Pembrokeshire Mistake Gives Public More Time to Campaign Against Schools Change
Council forgot it does not own school
Inept administration in Pembrokeshire might in the end result in parents and students getting what they want – a choice of post-16 education in Haverfordwest.
The county council forgot it did not own Tasker Milward, a Church in Wales Voluntary Controlled comprehensive school it wanted to close, and forgot to discuss its proposals with the owners, the Tasker Milward and Picton Charity, thereby wasting two years of council planning and giving parents and students new hope that their wishes will not be overruled.
Cllr Jacob Williams (Ind, East Williamston), on his highly readable blog, tracks two years of deliberations over complex, linked proposals which in the most recent incarnation were to
- Close Tasker Milward and Sir Thomas Picton comprehensive schools in Haverfordwest
- Close Ysgol Glan Cleddau primary school in Haverfordwest
- Open a 3-16 Welsh-medium school on the Tasker Milward site
- Provide for 16+ Welsh-medium education at Ysgol y Preseli, 24 miles distant
- Open an English-medium 11-16 school on the Sir Thomas Picton site
- Move all 16+ English-medium education to the Pembrokeshire College campus in Haverfordwest
Parents and pupils have strongly opposed the plan to axe 16+ education in the schools, and Cllr Williams pointed out at yesterday’s council meeting that although the option to attend Pembrokeshire College at 16 already exists, the majority of young people choose to remain at school.
Maurice Hughes, chair of the trustees of the Tasker Milward and Picton Charity, had written to the county council stating that the trustees cannot agree to the use of the charity’s assets for the fulfilment of the local authority’s statutory obligations, or for the benefit of people outside Haverfordwest (which the reorganisation plan would involve). The charity’s remit is for education solely within Haverfordwest, he pointed out.
The negotiations which the charity trustees are insisting upon mean that the whole proposal is back to square one, no further forward than in November 2013 – although an indirect part of the same plan, creating more post-16 places at Pembrokeshire College’s Pembroke campus, a dozen miles from Haverfordwest, is already under way! The extra places would be needed so that more students could be diverted there from the college’s Haverfordwest site, to make room for the post-16s who would have no option but to attend, if the successor schools to Tasker Milward and Sir Thomas Picton catered only for pupils aged 11-16.
Protest led to change for St Davids
Families in Haverfordwest became even more annoyed about their impending loss of choice when proposals for a similar ‘rationalisation’ in and around St Davids were amended following intervention by Cllr David Lloyd (Ind, St Davids), to allow both the comprehensives scheduled for closure, Ysgol Dewi Sant, St Davids, and Ysgol Bro Gwaun, Fishguard, to remain open for pupils aged 11-16. The county council also intended to close Solva primary school, but a determined campaign by parents led to a rethink, and the current plan is to maintain Solva’s school as a campus of a new Church in Wales Voluntary Aided school for pupils aged 3-16, also encompassing the Dewi Sant and Bro Gwaun campuses.
Now, the restarting of consultations over school reorganisation in Haverfordwest gives that community longer to ratchet up their opposition and to persuade the county council to rethink.
Complicated cost-benefit sums
All the planned changes are, of course, responses to cost pressures whereby it seems cheaper to centralise education on a very few sites, and force pupils to travel. Even if you were looking just at the economics, they are not straightforward. A new school can be substantially more energy-efficient than a 1960s quick-build, for example, but you have to do calculations to work out if the premises savings are outweighed by the transport costs – and what about climate-changing emissions from the transport, let alone the waste of time for pupils?
At least in Pembrokeshire, when county councillors make a fuss on behalf of the communities they represent, changes of plan are possible. Next door in Carmarthenshire, a huge effort by the people in and around Llandovery to keep open their comprehensive, Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, was met only with a refusal to listen to them, and a determination to stick to the original plan, come what may.