Hundreds protest over Cwmcarn school closure

Hundreds protest over Cwmcarn school closure

BIG TURN OUT: Yesterday’s protest over Cwmcarn High School closure

TEMPORARY BASE: Headmistress Jacqui Peplinski at the old Ebbw Vale campus where Cwmcarn pupils are currently being taught

First published in News
Last updated
South Wales Argus: Photograph of the Author by

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.

Comments (5)

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2:56pm Tue 26 Feb 13

DG1959 says...

CCBC do not have the authority to choose Cwmcarn 'for the chop'. The only basis for closing a school is falling numbers or failing standards - neither of which is true of CHS. This may explain why they are desperately trying to prop up the discredited Santia report, because they could only force closure on grounds of 'Health & Safety'.

If this is what is going on, then such a machiavellian attitude and approach is a disgrace as it rides roughshod over the rights and desires of the children and parents of Cwmcarn.
CCBC do not have the authority to choose Cwmcarn 'for the chop'. The only basis for closing a school is falling numbers or failing standards - neither of which is true of CHS. This may explain why they are desperately trying to prop up the discredited Santia report, because they could only force closure on grounds of 'Health & Safety'. If this is what is going on, then such a machiavellian attitude and approach is a disgrace as it rides roughshod over the rights and desires of the children and parents of Cwmcarn. DG1959
  • Score: 0

5:34pm Tue 26 Feb 13

rlewis says...

It is absolutely unbelievable that CCBC choose to consider closing the school with the second lowest number of surplus places in the county. Instead of identifying those schools with excessive surplus places, why don't they ask themselves why ? Pupils travel to Cwmcarn High School from lots of other catchment areas. That speaks for itself as to the quality of the education on offer there.
It is absolutely unbelievable that CCBC choose to consider closing the school with the second lowest number of surplus places in the county. Instead of identifying those schools with excessive surplus places, why don't they ask themselves why ? Pupils travel to Cwmcarn High School from lots of other catchment areas. That speaks for itself as to the quality of the education on offer there. rlewis
  • Score: 0

5:48pm Tue 26 Feb 13

Bem1978 says...

Ccbc are acting in a way that is completely immoral and demoralising to pupils, parents and staff.

My faith in the democratic process and a parents right to choose is utterly shattered and I am disgusted by the lack of urgency in reopening the cwmcarn site. To then consider that ccbc are even considering that the school has no future is beyond understanding.
Ccbc are acting in a way that is completely immoral and demoralising to pupils, parents and staff. My faith in the democratic process and a parents right to choose is utterly shattered and I am disgusted by the lack of urgency in reopening the cwmcarn site. To then consider that ccbc are even considering that the school has no future is beyond understanding. Bem1978
  • Score: 0

8:05pm Tue 26 Feb 13

Bernie Woodward1 says...

To be honest Caerphilly CBC need to just cut all the lies and face us as parents, children and staff and admit that they have no intention of sorting out this mess.

The 21st Century Schools programme has been agreed since 2011 - in it Bleddyn Hughes has pledged £60million to the closure of three secondary schools using the following rationale :“a combination of reconstruction and remodelling work, together with the removal of redundant buildings, alternative uses and mothballing”.

Read between the lines! It's gonna go one of two ways for us - what is the easiest way? Pledge some of that money into Cwmcarn High School and refurbish it - remove the asbestos and focus on it as a central place in the community which we have proven it is.

There are schools with empty classrooms - Cwmcarn's aren't empty - even with us being in Ebbw Vale our spirit remains in there. Our passion is stronger than ever - we are a good school - ESTYN acknowledge that whilst Caerphilly is an adequate Borough Council with regards to education - acknowledged by ESTYN.

Please Save Cwmcarn
To be honest Caerphilly CBC need to just cut all the lies and face us as parents, children and staff and admit that they have no intention of sorting out this mess. The 21st Century Schools programme has been agreed since 2011 - in it Bleddyn Hughes has pledged £60million to the closure of three secondary schools using the following rationale :“a combination of reconstruction and remodelling work, together with the removal of redundant buildings, alternative uses and mothballing”. Read between the lines! It's gonna go one of two ways for us - what is the easiest way? Pledge some of that money into Cwmcarn High School and refurbish it - remove the asbestos and focus on it as a central place in the community which we have proven it is. There are schools with empty classrooms - Cwmcarn's aren't empty - even with us being in Ebbw Vale our spirit remains in there. Our passion is stronger than ever - we are a good school - ESTYN acknowledge that whilst Caerphilly is an adequate Borough Council with regards to education - acknowledged by ESTYN. Please Save Cwmcarn Bernie Woodward1
  • Score: 0

2:10am Wed 27 Feb 13

Careful says...

Mr Ward (Editor), I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate your Paper and Ms Crockett's high quailty journalism in the above article, in particular bringing the facts on under-occupancy in CCBC's secondary schools to a wider audience. It is pleasing to see that the facts are presented as they are for the readers to form their own opinions.

There are also some excellent comments made above by contributors which validly question why it is illogical to attempt to permanently close CHS.

It is well publicised that the Minister for Education and Skills is currently questioning the effectiveness and efficiency of delivering education via local authorities. It is also well publicised that of the 22 LA's in Wales that 5 in the last year or so have been awarded unsatisfactory assessments (and are currently in Special Measures) in terms of their education service by Estyn. Welsh Government is clearly unhappy with this disappointing state of affairs, and Mr Andrews has commissioned a report into the options for future delivery of these services.

You may (or may not) also be aware that as recent as July 2012, CCBC had the benefit of the latest Estyn inspection report on its (CCBC's) education service, and whilst this was not unsatisfactory overall (it was graded adequate overall, below the higher awards of good and excellent), there were 5 recommendations for action. I quote from page 4:

"R5 - take urgent action to reduce surplus capacity in schools generally and secondary
schools in particular."

Whilst CCBC was graded "Adequate" on "Access and school places" the Estyn report on page 9 stresses:

"However, it has made unsatisfactory progress in reducing the number of surplus places in both secondary and primary schools. The percentage of schools with significant surplus is amongst the highest in Wales. Although the authority recognises that it has three more secondary schools than it needs to meet current demand for places, it has not yet been able to secure full support for appropriate action."

It is not unreasonable to deduce that:

> given the recent trend in LEA's being put into special measures (moreso brought about by an assessment of their capacity to improve or not as the cases may be);

> the apparent (now) desperation to address the long-term issue (since 2009) with under-occupancy in Caerphilly's secondary schools, and the timing of Cwmcarn's closure a few months later may be viewed at best as coincidental, at worst could be viewed as opportunistic and/or planned.

Estyn is well documented in the guidance it gives on how to address surplus places in schools. It advocates the credible, logical and right methodology of looking at levels of occupancy in individual schools, and advocates schools reorganisation that protects, and which does not adversely impact educational attainment and outcomes. This is a crucial objective for Estyn and it is a crucial objective for society. Quality attainment and improving standards of education is a key priority for the government in Wales and therefore it is fair to say that to attempt to restructure CCBC's schools on the basis of lesser/absent/or dubious bases (ie the physical condition of a school, especially where the evidence is clearly disputed) is not in the spirit of Estyn's guidance.

It is widely documented (see above for an example), Cwmcarn High School is one of the highest achieving secondary schools in CCBC, has the second lowest number of surplus places and is the lowest funded (per pupil) secondary school in CCBC and the third lowest funded in all of Wales.

It is a school that achieves, punches above its weight in school attainment and is a school that parents want to send their children to, because it delivers a relatively high standard of education and attainment.

CCBC need to looks elsewhere in its secondary school portfolio for candidates that match the criteria that Estyn expect well regarded Councils to adopt in dealing with surplus school places.

Cwmcarn High School should (& must) NOT be the scapegoat for a knee-jerk reaction to a long standing problem that CCBC has not addressed fully since 2009. It is not right and completely counter-productive to promoting improved educational standards in Wales.
Mr Ward (Editor), I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate your Paper and Ms Crockett's high quailty journalism in the above article, in particular bringing the facts on under-occupancy in CCBC's secondary schools to a wider audience. It is pleasing to see that the facts are presented as they are for the readers to form their own opinions. There are also some excellent comments made above by contributors which validly question why it is illogical to attempt to permanently close CHS. It is well publicised that the Minister for Education and Skills is currently questioning the effectiveness and efficiency of delivering education via local authorities. It is also well publicised that of the 22 LA's in Wales that 5 in the last year or so have been awarded unsatisfactory assessments (and are currently in Special Measures) in terms of their education service by Estyn. Welsh Government is clearly unhappy with this disappointing state of affairs, and Mr Andrews has commissioned a report into the options for future delivery of these services. You may (or may not) also be aware that as recent as July 2012, CCBC had the benefit of the latest Estyn inspection report on its (CCBC's) education service, and whilst this was not unsatisfactory overall (it was graded adequate overall, below the higher awards of good and excellent), there were 5 recommendations for action. I quote from page 4: "R5 - take urgent action to reduce surplus capacity in schools generally and secondary schools in particular." Whilst CCBC was graded "Adequate" on "Access and school places" the Estyn report on page 9 stresses: "However, it has made unsatisfactory progress in reducing the number of surplus places in both secondary and primary schools. The percentage of schools with significant surplus is amongst the highest in Wales. Although the authority recognises that it has three more secondary schools than it needs to meet current demand for places, it has not yet been able to secure full support for appropriate action." It is not unreasonable to deduce that: > given the recent trend in LEA's being put into special measures (moreso brought about by an assessment of their capacity to improve or not as the cases may be); > the apparent (now) desperation to address the long-term issue (since 2009) with under-occupancy in Caerphilly's secondary schools, and the timing of Cwmcarn's closure a few months later may be viewed at best as coincidental, at worst could be viewed as opportunistic and/or planned. Estyn is well documented in the guidance it gives on how to address surplus places in schools. It advocates the credible, logical and right methodology of looking at levels of occupancy in individual schools, and advocates schools reorganisation that protects, and which does not adversely impact educational attainment and outcomes. This is a crucial objective for Estyn and it is a crucial objective for society. Quality attainment and improving standards of education is a key priority for the government in Wales and therefore it is fair to say that to attempt to restructure CCBC's schools on the basis of lesser/absent/or dubious bases (ie the physical condition of a school, especially where the evidence is clearly disputed) is not in the spirit of Estyn's guidance. It is widely documented (see above for an example), Cwmcarn High School is one of the highest achieving secondary schools in CCBC, has the second lowest number of surplus places and is the lowest funded (per pupil) secondary school in CCBC and the third lowest funded in all of Wales. It is a school that achieves, punches above its weight in school attainment and is a school that parents want to send their children to, because it delivers a relatively high standard of education and attainment. CCBC need to looks elsewhere in its secondary school portfolio for candidates that match the criteria that Estyn expect well regarded Councils to adopt in dealing with surplus school places. Cwmcarn High School should (& must) NOT be the scapegoat for a knee-jerk reaction to a long standing problem that CCBC has not addressed fully since 2009. It is not right and completely counter-productive to promoting improved educational standards in Wales. Careful
  • Score: 0

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