The Best Start for our Children

Outcomes for Children in Education in Pembrokeshire need to improve. There’s no getting away from that fact and as a result there needs to be changes made to the way we teach the children of this county.

Pembrokeshire Councils latest inspection report can be found here.

Having said that, the changes Pembrokeshire Council are proposing to make to secondary schools in Pembrokeshire are profound and long lasting. The system they set up now will last 30 years or more.

Standards have to improve yes – but they are only going to improve if we get re-organisation right. I, for one, am very nervous the current proposals leave a lot of key questions unanswered.

I firmly believe that choice for pupils needs to be maintained and I am a big supporter of sixth forms staying in Pembrokeshire schools.

What is being proposed?

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Originally the proposal was to close Ysgol Dewi Sant in St Davids, transfer the bulk of that catchment to Ysgol Bro Gwaun (Fishguard) and merge the two schools in Haverfordwest (Sir Thomas Picton and Tasker Milward) into a single school, at a location to be determined, in Haverfordwest.

Just prior to the full council meeting it emerged that Sir Thomas Picton was the preferred site for a merged Haverfordwest secondary school but that post sixteen provision (sixth forms currently) would be provided in conjunction with Pembrokeshire College and on Pembrokeshire College’s Haverfordwest site.

Following public concern and a concerted protest by the St Davids community plans to close Ysgol Dewi Sant were shelved but it is still proposed to close the sixth form at Dewi Sant and the sixth form at Bro Gwaun. It is also still proposed to push ahead with a 6th form centre at Pembrokeshire College.

During the preliminary consultation events it was never stated that post 16 provision in the county would be situated anywhere other than in school. Upon publication of the final recommendations it transpired that the actual plan was to locate all post 16 education at Pembrokeshire College. It’s since been established that this had been Pembrokeshire Council’s plan all along.

Why do the council think this works best?

Co-Location

The council view is that the co-location of academic and volational provision will really help students who wish to pursue a mixed post 16 education. By mixed they mean 1 or 2 traditionally academic courses (A-Level maths, english or whatever) together with a vocational qualification such as engineering or care.

Personally I struggle to see a vast difference between co-locating the facility in Pembrokeshire College and locating the vocational centre in Pembrokeshire College (where it is now) and at the academic centre on the Sir Thomas Picton Site (less than a mile away in the same town).

Funding

We all know that funding is tight. The Conservative led Government in Westminster has reduced the funding for Wales by 10% over the last 5 years and as a result our public services in Wales are under unprecedented pressure. This pressure affects Pembrokeshire College too.

Not only that though, but Pembrokeshire Council has committed to the construction of a new 21st Century School in Bush in Pembroke. This development includes a vocational learning centre that it is proposed will be operated by Pembrokeshire College.

If that development goes ahead (and the council are committed to it) then Pembrokeshire College will lose a good number (several hundred) students from it’s Haverfordwest site to the new facility in Bush. That leaves the College with a further financial headache – it would then have a significant number of surplus places in Haverfordwest.

And…. there-in lies a key driver for the re-organisation plans in North Pembrokeshire. By closing all of the school sixth forms (St Davids, Fishguard and Haverfordwest) the college can maintain it’s numbers and the funding that comes with it.

Site Constraints

On argument I have heard against locating the new sixth form centre on the Sir Thomas Picton School Site is that site constraints would require further, expensive infrastructure investment – principally a new £1m road.

It’s worth seeing that spend requirement in the context of a £150m capital programme which is going to lay the foundation for education in this county for 50 years or more.

It’s the best educational solution we are striving for – if we need an additional £1m to be spent on infrastructure to achieve that, so be it.

Pupil Number Projections

The council have produced a number of projects which show a continue decline in secondary school roles. These figures are hotly contested. Below are the PCC figures for post 16.
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Where do we go from here?

As many of you will know I attempted to stop the consultation process earlier on this month (April) but unfortunately the ruling group on Pembrokeshire Council are absolutely determined to force this through.

I called the extraordinary meeting which took place that day (with the support of 14 fellow councillors) and you can watch my contribution to the debate here.

As a result of the ruling group voting down my proposals that day the Statutory Consultation process remains underway and council will next get the opportunity to vote on the proposals (their final opportunity) in September of this year.

Are there really any other options?

It’s all very well opposing change (and to be clear I am – I want to see sixth form provision remain in our schools) but I feel it’s really important that if you are mounting an opposition you have some idea of the alternatives.

So….. on the 10th April I organised a Pembrokeshire Education ‘Hackathon’ at Haverfordwest Leisure Centre. That was an opportunity for people who are passionate about the future of Education in Pembrokeshire to come and share both their concerns and their vision for the future of education in this county.

We all, at that meeting, agreed that the halting of the statutory consultation process was key to allowing people more time to come up with real and credible alternatives to the council proposal. It was also felt that the current proposals didn’t provide and real and holistic solution for the whole of Pembrokeshire. Parts of jigsaw (particularly the Bush School development) are being seeing and evaluated in isolation and that isn’t, in my view, going to deliver the best outcome for Pembrokeshire.

The current debate is lacking honesty. No where are the council talking about the impact these proposal (ostensibly for North Pembrokeshire) will have on the medium term viability of sixth form provision in either Milford Haven or Greenhill (Tenby). These proposals unquestionably have an impact on those schools and yet no effort has been made by the authority to make parents, pupils and teachers in those schools aware.

Finally, I firmly believe that, irrespective of the eventual solution, major re-organisation proposals such as these will only succeed if they command widespread public support and widespread support from those who are going to have to learn and work within the new environment. A grown up, detailed, open and honest debate is key to ensuring 1) We get the right solution 2) the final proposal commands the widespread public support needed if the proposals are be successfully implemented.

The Schools for the Future Proposal

First out of the traps with a credible alternative proposal for the future of their School was the very able and dedicate School for the Future Campaign Group from St Davids.

Their effort (which I think is great) can be found here.

For those interested in reading more detail I’ve tried to gather together lots of the key documents in one place –
Here.

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