MORE than 700 angry parents and pupils yesterday took part in a protest march urging Caerphilly council to re-open Cwmcarn High School.
Laden with banners and placards which read “Don’t delay save Cwmcarn High today”, and “We want our school back”, the lively campaigners chanted “Save our school” as they made their way from Cwmcarn Memorial Gardens to the high school around a mile away.
Traffic was brought to a standstill in Newport Road, while the noise from the crowd drewshopkeepers and residents out onto the street to watch as the procession went by, the marchers blowing whistles and singing to make their voices heard.
Cars and lorries passing on the busy A467 sounded their horns in support – much to the demonstrators’ delight – as mums with pushchairs marched alongside pensioners and students of all ages.
Once they arrived at their destination there was much whooping and cheering when the school itself appeared to join in as the noise from the crowd set off the school’s alarm system.
There may have been 700 of them but they all had one shared message: “Re-open our school.”
The school was closed in October after a council-commissioned survey by Santia Asbestos Management found staff and pupils could be at risk from airborne particles of amosite asbestos.
Pupils were moved to a site in Ebbw Vale while further tests were carried out in what was described as a “temporary move”. But the saga has been long drawn out, and two subsequent investigations at the site give a conflicting picture of the findings of the first survey, which has left some parents questioning the true reasons for the school’s closure.
March organiser Kelly East, who started an online petition urging the council and the Welsh Government to agree the long-term future of the school after it was closed over asbestos fears in October, said supporters were determined their voices would be heard.
She said: “It’s a fantastic turnout, everyone’s been so well behaved, and the children look immaculate in their uniforms. Everyone, from parents to supporters, has been great.
“We are here to say, 'open the school. We just want to go home.'”
She said parents had no objections to the council completing any work that needs to be done to make buildings containing asbestos materials safe.
But she said the Health and Safety Laboratory report said the building poses a low risk so there should be no delay in letting pupils return.
Many parents say they feel Caerphilly council is using the discovery of asbestos at the site as an excuse to close the school to tackle surplus spaces in the borough.
Nicola Young, who has two children in the school, said: “This school is one of the best, if not the best in the county and despite that Caerphilly council is trying to close it. It’s just unfair, they are not thinking of the children’s education. It’s all politics.”
Tracey Tidmarsh said: “If the school wasn’t doing well and results were low none of us would be here wanting to keep it open.
“This (the closure) is all part of a wider agenda by Caerphilly council.”
Tim Ridd, whose daughter attends Cwmcarn, said the uncertainty over the school’s future was worrying for pupils and parents alike.
He said: “It’s caused a lot of upset, my daughter is in her first year but it has brought a lot of disruption.
“The bottom line is the Health and Safety Executive is the law and if the law says the school is safe and Caerphilly council deems it isn’t there’s a political agenda.
Caerphilly council is working off different agenda to everyone else and we feel it is wrong.”
Mike Haines, whose three grandchildren are pupils at the school, said: “Why they want to take such a good school away is beyond me.
We just want some answers.”
Grandfather Chris Reeks said it was a false economy to spend £1.4 million on transporting the children to a temporary site in Ebbw Vale when the money could instead be used to tackle the asbestos problem.
He added: “It’s just the excuse they (Caerphilly council) needed to close it.”
Joanne Dunn said her eldest son, Jack’s GCSE education had been disrupted by the move to a temporary site in Ebbw Vale, while her other children, Elliot, 13, and Jasmine, 11, had lost friends who had left to join other schools. She said: “I chose Cwmcarn because I thought it was the best for my children’s education and that’s why I want my children to go back there.”
Closures loom as seats not taken
CAERPHILLY council plans to close three schools in the next two years to tackle surplus spaces in the borough, which are predicted to rise to 4,000 by 2022.
At the moment 21.7 per cent of the places at its 13 English-medium comprehensives are unfilled, a figure predicted to increase to 29.5 per cent in the next decade.
No decision has yet been made on which schools will close but the authority has set itself a target of reducing surplus places below 15 per cent by January 2015.
At present there are 2,871 surplus spaces in the area – the equivalent of three schools – and the council has secured £60 million from the Welsh Government to reduce these.
Of these 1,424 are in the former Islwyn and it is feared this figure could jump to 1,958 by 2022.
Pontllanfraith Comprehensive has the highest number, with 509, followed by Risca, with 454, Oakdale, with 166, and Newbridge, with 157.
Cwmcarn has the second lowest number of surplus spaces, with 109, behind Blackwood, which has 29.
Specific proposals on which schools are under threat are expected in the coming weeks, when a consultation process taking into consideration the views of the public will begin.
But parents, who yesterday carried posters saying: “CCBC give up now” and “four reports how many more?” believe the authority will now choose Cwmcarn High School as one of the three up for the chop.
They say there is no justification for its closure as it has some of the area’s best results. Caerphilly council declined to comment.