PEMBROKESHIRE County Council has insisted that an important consultation into the future of secondary education in Haverfordwest will not be skewed by thousands of completed response forms sent out by a local headteacher.
Pembrokeshire County Council is currently reviewing secondary education in Haverfordwest which is likely to lead to a major shake-up, including the potential closure of both Sir Thomas Picton and Tasker Milward Schools.
Last week Dr Nick Poole, headteacher of Sir Thomas Picton School (STP), sent a letter home to the parents and carers of the school’s 1,184 pupils.
It urged parents to support either the closure of Tasker Milward School and the transfer of pupils to STP or the development of a new 11-19 Welsh medium school on the site of STP.
But eyebrows were raised by the fact that Dr Poole’s letter was also accompanied by a copy of the council’s preliminary consultation response form - with the options already ticked and other information supporting STP also filled out.
Dr Poole urged parents and carers to sign the response forms and return them to the council.
The response form had ‘strongly disagree’ ticked alongside the options to retain the status quo, establish a federation school on the existing school sites or close both schools and create a single ‘super school’ on a new site.
But it had ‘agree’ ticked alongside option 5: closing Tasker Milward School with pupils transferring to STP and ‘strongly agree’ to option 6, the closure of Tasker Milward with pupils transferring to STP and catchment boundaries being changed.
Option 8, to establish a new 11-19 Welsh-medium provision in Haverfordwest with sixth form provision to be provided at Ysgol y Preseli, had ‘strongly agree’ marked. That was also put forward as the preferred option.
Under question 13 – an explanation of why the preferred option had been put forward, the form was already filled out to say: “Sir Thomas Picton School is an excellent school with a very good reputation. The name of the school needs to be continued for the secondary school in Haverfordwest. Sir Thomas Picton School is a band 2 school with a good ERW (Education through Regional Working) classification.”
A statement issued by STP school said: “The school values the opinion of and wishes to engage all relevant parties in the consultation process. As a result, letters have been sent to parents keeping them informed of the procedure.
“During the initial stages of consultation, parents requested the views of the governing body as they wished to support the school.
“These views were sought and were communicated to parents in a letter together with the consultation form.
“This letter advised parents of the preferred options of the governing body should they wish to support them.
“They were also provided with a link to the consultation documents should they wish to view all alternatives and respond as they felt appropriate.
“The opportunity this reorganisation offers the community of Haverfordwest is of upmost importance to the school.
“We continue to be passionate in encouraging all the school community to have a voice shaping the future of education for our young people.”
Tasker Milward VC School headteacher Maggie Haynes said: “We are committed at Tasker Milward to providing the very best educational experience we can for all our children and it is in this spirit we have approached this initial consultation exercise.
“We have critically examined the various options, looking in detail at the pros and cons of each and have encouraged our parents and pupils do the same.”
A spokesman for Pembrokeshire County Council said: “The Local Authority is aware of the letters and will review the responses received in respect of the consultation to ensure that there is no prejudicial influence.
“It should be noted that at this stage the Local Authority is collecting views rather than consulting on particular proposals and that if there is a decision to move to the next stage then the statutory consultation then the monitoring of responses will be rigorous.
“Clearly we want parents to make informed responses, and the two public consultation events in Haverfordwest were very well attended.”