Confidence trick

As I reported in my last post, the attempt by opposition members to have a vote of no confidence in cabinet member Sue Perkins was torpedoed by some fancy footwork by the Leader Jamie Adams.

The notice called for a vote of no confidence in the cabinet member for education and calling on all the cunning for which he is justly famous Cllr Adams ensured that Cllr Perkins was no longer in that post when the day of reckoning arrived.

Instead, she had been moved sideways, with Cllr David Lloyd recruited from the opposition benches to take over the education portfolio.

Those of us who keep a close eye on these things don’t have much faith in Cllr Lloyd either, so we let the no confidence motion run its course.

For a start, his decision to allow himself to be the stooge in Cllr Adams’ shabby ploy to avoid a vote of no confidence in Cllr Perkins is hardly a recommendation to anyone who believes in straight dealing.

Surely, he could have delayed his acceptance of the cabinet post until after councillors had given their verdict on Cllr Perkins’ handling of the schools’ reorganisation programme.

Add to that his savage criticism of Cllr Adams’ leadership in the recent past.

Indeed, not that long ago he was canvassing support for a leadership challenge.

Rumours have been circulating for a long time that he was being lined up for a cabinet post, but when I have raised this with him he has consistently said that he wouldn’t serve in the cabinet with Adams as leader.

He is now dressing up this piece of political opportunism as stemming from the call of duty – “I can’t stand idly by”, and all that jazz.

But my main reason for opposing his appointment is his views on secondary education in Pembrokeshire.

If you listen to his speech to council on May 12 (here at two hours) you will realise that he is gung ho for 11-16 secondary education in Pembrokeshire.

Of course, despite his soaring rhetoric, members voted 31-24 against an 11-16 school in Haverfordwest.

Now you might have expected him to take that defeat with good grace, but at a meeting between headteachers and councillors just a couple of weeks ago he was peddling exactly the same line.

At last Thursday’s meeting, Cllr Lloyd outlined his plans for sixth form education in Pembrokeshire.

These seem to involve teaching ‘A’ levels in schools where there are sufficient numbers to make the courses financially viable with ‘minority’ subjects being taught at an ‘A’ level centre based on Pembrokeshire College.

I’m afraid this scheme runs up against the same problems of timetabling and transporting students as those encountered by the federation system currently operating across secondary schools in Milford, Pembroke and Tenby.

He was also big on e-learning and here he is on stronger ground because it is much simpler to transmit the learning down a phone line to the students than to transport the students to the learning in taxis and buses.

However, I should point out that this is not a new idea having been proposed by Cllr Paul Miller some 18 months ago as a way of keeping sixth forms in schools where many of us think they properly belong.

Of course, if you follow the e-learning path, the need for an ‘A’ level centre at Pembrokeshire College is much diminished.

What is now clear is that, without an ‘A’ level centre on its Merlins Bridge site, the College will not proceed with the vocational education centre at Pembroke.

Indeed that was always the basic game plan: 400+ vocational students from Merlins Bridge to Pembroke with the spare capacity at Merlins Bridge backfilled by the sixth form students from St Davids, Fishguard and Haverfordwest.

By a series of manoeuvres, the sixth forms from St Davids and Fishguard were transferred to the college site leaving Haverfordwest as the last man standing. But at the meeting on May 12 the proposal for an 11-16 school in Haverfordwest was rejected by 31 votes to 24.

As the powers that be in county hall are quick to point out, what members didn’t vote for on May 12 was an 11-19 school in Haverfordwest, but as that is the only other possible model the rejection of the 11-16 option amounted to much the same thing.

This has caused some consternation in Fishguard because it has now dawned on them that they may have surrendered their sixth forms too easily and an 11-19 school in Haverfordwest might act as a magnet – especially for students who live equidistant from the two schools – and any reduction in numbers could affect the viability of secondary education in Fishguard.

The same applies to St Davids.

An even greater threat to both schools comes from the proposed Welsh language school in Haverfordwest.

We are told that there is an overwhelming demand for Welsh medium education in the north west of Pembrokeshire, but parents have been reluctant to follow that path because, if they wish to continue at secondary level, their children face the long bus journey to Crymych.

With a new Welsh school in Haverfordwest that obstacle will be removed.

Common sense dictates that a good number of those taking up the the option will be from the Welsh-speaking areas to the north and west of Haverfordwest.

When I asked at a previous meeting whether the council had any estimates of the extent of this possible leakage I was told that they didn’t.

Cllr Paul Miller pressed the same point at last Thurday’s meeting and also drew a blank.

However, to give some indication of the extent of the problem, members did have a letter from Ysgol Preseli setting out its fears that it could lose as many as 300 students to the new Welsh medium school in Haverfordwest.

Indeed, last Thursday’s meeting also agreed to Croesgoch school converting to Welsh medium and it stands to reason that those pupils can’t undertake their secondary education at both St Davids and the new Welsh school in Haverfordwest.

How long, I wonder, before we see the resurrection of the original plan to transfer 11-16 pupils from St Davids to Fishguard in order to address the problem of surplus places.

Cllr Miller’s NoM at last Thursday’s meeting called for consultation on an 11-19 school in Haverfordwest in line with the wishes of pupils, parents and governors.

We were told this would breach some guidelines or another and instead we had an “amendment” foisted on us calling for a review of sixth form education across the whole county.

Of course, if Milford Haven, Pembroke and Tenby can be persuaded to fall in with this sixth form centre scheme, it will make it much more difficult to argue for an 11-19 school in Haverfordwest.

“Why should we make an exception for Haverfordwest?” I can hear them say.

At Thursday’s meeting, the chief executive objected to the use of the word “shambles” to describe the situation, but many will think it too charitable.

My thesaurus offers fiasco, botch, farce, debacle and not a few ending in -up, of which the most printable is lash-up.

Unfortunately this whole process has been driven by political expediency designed to maintain the leader’s majority on the council – a triumph of tactics over strategy.

History is littered with examples of the disasters that befall authoritarian leaders who cling on to power by surrounding themselves with lackeys whose main attribute is loyalty rather than ability and, unsurprisingly, Jamie Adams hasn’t managed to buck the trend.