Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Gwernyfed School Latest News

It seems that Powys County Council, in their deep hole, are still digging.
Here's the latest letter from John Fitzgerald (of the campaign to save Gwernyfed School - and improve Brecon High School) to Councillor Thomas, with a few ideas about how he could get out of the mess the Council has created, while following the legal guide lines that were ignored first time round.

Dear Cllr Thomas

Re: Gwernyfed and Brecon High Schools

Thank you for your letter of 21 August. What is particularly interesting about your letter is how much you have ignored of the original correspondance. However, let me see if I can help you.

1. You refer to the recommendation to establish a Beacons Learning Campus to include both schools.
• I have re-read the submission to the cabinet on 24 March and however you view the contents of the paper submitted it is clear a decision was made to close Gwernyfed.
• In addition 10 days before the cabinet meeting the school was directed to inform, parents, students, staff and unions that Powys County Council planned to close Gwernyfed in August 2017. If all you were dealing with was making a recommendation why did your officers act in this way?
• Five days after that the local authority issued a press release announcing the planned closure.
• After the cabinet meeting on the 24 March an outline Business Case (OBC) was submitted to the Welsh Government for funding to build a new school and college in Brecon which had been prepared in consultation with Brecon High School and NPTC but not Gwernyfed.
2. You then refer to the intention to follow Stage 2 (p19) of the school review process contained within the Schools Transformation Process Policy 2014, but Councillor how can that happen? It should have occurred before the decision on 24 March AS HAS BEEN THE CASE IN North Powys.
3. To compound the shambles your Portfolio Holder for Education stated in July that a) in the light of informal representations and the submission of a judicial review the plan to close Gwernyfed was to be withdrawn, b) later in July that the plan was not being withdrawn and c) by the beginning of August the plan was to be reviewed. It gives the impression that no one inside the local authority understands what is being planned or the direction of travel.

4. Put all this together and it demonstrates that the local authority has breached (and remains in breach) of its own Schools Transformation Policy 2014, the statutory Schools Organisation Code, the statutory Schools Organisation: Consultation with Children and Young People Code and the local authority’s duty of care to all service users and staff. The authority remains open to potential judicial review actions (you should now understand that is a real possibility) if the local authority does not change course, is at risk of again having a Strategic Outline Case turned down for a third time and in the case of a failure to exercise a duty of care leaves the county council open to being sued by an awful lot of people!

5. In point 3 you refer to an “impact assessment”, does anyone in Powys CC know how to do this? Sitting in County Hall and writing one out of a senior officers imagination does not count but the schools Organisation Code details the process including the local authority responsibilities towards community organisations effected by decisions, of which there are 34 at Gwernyfed. Point 4 refers to draft recommendations to be submitted to cabinet and then, and only then, will pupils, parents, staff, governors, and other key stakeholders be consulted. Sorry Councillor that breaches the Schools Organisation Code, especially as the cabinet meeting papers of July 2014 state that “Once it is decided to proceed with the plan” only then will the formal consultation under this code occur. That process should have occurred before the decision to proceed. This has all the hall marks of people realising they got it all wrong first time around and are now trying to salvage the situation by pretending they are using correct processes when they are not. So very different to the way matters are being dealt with in the North of the county which brings me to points 5 and 6 of your letter.

6. To blame the consultants carrying out the review in the North for the process being used is at best lame. You must know that whatever process is used, even if it is suggested by the consultants involved, has to be approved by the authority first (unless of course your commissioning processes have completely broken down) and ultimately it is the local authority that is responsible for any decision made by an employee or an agent. The fact is the situation in the North is no more complex than in the South had you looked at that area as a whole instead of picking off Gwernyfed. You have two schools with serious problems in the North as we do in the South.

7. We now have all the correspondence relating to the breakdown in the authorities relationship with Neath Port Talbot College (NPTC). We know there were internal discussions about how to solve the Brecon problem from the autumn onwards with no mention of Gwernyfed until the beginning of February this year. The game for the local authority changed when NPTC announced the establishment of 22 new A-Level courses in Brecon in January without any consultation with Powys CC. In the space of five weeks the local authority went from having no plan to one involving the closure of Gwernyfed, hardly well thought through was it? Therefore, whatever you may say, had you tried that stunt in the North, the five cabinet members from that area would never have agreed.

8. Before closing a piece of legal precedent which might help to focus minds. In 2013 the Secretary of State for Health in England decided that in order to salvage a failing hospital trust he would order the closure of services at a neighbouring high achieving trust and transfer, services, resources and patients. In a subsequent judicial review the judge ruled that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully because no public body (in this case the government) has the power to close effective organisations in order to transfer services and resources to the failing body and that it was for the public body (in this case the government) to sort out the failing trust. The ruling applies equally to all public bodies including local authorities. Translating this ruling to this situation, Gwernyfed has an academic record that matches Chrickhowell and Newtown (both in the top 10% in Wales) and it cannot be closed to salvage a failing school. With this in mind the cabinet needs to go back to the drawing board as far as Brecon is concerned (and we want to see a resolution of this schools problems) but without Gwernyfed tacked on.

I have been given to understand that the Famous Five (North Powys councillors) are upset at the criticism of unfairness from the South of the county. Well, I am sorry councillors you feel so aggrieved but you have brought it on yourselves. There is a way of stopping the criticism and that is to withdraw the plan to close Gwernyfed and concentrate on the much needed plan to help Brecon High School. There are a number of people with the right skills who could help you in this area and there are alternative plans but it requires the authority to recognise that it has to stop charging on with a flawed plan first.
Best wishes/ Cofion Gorau
Yours sincerely


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