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 Any objections to the proposal, which have not been withdrawn in writing, will be forwarded to the Welsh Government for the Minister to make a decision."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.

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