Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Ysgol Cwmpadarn - misled by Estyn, or just mistaken?

This is an update on the Ysgol Cwmpadarn situation covered on 12 October, where the school was found to be digging up a green bank on a rural lane in order to build car parking spaces. There has been a lot of support from locals for raising this issue, with some of them becoming vocal about their irritation caused by the school traffic which makes it hard for them to leave for work in the morning; others were just disappointed to see a pleasant grassy bank ripped up by diggers. It seems that the school has created some bad feeling

The issue has been raised with Estyn, and Ceredigion County Council's departments of Highways, Property and Works, and Education and Community Services. The issue has also been featured in the Cambrian News.

One resident received a response from Estyn (on 16 Oct) and their school inspector (18 Oct), and shared the letters: CIN will try and untangle things below.

Why did this mess happen?

Let us look at the issue of responsibility first.

An Ysgol Cwmpadarn school governor said that it was a recommendation from Estyn to build car parking spaces at the top of the lane; he laid the responsibility squarely at their door.

So, did Estyn's report really recommend that?

In terms of actual wording, the recommendation R6 says "In order to improve the school ... the staff and governing body need to ... continue to seek a long-term solution to the parking arrangements for parents." And section 36 mentions "the creation of better parking arrangements for parents".

However this is all very vague, and raises more questions than it gives advice. What is the problem? What would be 'better'? Would Estyn and the inspector think that car park spaces at the top of the lane were a 'long-term solution'? How can that be 'better' when it encourages traffic jams, stress and danger on an unsuitable road? How can the school follow a recommendation that seems to be so vague and badly thought out? and why on earth would Estyn's inspector start making recommendations to do with parking when Estyn is meant to look into educational standards?

Fact: the school is in an inappropriate location for people to drive to.
Fact: no amount of concrete is going to change that.
Fact: any parking arrangements near the school make it easier for parents to drop children off there in cars, encouraging cars to drive up the road; and therefore are a danger to residents, children and parents walking on Penygraig.

The ONLY answer to the danger and volume of traffic on an unsuitable road is to DISCOURAGE it. So by recommending 'better parking' (with no analysis of why; or what 'better parking' is; or how to achieve it; or knowledge of the problems the local traffic causes) the report is irresponsible and sets the school a task which is impossible. Any responsible report would have just acknowledged that the school is not ideally located for traffic, and recommended ways of looking into how to REDUCE the volume of traffic up a narrow single lane which has no pavements.

The school is also at fault - nowhere does the report say that there should be more car parking spaces at the top of the lane. And it should be noted that car park spaces are not a long-term solution. In fact, encouraging traffic is extremely short-term, because it will make the problem worse overall. The school should have consulted the local community before drawing up these plans - though any sensible person would have not even let the 'plan' get that far, since it is so blindingly obvious that the road is unsuitable for traffic and encouraging drivers with more parking spaces is irresponsible.

Next steps

Estyn and their inspector are responsible for advising the school to 'create better parking', without realising the full implications of that i.e. endangering people by encouraging traffic up the lane. It was probably a genuine mistake caused by not knowing the local situation or realising the full implications. Now it has been drawn to their attention they should correct their misunderstanding by making it clear that they were not recommending a car park at the top of the road, and request that the school restore the grassy bank.

The school was wrong to adopt this course of action without any consultation with the local community, based on an inspector's ambiguous recommendation which they should have pointed out was not possible to resolve. They should now rectify things by cancelling the plans for car parking and restoring the grassy bank.

Then looking to the future, Estyn and the school should think of positive ways to look at the problem; solutions that do not lead to more traffic up the lane, but instead attempt to reduce it. We have already covered a number of suggestions here and here in the past. None are ideal; but also none of them make the situation worse (as the school's current plan does); and none of them increase traffic on an unsuitable lane. There are other possibilities if people set their mind to it, and try to see opportunities rather than obstacles.

For example, one need only spend a few minutes on Penygraig watching the cars on the school run to realise that most cars have one adult and one child. Many parents will have passed each other's houses - lift sharing would help to reduce the number of cars.

One other logical solution - every parent that drives up and down the lane to drop their child off has to drive on Primrose Hill and/or the A44. Any child dropped off there will not have to cross any roads, only walk up Penygraig. They need not walk alone - they could be with other children walking there, and parents walking their children (and if the school and education department really cared about this issue, they would organise teachers/'walkers'/parents who would be able to supervise at one or two points). So the children could be let out near the bottom of Penygraig, or by the short pedestrian path that goes from Primrose Hill to Penygraig.

Or it could just be accepted that it is an intractable problem. People insist on driving, and sending the message to their children that we should burn finite fossil fuels instead of letting them get exercise and fresh air. Nonetheless, more car park spaces at the top of that road solves nothing; it only makes the problem worse, putting people (and their pets!) at risk; and so the green bank should be restored and enhanced, which would send a more positive message to children.

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