Jacob Williams
Wednesday 1st April, 2015

Turning the tables

Chamber 2Back in January you may recall I posted some photos of unexplained refurbishment work going on in the council chamber at County Hall.

The chairman’s table was completely dismantled and I invited your suggestions on what you thought – or hoped – it was in aid of.

The photos drew much speculation and you certainly rose to the challenge.

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Opinions ranged from the installation of a new ‘bar’ and ‘Bat Cave’ for present chairman Cllr. Tom Richards, to digging up old skeletons and putting in a set of stocks.

Installing a pig trough and putting in a confessional booth were also among your theories.

Someone even speculated that an orchestra pit was on its way, so Cllr. Sue Perkins can be accompanied by a live rendition of “Stand By Your Man” every time she brown-noses the leader, Cllr. Jamie Adams.

The real explanation is far from exciting. Imperceptible even to some councillors. April fool’s day it may be, but this is no joke.

Consult the before and after photographs and I’ll still forgive you for missing what’s changed.

BEFORE:

Before

AFTER:

After

After 2

Extra tables, seats and people were brought in for January’s meeting on north county education

If you didn’t spot it, they dismantled the chairman’s dais before reinstating it about a metre further back.

Contrary to a popular rumour it wasn’t to increase the buffer zone between the council’s top brass and Tenby’s Cllr. Michael Williams.

The real reason for the top table’s shift was to free up some space in the grey-carpeted area. So that occasional tables can be wheeled in when the chamber hosts more bums than there are seats for.

It was all completed with just days to spare before January’s extraordinary full council meeting, where sweeping proposals were debated – and approved – for north county secondary education provision.

On this occasion you may recall the chamber played host to a full complement of the county’s educational worthies.

Squeezed in like sardines, it was mildly reminiscent of one of those big Christmas family get-togethers.

The sort where the wallpapering table – clad with gingham cloth – doubles up as a dining table extension and the kids bicker over who has to sit on the plant stand.

The extra furniture has since been removed but it will have to be dusted off soon because in a couple of weeks January’s meeting will be repeated – all over!

In early March, Labour group leader Cllr. Paul Miller obtained fourteen other councillors’ signatures – including mine – for his request to totally revisit the outcome of January’s meeting which, among other things, will see all sixth form provision in Haverfordwest closed down in favour of a brand new post-16 education campus to be created at Pembrokeshire College.

Since January’s meeting serious doubts have been cast on the ‘facts’ and ‘figures’ presented to councillors which made the case for the council’s collaboration with the college.

Opponents to the changes for the county town’s secondary schoolchildren – most of whom didn’t make their voices made until after the decision had been made – have also snowballed.

Thankfully for them they’ll get a second chance to make their voices heard and a real opportunity to influence the decision.

The new meeting, on 14th April, is to completely revisit the proposals – as if they had never been endorsed.

You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise, because instead of being stopped in its tracks, the statutory consultation on the changes which full council approved in January has carried on regardless.

It’s interesting to note that this consultation period hadn’t even started before Cllr. Miller submitted his request to revisit the decision. It’s perhaps even more interesting to note how far in advance the meeting was set – over a month – after it was requisitioned.

The official word is that the extraordinary meeting was set so far ahead because it was difficult to find a date when all of the various luminaries who sat on the occasional tables were free to be invited back. From memory, only two of them spoke in January.

I suspect more telling questions will be put a second time around.


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15 Comments...

  • Flashbang

    You forgot to mention who collated and presented the dodgy facts and figures. You know how we all love to have names, named.

  • Timetraveller

    Sadly further education provision is being subject to serious cuts all over the country, often without any serious regard to educational standards. Unless the council cutback elsewhere or raise the council tax, this is unlikely to be changed.

    The legacy of officers gerrymandering the political process is still all too evident. This is a politically hard decision, not too many will really want to put their name to it. Still got the lowest rates in Wales, that’s the important thing!

  • Welshman 23

    How much did this cost?

  • M1Books

    As a governor in one of Carmarthenshire’s smallest secondary schools I know we would fight hard to retain our small but successful sixth form and I would urge parents in Pembrokeshire to keep their fight going.

    FE Colleges are independent and funded via Welsh Government and it is true that all are experiencing significant cutbacks – I lost my job last year as a result. But much more importantly sixth forms give pupils, at a critical time in their development, the opportunity to mature and experiment in a familiar social and educational setting.

    In addition, schools gain from teachers who relish the challenge of teaching at sixth form level and thus recruitment of committed, creative individuals is never a problem. FE colleges are good for vocational studies but not A levels and Welsh Bacc. Hang on to your sixth forms Pembrokeshire!

  • Timetraveller

    Schools often “subsidise” A level classes from their overall budget. One of the key criteria is class size. I have heard of some colleges having up to 30 students in science or maths A level classes – pretty hard for a teacher to track every student at this level of work. Schools have usually kept such classes below 15.

    The cost benefit of a sixth form college may be having larger numbers and so have larger classes. It is the thin end of a wedge driving educational standards down on cost grounds.

    Through its D- Estyn report a few years ago this authority was picked up on its under spend on school budgets. So they picked on the elderly more instead, or diverted external grants to provide cheap housing through a little creative accounting.

    What won’t be on offer to members is for the ratepayer to pick up more of the tab. This is not necessarily the efficient council they would like to project, just one who favours under funding anything from care homes to schools to keep rates down.

    M1Books, you are so right about a school keeping its sixth form, but it does cost and this debate in council has already been determined. God knows they might have to sacrifice their SRAs or something if they lost any vote – the cabinet would rather bring Pembrokeshire’s students down to their own inadequate cognitive level than risk losing out on their SRAs or ability to buy a supposed socialist or two (or six).

  • Rockface

    The flags have gone!

  • Timetraveller

    An aside Jacob, I came across a Churchillian quote recently, which I thought appropriate to recent events.

    The departed CEO was known to claim he valued his “reputation”. For his departure, this value seemed to be the package worth £320,000 or so that he was generously offered by the grateful (to get rid of him?) IPPG ruling group.

    He readily dropped a large sum of this on his way out of the door after intervention by the auditor, still he was carrying a load of swag, which apparently he is very happy with.

    Anyway, to Churchill…

    Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
    Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course…
    Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
    Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
    Churchill: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price!

    Does anyone in the IPPG now think they could have offered £5?

  • Hadenough

    The reason why many opponents to the changes for the county town’s secondary schoolchildren didn’t make their voices made heard until after the decision had been made was the way in which all the original options sent out for what Jamie Adams now calls pre consultation, were ditched and the ‘grand plan’ was finally unveiled to the public. A plan which was never previously put forward among the options.

    The public consultations have changed at every presentation as some of the more dodgy facts have been found out. PCC can bury us in figures and tables, but at as Disraeli once said there are lies, dammed lies and there are statistics.

    Parents want to know why the option of sixth form provision within a Haverfordwest secondary school has been thrown out in order to help keep Pembrokeshire College afloat in what looks like a funding crisis.

    The proposal also discriminates against north Pembrokeshire students, as those from the south of the county, and Welsh medium, will both still have the choice between sixth form or college.

  • Timetraveller

    Sixth form colleges are generally cheaper. They often have larger classes, more flexible with finding teaching staff (ie zero hours contracts etc.) This is all about money, not educational standards, so we see how that is presented at the council meeting.

    Sixth forms are often effectively subsidised within school budgets, keeping class sizes down and retaining teaching staff, many of whom would regard it as a bonus to teach A Level.

    There is also the continuity from the previous years at the school, often encouraging students to participate in school life and take responsibilities such as being prefects. No doubt today members will have presentations waxing lyrical on the benefits of a sixth form college, and money barely mentioned.

    True the college can better offer vocational courses, and both can benefit from cooperation, but the college I knew a few years ago would struggle to deliver the academic standards of A Level, partly because it was always too cash conscious not to compromise those standards.

  • Weasel

    Jacob, after watching this morning’s Council meeting on post-16 education in Pembrokeshire, I was left feeling extremely puzzled as to how the current proposal became a “preferred option”.

    Cllr Perkins put a great deal of store in the October 2014 meeting where she claimed all the options Cllr Miller was now asking for were consulted on, and that the five options put forward were subsequentely reduced to one and agreed by Council in January.

    I looked back at the October minutes and note all five options were based on sixth form provision in schools with indeed not even a mention of Pembrokeshire College save for a concern over duplication.

    What has not been explained in this whole debate was how such a step change came about in the three months following Council’s resolution to explore further the five options that resulted in the radically different preferred option.

    My own suspicion is that this preferred option was slipped in under the smokescreen of the Ysgol Dewi Sant furore. Members clearly were unaware of the opposition we now see to the sixth form reform proposals as they simply were not included in the five options being taken forward.

    Once again we have been duped by good ole Boss Hogg and the IPPG boys.

  • John Hudson

    29 councillors voted in favour of the “unlawful” CEO’s settlement in apparent ignorance of all relevant considerations in reaching their decision.

    I was struck by the number of unclear or unknown aspects or consequences of the favoured plan which began to be teased out at yesterdays meeting. 29 councillors voted in favour of continuing the current consultation of this plan.

    When the results are in and many alternatives may or may not be up for consideration, I suspect a lot will ride on them being able to be meshed into a viable plan for the whole county. It may take a lot to replace the council’s preferred option.

    I got the impression that the council’s favoured plan had been predicated on a ‘what is best for the college’ approach, and the reason for not reopening a new consultation rested on the potential loss of 21st Century Schools cash by delay in progressing projects.

    Who submitted the council’s initial bid for this programme and did it include a list of potential buildings?

  • Michael52

    Just something about ‘consultation’. I was down at Waterloo tip (sorry CA site) before the public consultation had been closed. I asked when the sites would be closing for two days a week. Reply from the staff, ‘we have been told June’. As usual, decision taken before the ‘consultation’ was even opened. I bet.

  • Kate Becton

    Read in the ‘Mercury’ today that one of the comments made at the EGM, from Pearl Llewellyn, was the threat that south Pembrokeshire would lose out on the new learning centre at Bush if the plans for north Pembrokeshire were not agreed.

    I am very fond of Pearl, I think that she is a courageous lady and has been a good friend, however, all Councillors are elected on the basis that they represent Pembrokeshire as a whole and it sets a very disturbing precedent if north, south, east, west are going to vote according to their own interests – remember ‘for whom the bell tolls’.

    The loss of sixth form provision would be a disaster for any school – particularly in a rural area such as Pembrokeshire. My daughter is a teacher in Lincolnshire and her school shares a sixth form provision for subjects that do not always attract a large number of pupils, (she is a language teacher), and I know that she very much enjoys the ‘A’ level teaching.

    We experience enough trouble in attracting medical staff to Pembrokeshire, without creating a situation where we would not be able to offer an attractive enough package to attract highly qualified teachers. Children and young adults are going to be harmed by this decision.

    When I first came to Pembrokeshire – 35 years ago – it was considered the ultimate in rural lifestyle. Times have changed. Cities (look at Swansea and Cardiff) now offer wonderful opportunities, together with a ‘cosmopolitan’ lifestyle and easy access to country and coast – perhaps we should wake up and smell the coffee.

  • Concerned

    Kate’s comments were both interesting and incisive. Like her, I moved to this lovely part of the world some 30 years ago, and the only way I will leave is feet first.

    However the world has moved on dramatically in that time, communications have improved and a day trip to Cardiff is no longer a once a year experience. For various personal reasons I travel both there and to Swansea regularly and the change and improvements in those cities is dramatic, with an improved quality of life to boot.

    Pembrokeshire has changed very little over those years. In many ways that is to be treasured, but where does that leave young people wishing to stay in the county, or young professionals looking to relocate here?

    As Kate, says, the attractions of the cities down the M4 are just too great. I am not sure what the answer to thus conundrum is, but potentially downgrading education services is certainly not.

  • Timetraveller

    Kate – interesting argument, and often used, that if you don’t agree this, something else will have to go, ie a proposed learning centre at Bush.

    Well something else would indeed have to go, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a learning centre. In fact it could be anywhere in the council’s budget. Perhaps the chairman could set an example and do away with the limo. In a way it would mean more if he turned up for functions on a bicycle (official council bicycle?) which would also be much healthier for him!

    Then Cllr Adams could live up to his claim that SRAs should be sufficient to attract “talent”. Allowances based on the cognitive ability of the various claimants would result in the lowest SRAs in Wales, a title worth striving for.

    One could go on, but the threat of delaying or cancelling a proposed investment is a rather naked threat and should be challenged as such.

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