School closure plan was vandalism

THE County's grudging agreement not to close Combs Infants School is a huge relief to the local community, and a great credit to all those who have campaigned so hard and so effectively to keep the school open.

However joy at the decision is tempered by annoyance that the closure procedure was ever started, and that it was allowed to go on for so long.

The final report to Cabinet recommended that the school should survive, but hardly referred to all the compelling evidence provided by the school governors and the local campaigners. The decision was based entirely on the fact that closure of the only "Outstanding" school in the area, as declared by OFSTED inspectors, could not improve local standards of education. That was glaringly obvious from the outset.

It soon became apparent that none of the other criteria that are set by the Government for the closure of rural schools were met, as the school is also the village hall, and there would be no benefit to other schools that are experiencing falling rolls.

At the original public meeting I asked for the closure process to be stopped straight away, as the evidence was already so conclusive.

Councillor Alan Charles, Cabinet Member for schools, continued to insist that the process had to grind on to the end, despite clear government guidance that it could be stopped at any time. He subsequently accused me of making a "grandstanding speech to get a cheap round of applause".

In the attempt to justify the original proposal to close the school the Council continue to quote inflated figures of the cost per pupil at Combs, despite the OFSTED report stating that it gives "outstanding value for money".

Pupils at Combs are very lucky to be able to attend such an excellent school in lovely surroundings, and it would be wonderful if all infants in the County could have the same experience. However to propose closing Combs school because this is not possible is the politics of envy.

At the outset I said that to close this centre of excellence at Combs, without any benefit elsewhere, would be an act of vandalism.

The report to Cabinet of the County's education officers comes to the same conclusion, in more diplomatic language.

Barrie Taylor

County Councillor for Whaley & Blackbrook

LibDem Group Leader