Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru
National Assembly for Wales

Mr Gerson Davies
Director of Education & Community Services
Pembrokeshire County Council.
County Hall
SA61 lTP

Eich cyf. Your ref
Ein cyf. Our ref A-EDF-668-020-2227-01

9 January 2004

Dear Mr Davies


I refer to the above proposals published by Pembrokeshire County Council (the Authority) under Sections 28 and 29 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 (the 1998 Act) on 18 June 2003. Since objections have been submitted, the proposals require approval by the National Assembly for Wales under paragraph 8(1 )(b) of Schedule 6 to the 1998 Act.
The matter has been considered by Ms Jane Davidson AM, the Assembly Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning, in accordance with the responsibilities delegated to her by the National Assembly.

I am directed by the Minister to say that she has carefully considered the proposals, the statutory objections submitted to her, the Authority’s comments thereon and the supporting evidence supplied in accordance with the Education (School Organisation Proposals) (Wales) Regulations 1999. In exercise of the powers conferred on the National Assembly by paragraph 8(2) of Schedule 6 to the 1998 Act, she has decided to approve the proposal as set out in the published notice, with the minor modification that the capacity of the school will be l8O pupil places and the standard admission number will be 25.

In reaching this view, the Minister has carefully considered all the matters brought to her attention, in particular the Authority’s objective of enhanced educational provision at a re-developed area primary school in Crymych. The Minister welcomes the LEA’s commitment to improving the condition of school buildings so as to meet the Assembly Government’s target of all schools being in good physical condition by the year 2010 and notes the Authority’s proven track record in recent years of rationalising and improving primary school provision. She is mindful. of the level of support locally for keeping Hermon primary school open and of the genuine feelings of the objectors but she is also aware of the views of local people who welcome the proposed development at Crymych. She considers that proposals are justified on educational. and financial grounds and has concluded that the interests of pupils in this part of Pembrokeshire will. be best served by allowing the proposals to proceed.

The Minister notes that whilst there has been widespread support for the proposal. to redevelop Crymych primary school. and an acceptance of the need to close BLaenffos primary, there has been considerable opposition to the closure of Hermon Primary School. The Authority has responded in detail to points made by individual objectors and already made these comments publicly available, but in summary the main concerns raised by the 55 statutory objectors and the Authority’s responses were as follows:
1.    Hermon school achieves very high educational standards - pupils are happy and successful in this small school - SATs results above the Wales and Pembrokeshire averages - the alternative offered in a large area school will. not provide equivalent quality of education.

The Authority considers that the strength of the three existing schools is in their classroom teaching and the proposal is designed to enhance this. The present teachers are likely to be retained and will be freed from the burdens of management associated with small schools. This will enable an even greater concentration on quality teaching and curriculum delivery.

The assertion that Hermon SATS results are above average is misleading. The number of pupils concerned is so small that percentage comparisons are not meaningful. Even if the SAT results are taken at face value, they are actually slightly below average when compared with benchmarked North Pembrokeshire schools.

The recent ESTYN inspection of Hermon school found standards of achievement to be mostly satisfactory and in some subjects to be good; the quality of teaching was assessed as good in 52% of lessons and satisfactory in the remainder. Management and leadership was assessed as satisfactory. This is no better than many other schools in Pembrokeshire. When compared with the 15 other schools in Pembrokeshire inspected during 2002-03, Hermon ‘s overall performance is below the average.

The proposal creates an opportunity for substantial investment which will lead to educational improvement. It will provide new facilities for early years and improved arrangements for IT, PE, music and SEN. It will bring about a range of clear benefits to pupils including larger peer groups, access to a wider range of teacher expertise, more extra curricular opportunities, the opportunity to work in groups of similar ability and age plus better preparation for the transfer to secondary school. The limitations of the three existing schools militate against such improvements if the status quo were to continue. The proposal addresses the recognised constraints of small schools including the management burden on the Headteacher. The proposed new school will not be large, but a medium sized school. Similar sized schools have demonstrated great success across Pembrokeshire. Pupils may well be in smaller classes than at Hermon with only one or two age groups within a class.
Concerns that a larger school will not offer a comparable standard of care are misplaced. Successful pastoral care depends on the class teacher; there is no reason to expect it not to be as good in a medium sized school.

i.   Hermon school is full and thriving - new houses are being built in the village and will generate more demand for places - the LEA’s forecast pupil population figures for Hermon School are incorrect: alternative calculations made by Local residents were ignored.

Although Hermon school is currently full, it is nevertheless a small school and will continue to have a pupil population reflecting its capacity of just 46 places.

Potential new housing is estimated at 42 dwellings. However recent completion rates have been very low. There is therefore no certainty that new dwellings will be developed, that new housing would be occupied by young families, or that there would be more than a handful of additional primary age children.

The School Organisation Plan indicates a falling pupil population - a 12% decline in the Preseli Family of Schools between 2004 and 2007. Pupil numbers at Hermon are expected to be under 40 within the next 5 years. Alternative estimates provided by the local community of Hermon which suggested slightly higher numbers in the future were reported to the Council. These figures however reflect the current pattern of 'out of catchment’ attendance and assume it will continue. That may well not be the case, as future admissions will need to ensure that the capacity of the school is not exceeded. The MOE capacity of Hermon is 46 - admissions in
future will reflect this.

iii.    The consultation process was flawed - notes of the meetings held in March were not circulated until November - some correspondence was in English only - no direct consultation with the Cylch Meithrin or Community Councils- not all parents views were acknowledged - the LEA gave misleading pupil forecasts and suggested there were 49 pupils on roll at Hermon rather than 52

The Authority considers that it consulted extensively and properly in accordance with
guidance and case law.

•    In 1998/9 there was a series of consultative meetings relating to the future of primary education in the North East of the County.
•    In 2002/3 over a period of about a year there was consultation on the specific proposals relating to Hermon, Blaenffos and Crymych; there were meetings with parents, staff and governing bodies. Additional meetings and "surgeries” with individual parents were held on request. In total there were 15 consultative meetings and 2 "surgeries” for individual parents.
•    Letters were sent to parents clarifying issues raised during consultation.
•    Relevant documentation was distributed and background documentation was also made available in each school. Background documentation included: The School Organisation Plan, copies of specific policies relating to school rationalisation, copies of letters sent to parents and copies of consultation documentation. There is no requirement to circulate notes of consultation meetings but in any case consultation continued for five months after the notes of the first meetings were made widely available, giving ample opportunity for response.
The outcome of the consultation was reflected in the strategy, both in 1998/9 and in 2002 /3. All interested parties were included and alternative options which arose during consultation were carefully examined.
• In March 2002 the possibility of establishing an area school with Hermon as an Annex was raised by Hermon governors and parents. This was examined and featured as ”possibilities” during consultation in Autumn/Winter 2002/3. However, Hermon parents and parents of the other schools did not eventually support this option.
•    One element of the consultation was the nature of the area school and its buildings and the capital commitment. Additions and changes were suggested: these were accepted and included in the proposals.
•    Other alternatives were fully discussed during the consultation process, including the option of federation, however, this was rejected by all parties.
•    Through consultation with parents and staff and governing bodies (which include representatives of Community Councils, the business community and the LEA) all interested parties and community representatives were aware of the proposal and had the opportunity to express views. There are three community councillors on the Hermon governing body, two each on the Crymych and Blaenffos governing bodies. In addition, several representatives of the Hermon Cylch Meithrin attended consultation meetings and surgeries.

iv.    The school is at the heart of the community - serves as a social centre - closure would be a devastating loss for the community

The Authority has commented that:

•    The proposal is fully consonant with its Joint Unitary Development Plan for Pembrokeshire which embraces the concept of the ”sustainable community” and emphasises the interrelationships between groups of settlements. Communities consist of groups of settlements rather than individual places - services will often be provided in an adjoining village.
•    The 3 villages are geographically close and community activities are largely focussed at Crymych, which is a recognised natural focal point.
•    Crymych is also the focal point for educational, cultural and sporting activities.
•    The proposal will strengthen community development. It may also be possible to use the redundant site at Hermon for community uses.
•    Current community use of Hermon School is limited. Letting records indicate that there was no recorded use in 200 1/2 or 2002/3.
•    The establishment of an area school will further support the development of a ”vibrant community” as delineated in the Community Plan for Pembrokeshire.

v.    Closing the school will make it more difficult to secure the future of the Welsh language - pupils will Lose their Welshness in a larger school.

All three schools are in the same linguistic category - the proposed area school will also be a Category A Welsh medium school. The educational evidence suggests that the area school will strengthen bilingualism: it will be located on a bilingual campus that has a dedicated centre which meets the specific needs of pupils who in-migrate. Other medium-sized area schools in Pembrokeshire achieve as good or better standards of Welsh as evidenced by assessment tests.

vi.    There will be no savings. Hermon per pupil costs are Lower than the Pembrokeshire average

The figures supplied in the 19 May report show that Hermon ‘s per pupil costs are 8% higher than the Pembrokeshire average (when SEN costs are netted off). The proposals will generate estimated revenue savings of nearly £60k p.a. as well as improved educational provision.

vii.    There will be extra transport costs for parents

Although Hermon is less than two miles from Crymych, dedicated school transport will be provided for pupils currently registered at Hermon school in line with the Authority’s existing transport policy. The bus will run from the existing Hermon school site to and from the new school. Initially there will also be an escort on the bus, probably for the first half term, to support pupils during the change.

viii.    A village hall will be built soon which will provide the facilities lacking at Hermon Indications are that public funding will not be available for this scheme which is, as yet, only a proposal. Hermon would continue to be a small school in poor buildings.

ix.    The development at Crymych should proceed but without the closure of Hermon - the resulting area school would be a similar size to others in Pembrokeshire

The Authority does not consider this approach feasible or prudent. It would not deliver improved and cost effective education provision for Hermon pupils and it runs counter to the support for an area school which emerged during consultation.

It would result in teachers continuing to work in a poor environment; the heavy demands on the two teachers would continue; children would continue to be denied specialist teaching and be taught in wide age ranges. It ignores current and future demands on schools in relation to self-review, Performance Management and other government initiatives. It militates against development of education provision for the future as outlined in the Welsh Assembly Government’s document ”The Learning Country” and the vision embodied in national policies and documents, such as Estyn ‘s vision in the document ”Excellent Schools”, would not be achieved.

The Minister’s conclusions

The Minister has considered carefully the opinions of the objectors and the responses put forward by the Authority. She is satisfied that the responses adequately answer the objectors’ points.

The Minister notes that Hermon is a popular school. She would not normally approve the closure of such a school unless satisfied that the alternative proposed will provide at least equivalent quality and diversity of education at a lower total cost. She is persuaded of the potential of the proposal for improvement in the quality of provision, particularly given the unsuitability of the existing buildings at Hermon, Blaenffos and Crymych. She notes that Hermon has outside toilets, classrooms below recommended size and no hall for Assembly or PE; and that Blaenffos and Crymych are similarly unsuitable for the delivery of education in the 21st century.

The Authority has identified a range of educational advantages which it considers are associated with a larger, area schools. The Minister welcomes the investment which the Authority plan to make in remodelling and extending the buildings on the Crymych site to create facilities appropriate for delivery of the national curriculum. Having taken account of the latest Estyn inspection reports which indicate that standards of achievement and quality of teaching are weaker at Hermon than at Blaenffos and Crymych, the LEA’s arguments in favour of area schools and the scale of investment in improved facilities at Crymych, the Minister is persuaded that it is reasonable to expect that the new school will provide a standard of education that is at least equivalent to that currently provided at Hermon (and at Blaenffos and Crymych) and at a slightly lower cost. The view of the authority is that the new area school will build on existing standards, bring benefits to the children and staff alike and, once the new school is established, improve educational provision for local children. The Minister believes that an upgraded school, which WIll provide a full range of facilities, benefit from improved ICT provision and have a larger complement of teaching staff with a wide range of experience and expertise, should be of benefit to all the pupils in the area.

The Minister is aware that Pembrokeshire LEA has developed its strategy towards primary school provision over a number of years and has a proven track record of successfully managing change. She also takes note of the Best Value Inspection conducted by Estyn and the Audit Commission which found that the authority’s approach to the planning, rationatisation and improvement of school provision had been outstandingly good and implemented with courage and vision. As a consequence physical and educational working conditions had improved for both pupils and teachers. This proposal appears to the Minister to be in line with the authority’s established and proven strategy.

The Minister has also considered carefully the adequacy of the consultation process in relation to this proposal in light of the specific objections from the Hermon Playgroup and Community Council regarding a lack of formal consultation. She notes that the LEA held a number of consultation meetings for staff, parents and governors and arranged ‘tsurgeries” for individual parents and additional meetings on request. The Minister also notes that that community councillors and playgroup representatives knew about the proposals and were able to comment on them. The deadline for responses was extended twice, which allowed the opportunity for aLl concerns to be expressed and alternatives to closure to be explored. She is also aware that amendments were made to the proposals in response to comments received. The Minister is satisfied that, as a result of this extended consultation, all the main interested parties, including community representatives and existing early years providers, had ample opportunity to consider the proposals, ask questions and express their views. She concludes that the consultation on this proposal was adequate.

The Minister is a keen supporter of the Welsh language and was concerned that some objectors felt that the proposals might have an adverse effect on the quality of Welsh medium provision in the area. She notes however that all the schools concerned are category A Welsh medium schools and that the new school will be well equipped to provide the same level of linguistic support and Language immersion for pupils - whether they come from English or Welsh speaking homes. She feels that the improvement in education provision for these pupils will only serve to strengthen their command of the Welsh Language and their bilingualism.

The Minister welcomes the Authority’s intention to complete the building works during holiday periods so far as possible to avoid disruption to the pupils. She notes, however, that the building work will probably take longer than originally estimated and the redeveloped area school would probably not be completed until March 2005. The Authority have confirmed that they still wish the new area school to be established from 1 September 2004 but intend that some of the children will continue to be taught in the existing premises until they can be transferred to the new school at Crymych in March 2005. The Minister agrees that pupils should remain in their existing school locations until the new premises are ready and hereby modifies the proposal to that effect.

The Minister looks to Pembrokeshire County Council to ensure that parents are kept informed of developments and that arrangements are made for a smooth transfer with a minimum of disruption to pupils.

Copies of this letter go to the Chief Executive of Pembrokeshire County Council, to the Chairs of Governors and Headteachers of Hermon, Blaenffos and Crymych Primary Schools and to the statutory objectors.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Elizabeth A Taylor
Schools Management Division
Department for Training and Education

Parc Cathays

cathays Park

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