I believe it was Mark Twain who popularised the saying “Lies, damned lies and statistics.” It basically means the use of numbers as a persuasive power to bolster a weak argument. Numbers don’t lie. But their interpretation can.
Yesterday evening I went along to one of the consultation meetings in relation to the South Powys High School restructuring (Builth, Llandrindod, Brecon, Gwernyfed). This came about as a result of a Cabinet approved School Transformation Policy (Nov 2014).
Let’s be clear, I have one son, he’s 18, finishes his High School education this June and in theory I need no longer worry on a personal level about the state of schools and education in Wales. However, I believe the quality and availability of schooling in an area is a primary factor for families looking to move in and invest there. All communities require the arrival of new young families. They also need to ensure that the area remains attractive to the youngsters already there and that services are in place so they don’t elect to move away when they have children of their own to educate. Without local schools, any town or village is in danger of becoming a retirement village.. not that I have anything against retired people, I hope to be one myself in the not too distant future. Communities need a demographic mix.
So I went to the meeting because I was interested , and also because as a standing Assembly candidate I had been prompted with an invitation. There I was sat in my reserved seat at the front of the large sports hall, swiveled round to observe the audience. I went to show support and listen. I did have some thoughts and would have spoken had those points not been raised, but the community had it together. They were informed, clear and articulate in their disapproval, contempt and lack of faith in the plans and the abilities of those in charge of them to effectively implement them.
The mood was clear. The parents do not want to give up their Welsh stream or sixth form, The students do not want to give up their Welsh stream or sixth form, The local councillors don’t want to give up their Welsh stream or sixth form. The teachers do not want to give up their Welsh stream or sixth form.
The panel appeared disinterested, obtuse and sullen. In the interest of disinterest I have ‘forgotten’ their names. They were however ‘important people’ in high power positions who were not able to say anything that ‘might incriminate them’; so mainly they said nothing. One looked like he was having a snooze. One was being particularly obtuse, seeming to deliberately pretend to not quite understand a question if the person presenting the question was a little nervous or tongue-tied in his/her delivery of it.
Their were two representatives there from NPCT who were, embarrassingly (a) not on the panel despite being the only people with answers (if you could call them that) to most of the questions (those in relation to A level provision), and (b) were suitably vague with all their responses mainly ‘we can assure you we can ….”. . The Chief Exec was even what I would describe as both exasperated and slightly aggressive in his responses.
So back to those statistics.
They don’t take into account that already some o the pupils in the schools travel so they only talk about shipping the pupils from, say, Brecon to Builth… Hence those families to the Carmarthenshire side of the school are likely to remove their children from the Powys to Carmarthenshire schools to reduce their kids travel times… numbers will fall (thank you Kirsty Williams for as ever, clearly, concisely and accurately pointing this one out to the panel). They didn’t allow for those families who would just “go with English” rather than have their kids travel for a Welsh language education; and they didn’t allow for incomers who might have embraced the Welsh language and grown the culture had the language tuition remained at local level.
There were no budgeted costings or impact numbers in the statistics to analyse the increased transport costs for busing/taxiing children further. Never mind the carbon footprint, greenhouse gas emissions, and increased need to repair roads as a result of the extra traffic.
There were no numbers to examine the loss of hours, earlier starts, later returns home of children and parents to get to these merged/centralised classes.
To me these points and more were made perfectly clear by the attendees:-
1. small schools in rural communities help maintain and develop community spirit and care
2 16-18 year olds gain from being in a school environment by mentoring and leading younger pupils. They learn to communicate, interact and care. It is an opportunity to take on some responsibility for others
3 11-15 year olds benefit from 16th formers as mentors and aspirational role models. Younger children often respond differently to another (slightly older) child than they might a teacher, thus improving pastoral care.
4.Dual language provision is essential for sustaining the Welsh culture and is important that it be kept at local level so that it is not diluted or lost
5. NPCT should stick to what it does best and teach, even extend, its vocational base of subjects to broaden the selection of subjects available to 16-18 year olds nd leave A level delivery to the High Schools
6.Families do not want their children spending up to an additional 2 hours per day travelling to and from school to get the education they deserve. It will be detrimental to their health, their learning and their family
So finally I have three things to say.
Rural communities should not be presented with an urban solution to the delivery of education.
Secondly, but maybe most importantly, lest we forget:
Statistics can make any point you want depending on which statistics you elect to use and what point you are wanting to make.
please, if you were at any of the meetings or not, whether you spoke or not, I urge you to put your thoughts into writing as well as filling in their questionnaire. The higher the pile of paper they have to wade through the more visual the message they will receive.
Opinion Research Services, FREEPOST (SS1018), PO Box 530, Swansea, SA1 1ZL
you have until 5pm on 23rd May