time of severe financial austerity. Closure will only increase the incidence of child poverty within the Authority.
* Pontius Pilate springs to mind. 
"Our new Plan gives us greater focus on attacking
poverty amongst our communities, our families,
our young people and our children. Child poverty
infects our communities and we need to root this
out and defeat it.
We know we can only achieve this by working
together and remaining child focused in all that
we do."  The Children and Young People's Plan Rhondda Cynon Taff 2009 -14
Just words to fill a page? 
No community impact assessment was carried out before consultation with parents and Mr Bradshaw’s comments suggest he is out of touch with the needs of the community he serves.

For example, he states that he is ‘at a loss’ to understand why parents are worried about their child missing out on breakfast club when Treorchy already has one in place. Doesn’t he yet realise that children living in Pentre will have to get up very early and either walk or catch a bus in the dark during the winter months in order to access it. Is this reasonable or acceptable in the 21st century?
*I would assume most members of the cabinet are either parents or grandparents. Would they honestly want this for their child or grandchild? That's a rhetorical question, I don't really expect an answer.

The first priority of any LEA must be to ensure the safety and welfare of the children in its charge and not the reduction of surplus places within its schools. To advance this proposal at this time would be to abdicate that responsibility and gamble with the safety of our children. We would therefore urge cabinet not to proceed with the closure of Pentre Primary.
* In her summation Eudine Hannigan basically regurgitated the Director's words. She reiterated that educational standards are at the forefront of any proposal taken by the LEA. Well we would still argue that the safety and well being of children is their first and most important priority. She also trotted out that well used phrase "tough decisions" that is used to justify so many cost cutting exercise. "Soft option" would be a better choice. It is interesting that Aberllechau school was not closed when the same issues of safe routes to school was raised. The only difference between the two schools seems to be that the ward councillors were of a different political affiliation.

Whatever your decision we remain determined to explore every avenue open to us to ensure Pentre Primary remains at the heart of the community."

That is a promise.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Understatement of the Year

MONDAY 4.00 p.m. at the Pavilions Clydach Vale.
The moment of truth draws near! Talking of truth here is a classic understatement from Mr Chris Bradshaw, Director of Education.
"The meetings were well attended by parents, staff, and governors from both schools and local residents were also involved in the process. It was clear from the comments made at the meetings that there is local
opposition to the proposal to close Pentre Primary School. . . a considerable number of letters and e-mails were received.

Below are some extracts from the considerable number of letters and e-mails you submitted. They are passionate, articulate and well constructed. I have always been proud of my association with Pentre but your submissions have made me even prouder! If Council cannot be persuaded by the force and range of the very personal issues you identify then in my opinion the decision to close Pentre Primary was taken long before the consultation process even began. In which case we will fight on to the National assembly and beyond if need be.

Unfortunately I could not cut and paste extracts from every letter as the computer said 'no'! I could also not cut and paste letters that were handwritten. Apologies as they were all absolutely brilliant.
I hav tried uploading the full consultation report which includes all your letters but at 500 pages it was just too large.

Pentre Primary is a corner stone for our community and not just a school. Pentre as a community is based on our school and our Church.  Clare Power - Parent

It's a safety hazard for our children who will walk to school and back everyday. An accident waiting to happen. I have three grandchildren 3, 7 and 8 rs that will be taking that risk. We have a good school in
Pentre, a family school, a safe school. Who can guarantee their safety going to Treorchy school? Can you? As I live close to the school I am able to take my grandchildren to school and pick them up. If they go to
Treorchy school it means my daughter will have to hope her employers will let her take the time off morning and afternoon to take and pick up the children. I can't see that happening so she loses out as well. how
many families will this happen to?   Mrs Maralyn Poole

We have one hill a crossing with Lollypop lady and then school. All a safe trip to school even in bad weather its not too bad. My 3 year old and 7 year old will not have that in a trip to Treorchy School. I can't afford the bus money to go by bus so the walk is going to be a hazard everyday.  Mrs S E Evans - Parent Pentre

In my job I deal with issues brought to my attention by community members and most of those issues are traffic problems in and around school as well as speed of vehicles around a school. The traffic on mornings and afternoons in the Treorchy area is already at a stand still and adding more children will be catastrophic let alone the issues of trying to deal with parking issues and RTC. Police Community Support Officer

Firstly, the suggested move to the Treorchy Primary site raises numerous Health and Safety issues.
As far as I am concerned, the more traffic, the more risk to my child. The location means a long walk
(a minimum of 30 minutes) twice a day for parents and the children, some as young as three, along
an extremely busy main road: the busiest in the Rhondda. Parents have been informed that there
will be no crossing patrol attendant, which is a further cause for worry. I pose the question, would
you want this for your own child? ln addition, if there is an illness, accident or incident in school, it
will take parents longer to get to school. Many grandparents, acting in loco parentis, may not find it
easy or practical to get to the school at short notice. Amanda Evans

As a single parent, when my eldest child enters the juniors, I will have the difficulty of getting both children to school on time, as I physically cannot be at both sites at the same time. At Pentre primary, I will be able to see my eldest enter the junior playground, whilst standing outside of the infant entrance with my youngest. PIus, my children will lose their independence in yr 5/6 with regard to walking home alone in preparation for comprehensive school, as the journey is just too dangerous and far too long.  C. Carmichael

I work for RCT within the meals on wheels department and am able to help out by taking and collecting my
granddaughter from school. lf this closure goes ahead, I will be unable to guarantee being on time for collection, which will put a huge strain on a family already wor:king hard. My granddaughter is a very shy and introverted little girl, who would be frightened were I not to be there,   C. Kinsey

To take a child to Treorchy school in the morning a parenVgrandparent would have to leave about 8.15 in the morning to take the children to school because children are not the fastest walkers as you know. lf it is raining the parents/grandparents would have to catch a bus and we know for a fact that there are children living at the bottom of Pentre who would be getting on the bus at the bottom of Pentre hill. Now buses
only take 2 pushchairs at a time so if the 2 pushchairs are already on the bus then the parents/grandparents waiting at the Queens hotel bus stop cannot get on the bus nor the parents/grandparents waiting at the Griffin bus stop so those parents and children would be soaking wet and would have to wait for the next bus, which would inevitably make the children late for school. Now the concensus of opinion is if your child/grandchild is wet through then the sensible thing to do would be to take the child/children home and get them out of wet clothes because no parent/grandparent would want their child sitting in wet clothes all day. That would then lead to absenteeism which is not what we would want.  Carol A. Evans
John Evans

It is with grave concern we see the blinkered proposed closure of Pentre Primary school.
The Chamber of Trade was set up to support and promote businesses in the area who have for a long time struggled with declining customer numbers. Now the proposed closure of the school will result in further
customer losses. Many families are on a low income and can not absorb any increases in the cost of getting their children to school. Concern about the added danger of getting children to school via a busy main road has only added to our member's worries.

Businesses in the area need these young families to support them and this will now be lost as some now look to move nearer a new school. This is a start of a chain of events which will add to the further decline
of Pentre and its businesses with yet another derelict building blotting the area. R Offer (Chair) Melissa Binet-Fauvel (Secretary) Pentre and Ton-Pentre Chamber of Trade

I would strongly urge you to reconsider this proposal. Please consider things like:
How this closure will affect our small community.
. House prices would fall astronomically, houses left empty will fall into disrepair. Also no one wanting to move to Pentre area as the commute to a school is too far.
. Traffic congestion in Treorchy is already at an all-time high. This would only add to further delays along with the Health & Safety of pedestrian traffic and emergency services.
. With the proposed planning of a new Tesco/petrol station/units being
erected on the Cae Mawr industrial estate, we also must factor this into the Health & Safety of the children.
. The welfare and wellbeing of children, not if a child will be knocked down but when!
. Social and emotional effects on children and parents.
. Financial implications for the parents of the children.  David Williams

My eldest child is 8 years old and has been at Pentre primary for just 9 months.          
She came from a very large school in Plymouth and was just an average student. Thanks to the dedication of the teaching staff at Pentre, she now has the reading ability of a 10 year old and the English comprehension of around there also. Hers maths has improved beyond her age group too. This has only been achieved because of the small class sizes and the fact that the teaching staff can spend more time doing what should be done. The children at Pentre read and do maths every day. As I am already aware, this is not the case in
much larger schools, and I will be disappointed if my child's education slips purely because your administration see fit.

I am a parent of four children who all attended Pentre School and am now a grandparent of five grandchildren, two have grown up and are now working, they attending Pentre School and three that are currently attending Pentre Primary School and they are aged 8,7 and3. They are all doing well and are above their age group in several subjects, they currently read every day and thoroughly love going to this school.
I am 66 years old and do not drive, as my two daughters and their husbands work, I help them out where I can with the children before and after school. If the school calls because one of the children are ill or have
hurt themselves I can walk to go and collect them. If you close the school and they have to go to Treorchy I will be unable to help as the 2 mtle journey there and back will just be too far especially in seryere weather
conditions, as I cannot risk falling as I have been diagnosed with an aneurism and had a mild stroke.
J Hughes

Closing the school would have massive financial implications for my family. As i do not drive and therefore have no transport, my only option for my children apart from walking would be public transport. Working on minimum wage, i am unable to support my children with this option as i am on a low income. My children would suffer in many other ways if I had to pay transport costs daily.
We work hard as a community in creating a sense of friendship and community spirit together and the closure of the school would greatly damage this. We must keep our school in order to keep our community alive as it is at the very heart of our community and a place we are extremely proud of. Please give our children and community a chance for a future. Jennifer Mason

I strongly object to the proposals to close Pentre Primary School. Building a larger school in Treorchy will cost lots of the tax payer's money. I am a tax payer, together with others who live in Treorchy and Pentre and this is not how we want our money spent, People want to be able to choose where their children study, not have these choices taken away {rom them. There are many reasons why Pentre Primary School should remain open. I truly hope that peoples views are going to be considered and that the decision to close as not already been determined without our case being careful considered. Joanne Langton

I am a single parent of L child who is currently enrolled in Pentre primary school. I am writing to you to strongly oppose the proposed closure of this school. I live, with my child, only 3 streets away from Pentre primary school. It takes me only 5 or L0 minutes to get her to and from school with only 1 main road to cross with the help of a school crossing lady, this then being a very safe route.l work 3 days a week from 9 until 5.30. On these days I am able to take my daughter to breakfast club, before having to catch a bus to work. I will be unable to do this if she is going to school in Treorchy as it will take much too long to walk
there and atso the cost of my bus fare will rise. On the days that I work, my mother, who also lives locally, is able to wait for my daughter at the bottom of the road that the school is situated on, and then also be home in time for my nephew, who she has custody of, to be dropped home by taxi from the school that he
attends. lf this closure goes ahead, my mother will not be able to collect my daughter from school and I will then have to give up my job. This will make me completely dependent on benefits and take away the little bit of independence that I have built for myself.
(3) I feel that any independence that my daughter may have gained in the last years of primary with regards to walking home alone and attending clubs will be completely lost to lrer, should she be made to attend Treorchy primary. This is not a route that children of primary age should walk alone due to sheer volume of traffic and the distance she will have to walk. L Summers

lf the proposal is approved, people will be discouraged from moving to Pentre and the village as a whole will suffer. Our case in point, we have only recently bought our property in Pentre (April 2013). We moved back to the UK after living in France for the past 5 years. Our son was born there and from February 2AL2, at the age of 3, he started to attend school in France. One of the main reasons for our return to the UK was for our son, his education and social development. When we were looking at properties in the Rhondda valley in March 2013 the presence of a school within walking distance was a major factor in our decision. lf the school had already been closed, we would not have bought the property we now own in Pentre. My son's emotional wellbeing may well be damaged if he has to change school again. ln France he did not connect with other pupils and we had no contact with other children outside of school. Having been at Pentre Primary School for only 2 months we have noticed such a difference in him. He now comes home and talks about his day, his teachers and his FRIENDS. He is happy. lf he had to move schools again I am deeply concerned about how he would cope if a) his friends chose to go to a different school, and b) it was not possible to
meet up with friends outside of school, for example today we visited Pentre Park and there were other pupils from his class who he knew and then went to play with.  Lia McShane

Another valid point I think you would agree on is the inclement weather we will undoubtedly have, especially in the winter months. I find it shocking that my son and some other children will be expected to walk in adverse weather conditions such as pouring down rain, snow, hail and bouts of thunder and  lightning. He will be getting to school soaking wet, he will be tired and in a bad mood, this without being late some mornings if the weather is really bad, it will have a massive impact on his emotional state thus impacting on his everyday
learning which has come on leaps and bounds these last two years. My sons unblemished punctuality and attendance records are in serious jeopardy which saddens me. Thirdly, my son will miss out on breakfast club through the winter months due to it being darker in the mornings. lt's dangerous to walk that route when it's dark. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day to a young child as you are fully aware, it sets my son up for the day and without this I think he will suffer. Any after school clubs will also be missed which will be a shame.  Lynne Holley

By Sept 2O14 our son will be settled in school that he loves with excellent teachers only to be taken out of the school ond put into another school. He will not be familiar with the new setup possibly with  teachers that he doesn't know. This could affect him and a lot of the children as not all children adapt easily. Most children, like our son will have to leave home 30 to 40 minutes earlier to walk to school, where most of the children have now only got a 5 minute walk to get to Pentre Primary, after enduring this walk by the time they get to their lessons they will be too tired to concentrate. Once again their education will suffer. They will have the some walk back home after being in school f or 6 hours and this is not acceptable. We went on the walk ours elves f rom St Peters Church to Treorchy Primary and are most worried ond concerned for the children's safety as it is a very dangerous route. We can't understand how the proposal was put to R'C'T
cabinet members prior to o safety assessment being undertaken by the LEA. On the walk mony parents with pushchairs, double buggies ond 1 or 2 young school children walking with them found this very diff icult.  it is hard enough to push a pushchair without having 1 or more young children walking with you. M Williams

Once a decision is made to close a school it will be irreversible. We only have one shot at educating our children, it is not a rehearsal it is for real and if we fail them for what seems like financial gain we have ruined their life. Are you prepared for this? I am not. I urge you to once again look at the facts and reconsider your proposals. They are truly flawed not only in the fact that correct procedures have not been adhered to,
but the obvious uncaring approach to the education and welfare of the children of both Pentre Primary and Treorchy Primary schools. Our children are entitled to a good education in a safe environment it is their right under the education act. lt seems that the RCT CBC LEA are failing the children of Pentre and Treorchy schools. lt seems that you have not properly addressed the education and well being of these children when writing up your proposals for the Pentre Primary school closure and I once again urge you to reconsider. M. Evans

I am writing to you in hope that you will reconsider the closure of Pentre Primary school. I am one of many residents living in Pentre who have sole custody and therefore total responsibility for bring up their grandchildren this of course includes their health, education and well being which will as you know also mean their social skills. At the moment they attend Pentre Primary school they are aged 5 years and 3 years of age. We also look after other grandchildren who's parents are working. We have no car and can not afford a car. This of course means that all journey we make must be on foot or by public transport. this sounds great but we have been left by the bus stop on more than one occasion as there is no room for a buggy on the bus.
As a lone adult with two small children walking it is impossible to collapse a buggy holding bags (school bags) a baby and trying to look afrer a 3 year old and 5 year old .
I urge you to try this. Mrs Meirion Lewis Mrs Lorraine Lewis

You stated in a letter given to parents that the children would have a better education being in a bigger school. This would mean bigger class sizes. How can this be correct? We all know the bigger the class numbers the less attention will be given to each child individually. All very well for the high achievers, but this wrill be devastating for the less able children. You also state that you intend to make all schools Primary Schools, Pentre lS AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN a Primary School for as long as I can remember. I was a pupil at Pentre Primary, I am 65 years of age so it has been a PRIMARY school for at least 62 years
if not longer. Why aren't figures for pre statutory school age children included in your data when there are a number of 3-4 year olds attending on a regular basis? At Treorchy Primary they are already having four sittings at lunch time, the first sitting starting at 11:30am. How many more sittings will they have and what time will our little ones be having their lunch?
There is also the emotional affect it will have on the children. By September 2014 our children will be settled in school, in familiar surroundings being taught by excellent teachers, only to be uprooted, put in a school they are not familiar with and possibly with teachers they don't know. This will affect a lot of our children as not all children adapt easily. You should be listening to the Heads of the schools and the teachers within it on how children should be educated. They are the EXPERTS. They know what is best for their children, not the people in your offices, sitting behind desks. M Ingram

My daughter is doing really well at Pentre. Her reading age has been 13+ for the last two years. Her spelling, writing and welsh are of a very high standard and she is currently excelling in all areas. The school teaches with a relaxed atmosphere where Maths and English are taught every
day in small groups of 5 to 6 children to one teacher/assistant. Reading is also participated in daily on a one to one basis for all pupils. I don't see how any other school is going to give my child the same educational benefits that she attains today. Ruth Smith

Due to adverse weather conditions, our Council cannot cope with a few inches of snow and ice during the winter period, due to the lack of salt and gritting throughout the valleys. This makes our main road even more treacherous and you are expecting our children to walk 1.5 miles to get to Treorchy School in all weathers, Our children would then be attending school in wet clothes which could affect their health, therefore affecting
their attendance. Not only are you taking away our confidence of allowing our children to walk to school, you are also taking away the independence and confidence of our 7 - year olds as it will be too far of a distance and a massive safety risk.  Natalie Earl

Early Years Education Foundation Phase, Pentre is achieving 100% and Treorchy achieving 84.4o/o, year end 2012. As you will appreciate how important these early years are and you want the best for your children. By this closure you will be asking us as parents to send our children to a school that is NOT achieving the standard of their current school. Since Mrs Poacher has taken over as Acting Head Teacher the school has been turned around, with increase in pupils starting and due to start. There has been a big focus to increase levels of attendance within the school and
the school has made significant improvement in also aspects of the Estyn report. By closing our school there are concerns that the most deprived pupils will suffer the most from the additional and unacceptable distance to travel. 23 Pleasant Street

We can only hope the Council have read these letters because if they have I cannot see how they can possibly consider closing our school.
Whatever the fight will go on.

Friday, 5 July 2013


“In the context of journalism, a sound bite is characterized by a short phrase or sentence that captures the essence of what the speaker was trying to say, and is used to summarize information and entice the reader or viewer. . .

Due to its brevity, the sound bite often overshadows the broader context in which it was spoken, and can be misleading or inaccurate. The insertion of sound bites into news broadcasts or documentaries is open to manipulation, leading to conflict over journalistic ethics.”  Wikpedia.

For those of us involved in the fight to save Pentre Primary School from closure Wikpedia’s definition of ‘sound bite’ has a haunting resonance.

From the outset we wanted our campaign to focus on the fact that should the proposals be ratified our children would inevitably be placed at risk given the distance they would have to travel to their new school along a heavily congested route. The imminent development of a Tesco store and filling station adjacent to the route further heightened our concerns.

Another concern was that in times of economic hardship many parents from within one of the most deprived communities in Wales would be faced with an additional financial burden many simply cannot afford. Child poverty is something RCT have pledged to address through the Children and Young People’s Plan 2011 – 14. How could a Labour led council possibly endorse a proposal that would exacerbate the problem in one of their most needy communities?

Rhondda AM, Leighton Andrews, shared our concerns but it became immediately apparent that his political opponents were more intent on shifting the focus and hence the term ‘surplus places’ was repeated loudly and often at every given opportunity. ‘Surplus Places’ became the perceived rallying cry, a trigger phrase that could induce paroxysms of frenzy among political opponents and those who oppose the ‘Surplus Places Policy’. Battle lines were drawn and our school became part of the collateral damage that ensued.

 School closures are inevitably emotive and sensitive issues no matter what the reason or prevailing policy. It was not surprising that many people were angered by what they saw as Mr Andrews trying to have his cake and eat it. However if his support for our campaign contravened ministerial guidelines it is a matter of grave concern for us all. In his capacity as AM he listened to our concerns but his subsequent actions were undertaken to ensure the LEA was following the procedure laid down in The School Organisation Proposals 2009 – the Surplus Places policy. In effect he was ensuring his own policy guidelines were given due and proper regard. There was no conflict of interest apparent or otherwise.

That did not stop the hue and cry of ‘surplus places’ as politicians and the media smelt blood and set off in pursuit of Mr Andrews. Misinformation regarding the school was broadcast nationally in an effort to embarrass the Minister for Education regardless of the damage inflicted on the community of Pentre. In his article, ‘Did Leanne Spook Leighton?”(http://www.clickonwales.org/2013/07/did-leanne-spook-leighton/), John Osmond is at a loss to understand how “a trivial issue” was sufficient “to occasion the first such resignation in the history of Welsh democratic devolution.”

Since when has the safety and welfare of children been “a trivial issue?”
Parents the length and breadth of the country will be outraged by a comment that sadly appears to reflect the opinion of the majority of political commentators in Wales. Does the National assembly exist to represent and promote the welfare of the people of Wales or has it become some kind of Mount Olympus where the elected ‘gods’ of the Senedd conduct their Machiavellian business aloof from the day to day concerns of ordinary citizens and voters?

At least the AM and MP for Rhondda had the courage to show they shared the concerns of their constituents. Apparently the parents and supporters of Gaer schools in Newport were far less successful when they sought the support of their elected representatives.

Rosemary Butler and Paul Flynn both declined to even look at – let alone scrutinise – this proposal.  It is not in the best interests of the community and makes little educational sense. Yet neither of our senior elected representatives know this as they preferred not to hear about the proposal.” (http://savegaerschools.wordpress.com/)

Unbelievable! Who are these people elected to represent? I understand that in some cases school closure is in the best interests of children but each case should be judged on its own merit in accordance with ministerial guidelines. The minimum we should expect is to be heard.

“.. . my personal view is that Councils in some cases have used the vague cover of “surplus” as a kind of “catch-all”, “get-out-of-jail-free” card to push through other proposals they want to see happen, especially when they do not have the money to accomplish them in other ways. (http://savegaerschools.wordpress.com/)

This week the Rhondda Leader featured a letter from a Mr Andrew Nutt who obviously felt qualified to offer his considered opinion despite the fact he resides in Bargoed and has no knowledge of the local issues surrounding the proposed closure. The sound bite has obviously worked its magic in his case.

The BBC took a similar tack when they misreported the numbers on roll in our school to the nation, seriously compromising our campaign in the process. Why let accurate reporting stand in the way of a good sound bite?

Here are some alternative sound bites the Pentre Action Group would like the Senedd and our local cabinet to consider. How about,
for starters?

We can only hope that our locally elected representatives are strong enough to ignore the ‘surplus places’ sound bite and focus on the real issues confronting Pentre school and the wider community. When the cabinet meet to make a final decision on the future of the school later this month they will have had time to reflect on the objections raised by the community.

Parents deeply concerned for the safety and wellbeing of their children. Parents worried sick that they will not be able to afford the bus fare required to transport their children to school. Families facing increased financial pressure and over reliance on elderly relatives if they are to hold down their jobs and ensure children get to school safely.

The Director of Education for Rhondda Cynon Taff stated in his response to concerns raised by parents that children would miss out on the free breakfasts available at Pentre school by stating:
 “Treorchy Primary School has a well attended breakfast club, which will continue for the benefit of all pupils who may attend that school”.
The Director obviously does not inhabit the same world. Does he not realise children living in Pentre will have to get up very early to be able to access it and either walk or catch a bus in the dark during the winter months when arguably this provision is of maximum benefit. Is this acceptable?

These are the issues that are struggling to be heard above the sound bite ‘surplus places’. Wikpedia’s definition that, “Due to its brevity, the sound bite often overshadows the broader context in which it was spoken, and can be misleading or inaccurate.” is certainly true in the case of Pentre Primary School.

The question is, will our ‘trvial’ issues be heard above the ubiquitous SURPLUS PLACES sound bite?

Is it a case of, “If you tolerate this then your children could be next?”

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Letter to Western Mail and Echo 26.6.2013

Hopefully either the Echo or the Western mail will post this in full:

"It began as a campaign to oppose the closure of our local school and from the outset we resolved not to become embroiled in local politics. Ironically it has resulted in the forced resignation of the Minister for Education and Skills, Leighton Andrews, who also happens to be the Assembly Member for Rhondda.

First Minister Carwyn Jones was quoted as saying, “The ministerial code aims to define the boundaries between the two roles and, on this occasion, I believe those roles were confused."

How were they confused?

The Assembly Government has a clear policy relating to surplus places in schools. School closures are invariably sensitive and emotive issues and therefore under the directive of Leighton Andrews LEA’s were required to refer to stringent guidelines set out in The School Organisation Proposals. Indeed, as of 1st October they become a legal obligation for each and every LEA whenever they propose a closure of a particular school.

It is transparent that the letter of objection Leighton Andrews wrote to the LEA merely draws the LEA’s attention to the fact they have not complied with the guidance set out in the WAG document. In fact in many instances they have totally disregarded the guidance. This, in fact, forms the basis of the legal challenge presented to the LEA by the Pentre Action Group.

We fail to see how this can be construed as ‘undermining his own policy’, when in essence his actions were intended to ensure that the policy guidelines themselves were given due and proper regard. Where is the conflict? We have grave concerns that in not supporting his Education Minister the First Minister has given carte blanche to local LEAs to proceed without due regard to WAG guidelines. Is it a case of, “If you tolerate this then your children will be next?”

Amid all the political and media frenzy it is easy to forget that at the centre of this debacle lie the concerns of parents for the safety and well being of their children. Should the proposal to close Pentre Primary school be ratified children will inevitably be placed at risk given the distance they will have to travel to their new school along a heavily congested route. This, I know, was one of Mr Andrews’ concerns as someone familiar with the geography of the Rhondda. It is to his eternal credit that he was prepared to demonstrate those concerns regardless of the consequences.

Surely, the safety of our children should transcend all other considerations whatever the colour of our political allegiance. How we protect the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly, the infirm and the young, defines us as a nation, not what particular policies hold sway at any given moment in time. As a group we feel that political opportunism has taken precedence over the interests of our children to the detriment of us all.

With regard to our local council we feel that whatever directives they have received to ensure the reduction of surplus places their first priority must always be the safety and welfare of the children in their charge. The fact that they have not undertaken a safety assessment of walking and cycling routes prior to bringing forward the proposal to close the school is indicative that this has not been their primary concern. Currently these are guidelines laid down by the WAG that will shortly become a statutory code of practice for LEA’s across Wales. However, given the proposed development of a new Tesco store and filling station adjacent to the route children must take any meaningful safe route assessment can only be undertaken after the development is complete. The LEA cannot abdicate its responsibility for the welfare of our children by hiding behind the ‘surplus places policy’. It has a duty of care in respect of our children that it has palpably failed to discharge.

The issue of surplus places in the case of Pentre has also been exaggerated. Currently the number on roll in Pentre is 104 and not 73 as stated by the BBC. This discrepancy within the proposal was pointed out to the LEA at an early stage in the consultation process but has not been amended. While we realise the issue of surplus places has to be tackled the LEA offered no alternative proposals to closure although more cost effective solutions exist which, crucially, would not place children at risk.

We have also been dismayed by the way our campaign has been callously manipulated by political opponents of the Minister and sections of the media. Interviews we gave to the BBC in good faith on the assurance they would not be used in a political context merely demonstrated our naivety. Not only were they used in a deliberate attempt to embarrass the Minister but inaccurate statistics were broadcast nationwide to the detriment of our campaign. We were incensed to learn that the BBC had been working on this story for two days prior to the interviews.

As a group we feel the consultation process has now been prejudiced beyond recall at both local and assembly level. For us the primary issue has never been about surplus places or ministerial policies but the valid concerns for the safety and well being of our children. This is still the urgent and pressing issue that should not be lost upon all concerned."


Press Release to Rhondda Leader

Written before Leighton Andrews' resignation.

Pentre Action Group are dismayed and appalled by the way in which the fight to save Pentre Primary from closure has been politicised by various groups seeking to pursue their own personal agendas.

Education Minister, and Rhondda AM, Leighton Andrews appears to be the target for those same people who have cynically exploited the situation at our school. From the outset we wanted to ensure that the fight to save Pentre focused on the real issues surrounding the children, parents and wider community. As our AM Leighton Andrews is perfectly entitled to participate in the consultation process.

Plaid Cymru’s assertions that Leighton Andrews is trying to shut our school is simply incorrect. The WAG has of course an issue with surplus places in schools and many schools in Wales, like ours, will inevitably come under scrutiny. However clear and stringent guidelines have been set in place by the Minister to ensure that when a school is proposed for closure the LEA must apply certain checks and balances. Each case must be judged on its own merit.

Our legal challenge to the LEA is based upon the fact that they have not given due consideration to the guidelines and in many cases have totally ignored ministerial advice. Incidentally after October 1st they will be legally obliged to follow these guidelines.

It is important to remember that at the heart of this is not the issue of surplus places but the safety of our children. There are no safe routes to Treorchy and we are shocked that the LEA has not undertaken a safe route assessment prior to bringing forward the proposal to close Pentre Primary as clearly set out in ministerial guidelines.

Mr Andrews shares our concerns and we are pleased to note that we have an AM prepared to put the interests of children before political expediency,