Monthly Archives: Rhagfyr 2011

Schools for Penarth

I was delighted to read the results of the recent banding exercise for secondary schools in Wales, not least because Penarth’s two comprehensives come out pretty well. Stanwell School came ranked in Band 2, and St. Cyres School is placed in Band 3. I’m not sure what the banding actually means – the Welsh Government’s guide for parents and carers explains it with about as much clarity as Lord Goldsmith justified the war in Iraq. But it seems pretty obvious even to me that schools in Bands 2 and 3 are likely to be better places for education than Band 5.

But this post is ‘schools for Penarth’, not ‘Penarth schools’, so let’s not forget the other options for secondary education in Penarth.

Families with loads of money can avail themselves of all that Westbourne School has to offer – or indeed any of the other private schools in south Wales and beyond. I’m sure these schools do a fine job of educating our youngsters, but at around £10,000 per year it doesn’t come cheap. I wonder how many of Westbourne’s pupils are in receipt of free school meals? Sadly, we’re unlikely to find out, because private schools don’t participate in the banding exercise like the commoners.

Those of us with an ecclesiastical bent can take advantage of the spiritual learning offered by St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School. This school is, like St. Cyres, in Band 3. It turns out that God – or at least her nominated educators in Barry – exiles you to Cardiff at age 16 if your mind is on academia (although free bus transport is available). Not that that has any effect on numbers of pupils; indeed “the number of applications received is far greater than the number of places available”. Let’s just hope the entry test doesn’t involve saying the Welsh version of the school name out aloud.

And talking of Welsh, Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg is the final option for parents in Penarth. This school was ranked in Band 1. Now, I can’t be alone in having seen houses in certain parts of Penarth advertised as being in the catchment for Stanwell School. If you want a Band 2 school for your offspring, that’s fine. But the catchment area for the one and only Band 1 school in the entire Vale of Glamorgan IS the entire Vale of Glamorgan. Funnily enough, I don’t see that mentioned in adverts for houses in the Stanwell catchment, or, for that matter, anywhere else in the Vale.

One of the significant differences between Welsh medium education and non-Welsh medium education is that pupils can transfer out of Welsh medium education at any time and for any reason. The reverse is only true to a limited extent. The fact that this ‘leakage’ doesn’t really happen in the case of YG Bro Morgannwg (see page 11 of this report) seems to indicate a tremendously strong desire among pupils to stay there. To my mind, that’s at least as good a bellwether as a school being in Band 1.

In fact, such is the success of Welsh medium education in the Vale that despite the creation of a fourth Welsh language primary in Barry in September 2011, “further [Welsh language] reception places will be needed for September 2012 in the Barry area” (page 4 of the same report). Education chiefs appear to be scrambling to keep up with demand. The Council is reviewing future demand to assess whether this is a “one off situation”. And back in Penarth, Ysgol Pen-y-Garth has been expanded to increase capacity from 350 to 420 pupils.

I have no idea whether parents and pupils are attracted by the cultural benefits that come from knowing both languages that Wales is blessed with, by the increasing number of jobs for which proficiency in Welsh is essential/highly desirable, or the 10% salary premium that bilingual workers attract. But as from 8 December 2011, we can add ‘the highest standard of schooling’ to that list. I’m no psychologist, but I’d venture a shilling or two that a fair few parents in the Vale will have taken notice of this banding exercise. And if Cllr Anthony Hampton is worth his salt, he’ll have been scurrying for his slide rule in an attempt to determine how likely we are to see many more “one off situations” right throughout the Vale.

The simple truth is that despite the apparent ignorance of estate agents in Penarth, Barry and for all I know the big City, a quiet, and distinctly Welsh, revolution is happening in the Vale of Glamorgan.

This post has been modified to make clear that God does not abandon students of St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School at the age of 16. My thanks to MC for highlighting this error.

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7 Sylw

Filed under Schools, Vale of Glamorgan Council

Fight Club

Well I like a good laugh as much as anyone. So I was delighted that subscriber to my blog TW was able to email me a copy of the latest St. Augustine’s pre-election ‘information’. I say pre-election because although our elected (and candidate) politicians claim to be working hard for their constituents ‘not just at election time’, funnily enough we seem to get a few more in the 6 months before an election.

And over the coming months I hope to contribute in some small way to an improvement in the standard of election material through dissecting what our hopefuls have to offer in glorious technicolour.

TW expressed disappointment that no-one was willing to perform this service until now, because the recent Plaid Cymru leaflet (now recycled) from the same ward would have provided ample material of interest. Suffice to say that it could have caused a few coronaries had it arrived on 31 October because of the photo of Frankenstein and the ghoul on the front cover (candidates, apparently, in May 2012). A tip for you at Plaid: if your candidates have a face best suited for radio then use a wider ‘background’ shot. If anyone can rustle up a copy of the leafletI’d be delighted to analyse its qualities (penartharbyd[a]gmail.com)

So back to the task in hand.

Ding ding! It’s round one in the local elections, and for the Conservative Party we have two incumbents, in the blue corner Cllr Paul Church, and also in the blue corner, Cllr Sophie Williams. And boy are they up for a fight! They tell us “they certainly did fight”, after having “promised you they would fight”. Sounds like they’re spending plenty of time down at Cogan leisure centre – although we’re not quite certain who they’re fighting. Usually you need someone to fight against, and if I’m not mistaken it’s their own Conservative colleagues who run the show at the Vale. They’ll be very popular down at Rhoose for their pugilistic behaviour I’m sure.

The layout of the pamphlet (ConservativesStAugustines), to my mind, isn’t too bad for an obviously amateurish attempt, although it could be spruced up by using some graphic design software. All political parties take note: Scribus is a graphic design package that’s free of charge and can help you wow your constituents with relatively little work.

The headline issue of ‘In Touch’ is ‘Help us make our roads safe’. But this article is really confusing. We’re told that the local authority has taken steps to tackle the most ‘damaged’ roads in the Vale… and now Cllrs Church and Williams are calling for, erm, “community effort to keep the roads safe”. What form should this effort take? It’s totally unclear to me. And since Cllr Church is crying out that “more funding is desperately needed”, perhaps he should take that issue up with those tight-fisted Scrooges at the council. His Conservative colleagues, that is. Cllr Williams, meanwhile, is calling for us all to “work together as a community to help us turn [Penarth’s chaotic streets] around”. I know Penarth reasonably well and I have to say that chaos seems like an unusual adjective. How should we turn the streets around? It’s so mysterious! To finish the article, we have a picture of Cllr Church, I presume, squatting in the gutter attempting some sort of hip-hop pivot. I suppose it must appeal to the younger voter. 

There’s another picture on the front page that looks like it’s been squeezed in a similar manner that Cllr Church and his double yellow lines have been squashed. Another tip: fit your text around your images, not the other way around!

I’m also not convinced that if you have a “problem parking” you should call the police. To my mind there are more serious issues for the local constabulary to be dealing with. And why, of all the issues that a local authority deals with (including planning, waste management, leisure centres, social services, libraries, education etc.) has it been decided that the issues we need to contact people about are problem parking and potholes? Has the level of debate in Penarth really sunk this low?

I’m sure this isn’t an issue that is confined to the Conservative leaflets, but I don’t think that blind assertions come across very well. For example, apparently “the two Conservative representatives are well known and respected…” Says who? You don’t assert respect, you earn it – saying it in a leaflet doesn’t make it so. Another section, another assertion: “more residents in St Augustine’s recycling their waste than ever before”. To my knowledge there is no formal record of recycling participation at a ward-by-ward level.

Turning over the page we have two more short stories. Personally, I’d like to see a bit more substance in the story. Cllrs Church and Williams are “backing calls for urgent action” on Penarth Heights, but they don’t let on whose responsibility this action is. Surely it couldn’t be the Conservative administration in the Vale? We’re left, tantalisingly, in the dark. Perhaps all will be revealed next time.

 Layout 3/10, Content 2/10

PS Although the scanned version doesn’t permit a great analysis of the quality of the photos, TW assures me that the stock picture of Cllr Church is heavily pixelated. Perhaps in reality Cllr Church is ‘half man, half machine’…

6 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Vale of Glamorgan Council

Penarth Town Council Shame

I have it on good information that a recent meeting of the Penarth Town Council saw councillors lining up to tear into some information that was being presented.

What nasty, radical threat to Penarth’s livelihood were our brave councillors defending so robustly?

It came under the banner of “Assessing the future of Penarth”, and the documents forming the basis of the presentations can be found here under the heading “Student Projects”. Yes, you heard correctly. The presentations were given by three Masters’ students under the tutelage of Dr Julie Gwilliam, a lecturer in Architectural Science at the Welsh School of Architecture. They had given of their time, firstly to spend months researching ways to improve Penarth for the future of its citizens and livelihoods, and then to visit the Town Council to present their findings.

I wasn’t at the meeting, so I can’t judge for myself the level of vitriol inflicted on these conscientious and enthusiastic students. But credible witness statements leave me in no doubt that the councillors were an embarrassment to Penarth. The minutes of the meeting, for example, note: “Councillor Sophie Williams questioned the car parking and the consultation processes undertaken”. I understand that Cllr Williams claimed that 20 parking spaces was much more than 20 when taking into account the turnover of parking during the day. Actually, Cllr Williams, 20 parking spaces equals 20 parking spaces.

The full glorious roll-call of councillors fighting tooth and nail for ‘no change in Penarth, thank you very much’, was JF Fraser, JR BakerPC Church, KM Land, and SJC Williams (all Conservative) and MEJ Birch (Labour).

Perhaps these jumped-up councillors have spent too long watching Westminster Committees chewing up News of the World media barons and fancied a pop at some witnesses of their own. Just for you, councillors, here’s my take on the situation.

These students did Penarth a wonderful service. They bestowed on us a wonderful gift that you shoved back in their faces. One of the students travelled from Spain just to be in Penarth Town Council on 3 November. The behaviour of our elected representatives was so reprehensible that at least two people I know of are considering standing against you in May’s elections as a result – so at least there’s one silver lining to this miserable story.  

I hope the students’ legacy can be fulfilled because their plans and research are breathtaking in their scope, imagination and aspirations for our town. And perhaps unlike some of the councillors, I’ve actually read them.

The title of this post would suggest that the Town Council was shamed. But any institution is comprised of the sum of the individuals within it. The shame is squarely on these six councillors. With elections in May, I’ll certainly be bearing this embarrassing episode in mind.

There’s a further aspect to this story that I can’t shake loose. It’s the fact that members of the public who attended weren’t allowed to have any say or make any comment. Some of them were shaking with indignation on behalf of the students but had no opportunity to make the case that some people in Penarth might actually be interested in moving our town to a more sustainable future. For anyone –  like myself – interested in democracy in Wales, this charade of accountability needs to be torn up. Councillors, over to you.

PS For those interested in what our hard-working Councillors get up to, you’ll be interested to note that the Planning and Transportation Committee that also met on 3 November was cancelled because not enough members turned up (actually, just four: JR Baker, MEJ Birch, JF Fraser and KM Land).

2 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Penarth Town Council