The county council’s attempts at school reorganisation in Haverfordwest have become a shambles.
I know this is the case because Grumpette said so at last Thursday’s extraordinary council meeting when it was decided to scrap the present statutory consultation and start over again.
This follows a letter from solicitors representing Tasker Milward and Sir Thomas Picton Trustees which has persuaded the council that to proceed with the current consultation risks having any decision overturned by a Judicial Review.
This despite members’ questions on this issue at meeting after meeting being met with assurances that TM and STP trustees were not in a position to block the progress of the reorganisation scheme.
There is a comprehensive report on this aspect of the saga at that other website which is well worth reading.
The twists and turns of this consultation process is such a vast subject that it would take a full-length book to do it justice, so I will restrict myself to the supposed education benefits of the scheme.
One of the arguments put forward by the leader and cabinet member for education Sue Perkins is that these reforms are necessary if performance in Pembrokeshire is to be improved.
Currently, the county sits in 17th position among the 22 Welsh counties when on the scale of deprivation – measured by the number of pupils receiving free school meals – it should be seventh.
Bringing pupil attainment into the argument only goes to show how dim the IPPG can be because, as I never tire of pointing out, it has been in power ever since Pembrokeshire was resurrected in 1996 and the dire state of education in the county is its responsibility, entirely.
In any case, research shows that, while school buildings and class sizes may have a marginal effect, the main drivers of of performance are the quality of teaching; strength of leadership; and the social status of the pupils.
As we have seen, based on this last factor Pembrokeshire is lagging far behind its Welsh counterparts.
And, if new schools are the answer, where does that leave children in Milford Haven and Tenby who are destined to soldier on in their present buildings?
In an attempt to convince us of the benefits of new buildings, Cllr Perkins emailed all members with the message: “There have been questions regarding the benefits to learning in new schools. I thought it might be helpful for Councillors to read this report.”
Attached was a research paper from Salford University which surprisingly made no mention of new schools.
The study was carried out over a range of schools stretching from the Victorian to the modern, but nowhere in the analysis is any attempt made to correlate outcomes with the age of the school.
Instead it evaluated environmental factors in new schools and found a performance gap of 16% between the worst and the best.
These factors were broken down into:
Naturalness: light, temperature and air quality – accounting for half the learning impact – (8%).
Individualisation: ownership and flexibility – accounting for about a quarter – (4%).
Stimulation (appropriate level of): complexity and colour – again about a quarter – (4%).
These last two covering such issues as the colour of the walls and the amount of posters stuck to them.
Indeed the report comes to the opposite conclusion to that advanced by Cllr Perkins:
“A very positive finding is that users (teachers) can readily action many of the factors. When the pilot results of the HEAD study were aired in 2013 the Department for Education said, “There is no convincing evidence that spending enormous sums of money on school buildings leads to increased attainment”. However, these final results, based on a five-fold increase in the sample, show that small changes costing very little, or nothing, can make a real difference; for example, changing the layout of the room, the choices of display, or colour of the walls.”
I did email Cllr Perkins pointing out that the Salford study didn’t support her conclusions but despite sending her a reminder she has chosen not to reply.
Of course, architects of new schools can incorporate these beneficial elements into their plans, but that is not to say that architects in the past were not aware of these design issues.
This episode sums up the problem with the IPPG’s decision making process.
They start with a conclusion and cherry pick or invent facts to support it; rational people first establish the facts and then reach a conclusion.
Rational people also try to be consistent.
For instance the report on education on the St Davids peninsula states that: “The concerns of the residents and parents of Solva in relation to these proposals cannot be ignored.”
This is in reference to the strong opposition to the closure of Solva school and the council’s climb down on the issue.
In a democracy, listening to what the public say is to be applauded, but the IPPG can’t pick and choose.
If this is the guiding principle, they need to explain why the concerns of parents in Hubberston were ignored and why those of the residents of Haverfordwest are currently having so little influence.
It strikes me that, in trying to reach the best possible decisions on matters of this importance, a little bit of intellectual honesty wouldn’t go amiss.