Monday, 10 August 2015

The Contrast Between North and South

John Fitzgerald issued an update on the efforts to save Gwernyfed School a few days ago.
In his latest letter to Councillor Thomas, he contrasts the treatment of the schools in Montgomeryshire, which are being invited to contribute their thoughts and ideas about the future of secondary education in the area, with the treatment of the staff and pupils at Gwernyfed, who were told with no warning that their school was going to close.
Interestingly enough, the decision-makers of the County Council mostly come from Montgomeryshire. Here's the text of the letter:

Letter to Cllr Barry Thomas

5 August 2015

Dear Cllr Thomas

Re Gwernyfed High School

Thank you for your email acknowledgement to my letter of 30 July. Since writing to you further significant information has come to light which you may wish to consider alongside the content of my last email.

We have now obtained recorded details of the review to be carried out in North Powys (Montgomeryshire) into the future shape of secondary education in that part of the county. In summary it is clear that the first stage of the process includes inviting every school to contribute their thoughts and ideas about the shape of future secondary education in the area. Once the information is collated there would be further discussion with schools BEFORE the local authority designs a secondary education programme for North Powys. This is in line with the Powys transformational education policy approved in the autumn of 2014.

Contrast that process with what happened to Gwernyfed HS. The Head Teacher and Chair of Governors were summoned to a meeting at short notice to be told that their school was to close in August 2017 and pupils to transfer to a new so called Beacons Learning Campus (Brecon HS under a new name) and that they had to inform parents, students, staff and unions within three days before a press release was issued. No pre-planning discussions just a decision to sacrifice a very good school to salvage a failing Brecon HS. Although the new transformational policy was in place at the time the decision to close Gwernyfed HS was taken it was apparently decided by the cabinet to bypass the policy.

Now cast your mind back to 24 March 2015, the paper considered by the cabinet in respect of the Gwernyfed/Brecon decision also stated there would be a review of secondary education in North Powys sometime in the future but because of particular complexities (not spelt out) it would take eight months. When challenged by a reporter from the B&R and representatives of Gwernyfed HS that North Powys appeared to be receiving special treatment, reflecting the wishes of the five Montgomery Cabinet members (five out of eight), you robustly defended your decisions claiming that you would not tolerate special treatment for one part of the county over another (this is on record).

Now that we have the evidence that North Powys are being given very special treatment your statement about not tolerating such actions for one part of the county is at best “hollow”. The question is how did this set of circumstances arise? Was it because Powys County Council, that even by its standards, fell to an even lower level of incompetence? Is it because you had been misled in the information given to you or was it because of collusion between officials and Montgomery Councillors to try to ensure their part of the county had a much better deal than the south. If the first explanation is correct you have a serious management problem. If it is the second possibility, you have different kind of management problem. If it is the third option, then you need to understand there is a name for actions taken by group of councillors to favour one section of the electorate over another, usually for electoral reasons, it’s called “gerrymandering”. It is a criminal offence and convictions carry a jail sentence or a hefty fine or both.

Only you can know which explanation is correct but at the very least you have added a gift to us of another judicial review potential to add to a growing list. There is an old adage that when in a hole “you should stop digging”, sound advice, you really should “stop digging”. Therefore given that your strategy for secondary education is in tatters the best thing you can do is call a halt and abandon the Brecon/Gwernyfed plan, and go back to the drawing board and involving all schools across South Powys. Not the end of the world because there are different transformational options available at a considerably lower cost. In the planning. If you do not then the statement by the education portfolio holder that you will fulfil your statutory obligations in respect of the High Schools at Gwernyfed and Brecon is meaningless as you have so far utterly failed to do so.

You will still need to come and face the “music” as outlined in my earlier letter at both Gwernyfed and Brecon, and I would suggest Builth and Llandrindod as well. Simply responding to my letter of 30 July, or this one, by defending the indefensible simply will not do. If you still have doubts consider my two letters alongside the overwhelming evidence contained in the judicial review submitted to the High Court, your staff must have it, and recognise the decisions taken in respect of Gwernyfed and Brecon has brought the authority into disrepute. The fact that the cabinet withdrew the original plan (but only to find another way to bring it back) demonstrates that you accept the claim of the judicial review application that the authority’s actions were unlawful otherwise would you withdraw it? It really is time for the cabinet to start again and work with all schools across South Powys to design the right kind of secondary education system which puts students, parents, staff, governors and communities at the centre of the deliberations which will enable you to meet your statutory obligations and at a lower cost. Would that not be better than a long term conflict which is the alternative?

Yours sincerely


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