Friday 3 January 2014

Closing Schools - Updated

One of the points of interest at next week's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council is a proposal to take responsibility for deciding on school closures away from councillors, and hand it to the Executive Board.

The move reflects changes in legislation designed to streamline the process and do away with the need in most cases to refer decisions which attracted objections to the minister in Cardiff, but crucially councils can decide for themselves whether to delegate these powers to their executive boards or cabinets.

Needless to say, the top brass in County Hall would very much like councillors to surrender their power to veto school closures and remove another chunk of what is left of democratic accountability in Carmarthenshire. In effect the future of our remaining smaller schools would be decided by the chief executive and rubber stamped by the ever obedient Executive Board.

The alternative to handing power to the Executive Board would be to set up a new local decision making committee.

For its part the Executive Board, or rather the senior officers who really run the show, do not like the idea of elected representatives meddling in what they feel is their field of expertise, and the report being put before councillors argues that the council's Modernising Education Programme shows just why school closures should be left to the experts.

Oh, and just for good measure they wheel out one of their current favourite arguments that democracy is too expensive.

The Modernising Education Programme has been responsible for a huge number of school closures, forcing small children to travel long distances to new super-schools and devastating communities. The MEP was responsible for the fiasco of the school with no children at Capel Iwan and the destruction of Ysgol Pantycelyn in Llandovery. There is also growing evidence that it has been driving down standards in secondary education across the county, as we can see from the recent school rankings and the county's mediocre performance in GCSEs when compared with other authorities.

Instead of handing more power to the architects of the MEP, councillors should be demanding a root and branch review of this disastrous flagship policy.

The interesting thing to watch on Wednesday, assuming that there is not another catastrophic failure in the online broadcast, is how the different groups vote.

It is safe to bet that Labour will back the officers' proposals; after all, very few of the schools threatened with closure are in Labour controlled wards.

In the end it will come down to a test for Pam Palmer's Independents to show just how independent they really are. Sadly their track record does not inspire confidence, and quite a few community champions, such as Ivor Jackson and Tom Theophilus, would almost certainly welcome an arrangement which removed any responsibility for making difficult decisions.

At the end of the day, as Kev would say, difficult decisions are what he is all about.


Thanks to a regular contributor for some interesting feedback.

The School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 is the piece of legislation which streamlines procedures for changing the provision of education. It is supplemented by the School Organisation Code most recently published in September 2013.

Proposals to change the status of a school, including shutting it, would still have to go out to consultation, but bearing in mind what happened in Llandovery where parents, pupils and governors were near-unanimous in their opposition to closure, no one should kid themselves that consultations offer any hope to communities campaigning to save their schools in Carmarthenshire.

There has not been a single example of the council changing its plans to close a school in Carmarthenshire as a result of consultation in recent years.

An interesting example of a council having to back down comes from neighbouring Powys where a long and ultimately successful campaign was fought to save the village school in Carno. The key to that victory was that parents and governors showed that the council's projections of numbers of pupils were wrong. Whether they would have succeeded in Carmarthenshire where the Executive Board (or rather two senior officers) wants to be prosecuting counsel, judge and jury is something to ponder.

In a different context Old Grumpy delivers a superb sermon on the folly of unquestioning acceptance of what the experts say over on his shiny new blog. Here in Carmarthenshire councillors are being told to shut their eyes and place the fate of our schools in the hands of the experts.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In his new year address Kevin Madge listed the happy band of new MEP projects including the new educational village where pupils will be able to do vocational training on a range of sites.
Can this mean that the education department has actually checked the new TAN 15 flood maps? Originally the village was planned to be built between the Graig College and Stradey Welsh secondary School. The College and School are now clearly swamped by the large C2 flood plain at Stradey and the proposed village site is entirely C2 as well.

I would be interested to know if the "range of sites" means that CCC have sensibly decided to not build in Stradey or whether they are going ahead regardless and expecting frequent evacuations to higher ground?