DCC General Council Meeting

Mike Evanson from the Village Hall Trust and three parents from Combs School attended the General Council Meeting at Matlock this afternoon to put the following question to Councillor Alan Charles, Cabinet Member for Education, on behalf of the campaign.

'Since the consultation process began in May, we have sought to explain the strong community support for the School, Village Hall and Chapel. We have shown in meetings with the Council and others (to be supported by the submissions that we will make to Council) that the objectives of the Council to reduce surplus school places and improve educational standards will not be achieved by the Council's proposal. Has this strong evidence and support for the continuance of Combs School, Village Hall and Chapel already suggested to the Council that the proposal for closure should be set aside?'

After Councillor Charles’ response, a supplementary question was allowed, again put by Mike Evanson on behalf of the campaign:

'Various political representatives who have had greater exposure to the evidence have already concluded that there is a very strong case for Combs School not to be closed. The Council may be aware of the approach made by Tom Levitt to question the proposal, the unanimous support of the Parish Council for our area, and the messages of support that have been sent by present High Peak and County Councillors. This complements a unified and determined community response, which is characteristic of the spirit of Combs in present and past times. To quote a councillor from Chapel-en-le-Frith: 'When I went to the consultation meeting, based on the evidence presented by DCC, I thought there was a clear case for closure of the school. Having heard the arguments put forth by the whole community - parents, governors and villagers - I left with a completely changed mind.' Since the continuation of this consultation process will continue to destablilise a valuable resource, and not achieve the Council's objectives, in whose interests is it to let it continue?'

Councillor Barrie Taylor (Lib Dem – Whaley Bridge and Blackbrook) spoke later in the meeting regarding the closure of Combs in the context of Surplus Places and related Primary School Closures and concluding that closing Combs would not meet any of the objectives originally set out in DCC’s Proposed Closures document.

Councillor Tracy Critchlow (Conservative – Chapel and Hope Valley) stated that she was totally against the closure and that perhaps the Cabinet would have given the school the courtesy of spelling ‘Combs’ correctly in the Agenda.

A spokesman for Apperknowle school asked if the Council will take into consideration the individual needs of children during the consultation process.

Councillor Charles’ response to all of the above is summarized below and follows the same lines as his response to the Open Meeting at the school on 22nd May:

  • ‘Closing a school is always a very, very hard decision’
  • ‘We have a strategic responsibility to provide quality education for the 110,000 children in primary education in the Authority’
  • ‘We have to ensure we are getting value for money for all the children across the county’
  • ‘We have an Audit Commission requirement and DfES requirement not to waste public funds in empty school buildings and to ensure that every child should get a fair deal’
  • ‘It costs around £5,700 to educate each child at Combs and Apperknowle compared to £2,600 to educate elsewhere’ [see Note 2 below]
  • ‘At Combs we are looking at educating 10 children [currently] from the ‘normal’ area of the school: are we going to do it a cost of moving them to another school nearby [Chapel], for which we will provide the necessary transport provision? Or are we going to continue to pay twice the price for them to continue their privileged education at the cost of other schools in Derbyshire? [see Note 1 below]
  • ‘We are convinced that we can provide quality education at Chapel Primary School for the children at Combs for less than half the price’.
  • ‘Councillor Taylor has misled the people of Combs. I have no authority whatsoever to stop this consultation. Clearly our view is to close the school. It is up to the local community to come up with the written evidence to stop it. I have been helpful in suggesting the only areas that would change our opinion’.

The only evidence that would change the decision to close Combs school is, as stated by Councillor Charles:-

  • New pre-school data [to contradict the falling role issue].
  • The length of the journey to Chapel Primary for the relevant children in the school [as at September 2008].
  • The impact of closing the school on the continuance of the Village Hall and Church facility.

Note 1:
By ‘at the cost’ Councillor Charles obviously means ‘to the detriment’ rather than referring to the actual costs stated per pupil

Note 2:
‘Twice the price’ is misleading – it has already been stated that it costs £3,320 to educate each child at Chapel as against the above quoted county average of ‘£2,600’. The actual cost per child at Combs is £5,447 not £5,700 as stated. Even if you add the current Combs 26 pupils into the 465 published roll for Chapel (from OfSTED 2004), the per pupil cost remains at over £3,000.

DCC's version of the meeting is contained in their minutes.