Education Secretary: Presumption against rural school closures doesn’t mean they’ll never close

(Title Image: ITV Wales)

P-05-828 Presumption in favour of rural schools
Submitted by Rhagdybiaeth o blaid Ysgolion Gwledig
Signatures: 5,125

Petition Supporting Evidence

  • The Welsh Government should ensure that local authorities follow guidelines within the current School Organisation Code that they presume in favour of keeping rural schools open.
  • Anglesey Council’s decision to close Ysgol Bodffordd demonstrated that local authorities ignore the School Organisation Code and close schools which are full and popular.

The Chair of the Petitions Committee, UKIP’s David Rowlands, said that while a revised edition of the School Organisation Code was only introduced on November 1st 2018, Anglesey Council should have had to reconsider how it approached the Ysgol Bodfford closure under the new Code.

Heart of the Community

Andrew RT Davies AM (Con, South Wales Central) was well aware of the challenges rural schools face as well as rural local authorities, but rural schools offer something important to their localities.

“….it’s really important to reflect that a rural school is the heart of that community. It creates an energy within that community, it creates an activity that supports other services within the community and, above all, it binds that community together.”
– Andrew RT Davies AM

Both himself and Jane Hutt AM (Lab, Vale of Glamorgan) brought up the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s proposal to close Llancarfan School and many of the issues the petitioners raise apply equally there despite coming from the other side of Wales.

Andrew hoped the Education Secretary will be able to influence decisions and stick to a commitment that 21st Century Schools money can be used to upgrade existing schools, while Jane said the closure process was “flawed and concerning”.

Schools don’t have to be large

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) said both himself and his children have experienced education and different sized schools and found little difference between them.

“….may I say that I don’t accept the arguments that a school has to be large in order to provide an effective primary school experience, and neither do I buy into the argument that children are necessarily happier in a small rural school? I’m convinced that quality primary education that is caring can be provided whatever the scale of the school.”
– Rhun ap Iorwerth AM

Rhun believed the problem was mainly due to budget cuts and staffing. Smaller rural schools are often older and more expensive to maintain and are proportionally more expensive to staff due to lower pupil-teacher ratios. He was in favour of a process of “federalisation” of rural schools – multi-site schools with a single headteacher – though he accepted closure of some schools was “inevitable” and there was nothing in the Code saying rural schools must be kept open; comments later echoed by Sian Gwenllian AM (Plaid, Arfon).

Consideration of alternatives

In reply, the Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) told AMs:

“A presumption against the closure of rural schools does not mean—and I have been very clear about this—that rural schools will never close. However, it does mean that the case for closure must be strong and not taken until all viable alternatives to closure have been conscientiously considered, and that includes the principle of federation.”
– Education Secretary, Kirsty Williams

The Welsh Government aren’t responsible for proposing or overseeing school closures, local authorities are. The quality of education must be the primary consideration. Unfortunately, the revised code – where rural schools are placed on a list and have special requirements – won’t apply to closures which are already in train.

Proposals can, however, be referred to the Welsh Government for a final decision (some closures have been overturned) – though the Education Secretary can’t comment on the merits or otherwise of any proposals.

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