To Leighton Andrews, Members, Councillors,
I write with concern regarding the future of John Beddoes High School.
I congratulate the Education Minister on his rigorous stance in raising standards in Welsh Education, in particular the improvement lever of the Lead and Emerging Practitioner School Model, (LEPS). The challenge to declining achievement and pupil numbers in John Beddoes, (JBS) will be served well through the welcome coaching expertise from Newtown High School with a proven record of their own years long journey from failure to excellence. The LEPS is a realistic, practical scheme that resonates with the Estyn timescales for improvement. It must not be diluted.
At the May public consultation meeting led by Powys County Council, the audience was informed that the focus for improvement for JBS will be the systemic failures at leadership levels. There was nothing “wrong” with the pupils at the school, well being and behaviour were judged as good, with no unsatisfactory teaching. Unlike Newtown in 2003, all the ingredients are there currently to enable effective leadership to turn things back to good standards and considerably higher numbers of pupils the school enjoyed previously.
I understand that behind the two option model presented for “consultation”, (close or close and be taken over) PCC representatives were fighting hard to retain secondary education in East Radnorshire. The civil servants assessing the position of JBS on the Minister’s behalf would have expected a highly professional dialogue with accurate local intelligence upon which to navigate the best and most sustainable future for the border community and the children within the school.
However, given the position of PCC being in an Estyn category of significant weakness itself, (too slow in addressing school improvement agendas), combined with the pressure of value for money education through the distraction of the School Modernisation program, our Powys representatives were poor.
The Cabinet Report, April 30th 2013 highlights how just slow the PCC are in holding their hands up for the steady decline in JBS yet how quick to describe the low standards and unsustainable pupil numbers. Ironic that PCC heralds the need for a “radical solution” for a school that is “unviable and needs to close” given their own in feeble record of support and challenge. Despite being held to account by the Minister, the PCC have not adequately addressed their failings to our school community. Having managed the decline they are now rash and reactionary in bypassing proven school improvement models in preference for the “quick-fix”, departing from the original intent of the LEPS to deflect from their own incapacities and sustained failures.
The public consultation was recorded and will provide evidence that the community view was unanimous in the opinion that the PCC shirked their responsibility over years. The failure in leadership includes not only the Leadership of the JBS but those who held portfolio and cabinet positions and some still do, a succession of council education officers, SWAMWAC, with the consequences being Governors given poor advice and parents and pupils under-informed and let down by their paid experts.
Our PCC representatives have promoted a “radical” solution that they are under-qualified and unfit to make and one which in reality does not exist in education. The Estyn timescale and the LEPS expect improvement over 18 months. The clear expectation being that the Emerging School thoroughly remediated, will stand on its own, rejuvenated and reformed. The PCC have not considered the scope of the LEPS in the promotion of JBS through the improvement process, where with standards rising, confidence will also rise and numbers ofpupils will return. This is happening in nearby English Schools. The strengthening of JBS as a school in its own right, high performing, with rising numbers will happen with effective leadership. This is likeLy to be more easily achievable given the nature of the specific issues JBS has.
This is an opportunity to fully immerse JBS in the LEPS scheme, not to water it down. The exodus to English High schools needs to be robustly addressed, with a re-emergent John Beddoes School with a long tradition of excellence and a Welsh curriculum. The options to close or close and be taken over negate the power of the LEPS model. What has been proposed for JBS is a negative view of school improvement where a school becomes an annexe without a substantive head or its own historic or future identity. Within two years JBS could become a beacon of the success of the school improvement model originally proposed, which could be the fulcrum for raised standards in Wales nationally. Pupils will return to their local Welsh School and not be a victim of poor Local Authority performance and judgement, nor abandoned by their own Government.
This view is based not upon whimsical optimism but upon my wealth of experience as an Educational Adviser with recent experience at National, Regional and Local levels and who is now championing a similar LEPS model as a Headteacher where standards and number on roll have increased proportionately, and where a flourishing educational improvement model was allowed to grow through a well led, systematised plan.
Finally, the PCC openly blame the Education Minister for the probable closure of the school. I do not believe the Education Minister would obstruct the democratic process through such a farcical consultation and not fully consider the context of the JBS with its unique geographical position or the series of leadership failures over years. The Newtown leadership team, competent and willing place JBS as perfect candidates for the LEPS. East Radnorshire may be sparsely populated but its schools are vital to the Welsh identity which is constantly threatened through the poor advice and performance of the PCC and its readily available geographic alternatives.
My daughter is currently sitting her GCSE’s at JBS, my son is due to go there in 2015. What quality of Education will be sustained in East Radnorshire by then? It could be a growing, locally cherished, Welsh school with its own Headteacher or an annexe of Newtown, without the buy in or ownership of its local people,