Saturday, 22 December 2007

Back to the Future for rural schools : Victorian-style classes feared

SCHOOLS built by the Victorians in some of West Somerset’s rural communities could soon be forced to again deliver teaching in Victorian-style classes.
The step back to a teaching style of 150 years ago could be forced on small schools by funding proposals being considered in the New Year.
It could mean schools such as Exford Church of England First School being reduced to a single class where all the children from the ages of four to nine years were taught together by the school’s only teacher.
Similarly, Dulverton Middle and Community School could find its nine classrooms cut to six, with subsequent redundancies among the teaching staff.
Governors of the two schools are fighting the proposed changes to the way in which funding is allocated to schools throughout Somerset.
The county council is due to decide on January 16 on a package of 11 proposals.
One of those who will be attending that meeting to address councillors is the chairman of the governors of the Federation of Exford and Dulverton Schools, Dr Brian Martin.
The federation, which was only formed in April of this year as a result of county council pressure to cut the costs of running small schools, also includes Dulverton All Saints Church of England First School.
Other schools which have federated under recent county council pressure include Cutcombe and Timberscombe First Schools, as well as Danesfield Middle, Williton St Peter’s First, and Old Cleeve First Schools.
A ‘soft governance federation’ was put in place for Minehead Middle, Porlock St Dubricius, Minehead St Michael’s, and Dunster First Schools.
Crowcombe and Stogumber Primary Schools also federated in a separate move.
Nevertheless, the county council has highlighted the fact that the cost of running its small schools is still in the top 100 of the most expensive schools per pupil in the country.
Dr Martin said the new funding proposals were finance-driven and did not take any account of need to bed in recent federations and make them work properly.
He said the council wanted to spread its education cost per pupil more evenly across all schools and one way of doing so would be to reduce the ‘small schools protection’ which currently guaranteed a minimum of two classes for schools with 60 or fewer pupils.
Dr Martin said the moves would leave schools such as Exford ‘vulnerable’ and could even lead to closure.
He said: “We think that this is a step back to Victorian times almost.
“It really does not pay any heed to the ‘Every Child Matters’ policy that has been pushed forward by the Government.
“And ‘individual learning’ just goes out of the window.
“It puts small rural schools in a very vulnerable position.”
Dr Martin said the knock-on effects could see small and middle schools unable to teach the national curriculum to the right standard, meaning pupils would move on to the West Somerset Community College still requiring to be brought up to the right level of education for their age.
There was a further risk that some West Somerset parents might move to another area in order to secure a better education for their children, or that parents would be put off moving to live in the district, thereby causing a fall in pupil numbers and making schools even more vulnerable.
Dr Martin said some pupils as young as four and five years were already making a journey of 40 minutes to reach schools on Exmoor.
If the schools closed, the only alternative would be an even longer journey to a town school.
He said: “It is not like an urban area where you may be able to close a school and still have reasonable travel times to an alternative. There is no alternative on Exmoor.
“We are making a plea that there is an exception in this area for small rural schools which serve their communities.”
Dr Martin appreciated some schools, such as Danesfield Middle, in Williton, might benefit overall from the proposed changes and it was likely that Somerset’s larger schools would support the new funding regime.
But he said: “We would hope they appreciate that they are part of a whole school system here, where we all feed through to the community college and secondary education, and would want strength in the whole system.”
Dr Martin said making teachers redundant in Dulverton Middle School would result in a loss of specialist skills and make it near-impossible to deliver the school’s highly regarded Exmoor Curriculum.
  • Our photograph shows Exford Church of England First School. Photo submitted.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Lottery grant means play facilities for rural children

A £200,000 National Lottery windfall means play areas and mobile rural play facilities can be developed for children in West Somerset.
The district council has secured the cash for its play strategy from the Big Lottery’s Children’s Play Programme.
A similar £208,682 grant went to Taunton Deane Borough Council, while Sedgemoor District Council was awarded £230,000.
West Somerset portfolio holder for children and young people, Councillor Eddie May, said: “We are delighted at the successful bid because of the huge benefits play facilities bring to children’s enjoyment, well-being, and health.
“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work from officers and partners, and we are really pleased at the positive outcome.
“This money has not been secured for the council, but for our children’s futures.
“With our play strategy, we will be able to encourage and support communities and individuals to improve their quality of life by identifying and providing better opportunities, particularly for children.”
Three projects in the council’s play strategy will benefit from the grant, including the appointment of ‘play rangers’ which will be delivered in partnership with Taunton Deane and Sedgemoor.
The councils will employ a team of play rangers to oversee the development of play facilities.
A second project is the development of Cross Farm Park, in Alcombe, to offer better play facilities for children, which will be delivered in partnership with Minehead Town Council.
Most of the district’s rural areas will also benefit from the boost which will be provided for mobile play facilities.
Leisure, culture, and recreation portfolio holder Councillor Neil Parbrook said: “This is a welcome boost for children’s facilities in the area.
“Play is a vital part of children’s development and this will help provide them with a stimulating environment to grow up in.”
The Lottery grant provides funding for the projects for the next three years.
District council’s community specialist for children, young people, and culture, Janice Malarkey, said: “I am delighted with the result of the Lottery application. We are looking forward to working with the play partnership to successfully deliver these projects, which will greatly benefit children and young people in West Somerset.
“We would like to thank the play partnership, Play England, and Barnardos for their hard work and support during the production of the play strategy, which can be found on the West Somerset Council website.”
Taunton Deane leisure executive Councillor Richard Lees said: “I am delighted that we have obtained this amount of money and in partnership can now plan to provide a play structure for young people.
“Play is so important in creating imaginative minds, and being physically active in a controlled environment, allowing children to be themselves and enjoy their childhood.”
Wiveliscombe, Milverton, and Norton Fitzwarren will all be among the villages to benefit from the project.
For more information on the play partnership in West Somerset, log onto or contact Janice Malarkey on 01984 635238 or email Janice on

  • Pictured at Cross Farm Park, Alcombe, are (left to right) West Somerset Strategic Partnership chairman Loretta Whetlor, Minehead Town Council clerk Sue Sanders, CLOWNS chairman Jan Ross, district council community specialist for children Janice Malarkey, and leisure portfolio holder Councillor Neil Parbrook. Photo submitted.

  • Mind in Taunton and West Somerset has received a £1,070 grant from the National Lottery’s Awards For All scheme.
    The money will be put toward an IT work area in the Peace of Mind day project, allowing service users access to online resources and word-processing and printing facilities.
    One-to-one training will also be available for those who are less computer literate.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Pupils leave classroom behind to learn firefighting skills

A GROUP of West Somerset pupils have passed out as honorary firefighters after completing a Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service training scheme.
The youngsters, who attend 24/7@PeritonMead School, in Minehead, have been attending the brigade’s Firebreak scheme on one day a week during the past school term.
The course was run at Martock Fire Station, near Yeovil, and also attended by pupils from Buckler’s Mead School, Yeovil, who also passed out.
The trainees were inspected by Assistant Chief Fire Officer Neil Gibbins, and were presented with certificates in front of local dignitaries including the Mayor of Yeovil, Councillor Tony Lock, and family and friends.
The passing out - equivalent to a graduation day - allowed the youths to demonstrate some of the skills they had learned, such as how to use pumps, hoses, and ladders.
The Firebreak trainees also learned how to work together to help each other through the challenging course.
Firebreak is aimed at youngsters who ‘do not quite find everything they need in the classroom’.
Students are issued with uniforms and fire kit and, as with real firefighters, only the highest standards are acceptable.
Although set in a fire service environment, the course provides a varied range of activities designed to promote and improve confidence, teamwork, citizenship, and self-esteem.
The course is suited to young people who have been identified as having an aptitude for practical ‘hands-on’ educational activities and work.
Students have to be carefully selected because the training is physically and mentally demanding.
They follow a code of conduct based on the high standards of self-discipline expected within the fire service.
  • Our photograph shows some of the Firebreak trainees showing off their newly-acquired skills at their passing out. Photo submitted.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Buchanan Cup victory at third time of asking for golf pair

THE final and the consolation of this year’s Buchanan Cup open competition at Minehead and West Somerset Golf Club was the culmination of knock-out rounds held over a period of eight weeks.
Brian Waites, a member of the 1983 European Ryder Cup team, and partner Gordon Whalley, a past Captain of the club, won through to the final to meet Vivary Park Golf Club professional Dave Hawker and his partner Mark Pavey, landlord of the Vivary Arms, in Taunton.
It was the third year in a row that the Minehead pairing had contested the final in this prestigious competition, and the fourth final for Whalley, with victory previously eluding him.
However, after two year’s of settling for the Greens Tankard runner-up spot, they scored a well-deserved victory to finally lift the Buchanan Cup.
It was a tough day for golf, strong easterly winds made it very cold but at least dry.
Waites and Whalley went one up at the first with a birdie from the former Ryder Cup star and then found themselves two up after the third when Whalley won the hole using his shot allowance.
The Vivary pair fought back immediately with Pavey securing a par on the tough par three fourth.
Indeed, it was like that for much of the front nine, with only two holes being halved and all players contributing to the match.
At the turn, it was the Minehead pair who still held a two-hole lead.
The back nine began with the Vivary pair taking the 10th hole with a par.
One up remained the score until the 13th, when the hole was won by Waites with a birdie three.
Two up to the Minehead pair lasted just one hole as Pavey took the 14th with a birdie two of his own.
The match was levelled again on the 16th when Hawker chipped in brilliantly from off the green to secure a birdie for the Vivary pair.
All square with two holes to play, it took nerves of steel and more magic from Waites, who played a magnificent approach shot to the 17th which stopped close to the hole.
The putt was conceded for another birdie three to leave the Minehead pair requiring only a half on the par three 18th to secure the cup for the first time.
The Minehead pair teed-off first with Whalley’s ball ending up to the left of the green and Waites on the front of it.
The Vivary pair played next with one falling way short of the green and the other well off to the right, fortunately missing the unplayable sand dune.
The first of the Vivary pair made his approach shot to the green leaving the ball well away from the hole.
Whalley was next to play onto the green and his shot ended well short leaving a not-so-certain par put.
The second Vivary player played a chip and run again leaving an uncertain par put.
It was left again to Waites, who, with his steady and assured style, rolled the ball perfectly to the edge of the hole.
With no chance of a win, the Vivary pair graciously conceded and the victory went to Waits and Whalley.
The match was played in an excellent spirit and on the day the Minehead pair had the better of the luck.
They were never down in the match and perhaps third time lucky was the order of the day for them.
Their better ball score was a four under 67.
During his acceptance speech, an emotional Gordon Whalley thanked his opponents for a great match and paid tribute to the superb condition of the course, a sentiment echoed by all the competitors on the day.
The third and fourth play-off was won by K. Cridge and M. Newman, from Vivary Park, who beat N. Grabham and D. Hill.
Twenty-two pairs competed in the Consolation and the result was: 1st: K Babb & W Brown (42 points) on the back nine from 2nd: J Fisher & A Hardick (42 points), 3rd: D Neale & R Neale (40 points). Report by Gerry Mason.

  • Our photographs show TOP - Buchanan Cup winners Gordon Walley (left) and Brian Waites (right) receiving the trophy from club Captain Denis Compton; BELOW - club Captain Denis Compton (centre) with losing finalists and winners of the Greens Tankard, Dave Hawker and Mark Pavey. Photos submitted.

Christmas shoebox gifts bring joy to needy children

GIFT-filled shoeboxes given by people in West Somerset are among a total of 230,000 from across the county which are being sent for Christmas to needy children in Eastern European and African countries.
Operation Christmas Child is this year helping children in countries such as Belarus, Bosnia, Romania, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Montenegro, Liberia, Mozambique, and Swaziland.
The appeal is one of the main annual projects run by Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid charity.
Volunteers collected the shoeboxes at drop-off points across the South West before they were checked and packed for transportation at warehouses prior to shipment to their final destinations.
Founded in 1990, Operation Christmas Child is now one of the UK’s largest annual charity programmes.
Regional manager Roger Fenton said the charity wanted to say an official ‘thank you’ to everybody in West Somerset who had helped make this year’s appeal such a success.
Mr Fenton said: “We have been extremely pleased with how the campaign has gone this year and we have been overwhelmed by the number of people from West Somerset who have participated.
"It is a massive operation, but it all comes down to one simple act of kindness - filling a shoebox with gifts for a child who has little at Christmas.
“We have collected over 1.25 million boxes nationally this year, which means there are many needy children who will see that there is somebody who is thinking of them this Christmas.
“The impact that a shoebox containing some simple gifts has upon a child with nothing - and their family - cannot be over emphasised.
“Many experience challenges most of us would find hard to imagine, and the toys and other gifts brighten difficult lives, particularly at this time of year.
“The thought that goes into each shoebox is special, because it is one person choosing gifts for a child who is living a very different life from that which we enjoy in this country.
“These are gifts from somebody in Britain direct to a child who greatly appreciates what he or she receives.”

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Faulty tumble drier sparks early morning blaze

AN electrical fault in a tumble drier is believed to have caused an early morning fire which broke out in a house in Langley Marsh, near Wiveliscombe.
The blaze happened in a utility area of the property at about 5 am on Monday, December 17.
Two fire engines were called to the incident from the Wiveliscombe and Wellington stations and firefighters used breathing apparatus to enter the house and find the source of the blaze.
The fire was then extinguished using one hose reel jet.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Firefighters cut woman free from ditch crash car

A WOMAN passenger had to be freed by firefighters when she became trapped in a car which left the B3188 road in Tolland, near Wiveliscombe, and plunged into a six feet deep ditch and became lodged in an upright position.
Fire crews from Wiveliscombe and Taunton were called to the scene by an ambulance crew shortly before 3.30 pm on Sunday afternoon, December 16.
They initially began to to cut out the car’s windscreen with hydraulic equipment, but the woman was eventually freed through the driver's door of the vehicle.
The woman was taken to hospital by paramedics, while the car driver, who was unhurt, remained at the scene with police officers.