Sunday, April 01, 2007

Powys Wants To Close Six Primary Schools

It is so disappointing that Powys County Council has decided to open its review of 6 primary schools in the county through the pages of the newspapers rather than directly with the staff, pupils, governors and parents of the affected schools themselves. It was through the press that, as Chair of Governors at Ysgol Efyrnwy, Llanwddyn, I learnt of Powys' intention to review the school with its possible closure in August 2008. Sadly, Powys failed to send any prior information concerning these plans to the schools or governors affected, an omission of astonishing insensitivity.

No doubt there will be fierce debate in the coming months but I should like to clarify two glaring misrepresentations which are always bandied around on these occasions.

First, Cllr David Jones talks about surplus spaces in Powys as constituting "more than one in four empty seats" as if all the space in a classroom had to be filled to the brim. We should have moved beyond the idea of every classroom crammed with 30 pupils with no room to engage in the investigative activities through which children learn best. In Ysgol Efyrnwy it is true that there is an "empty classroom" but it is also stocked with musical instruments and equipment which simply would not be in the school otherwise.

Whatever the economic argument "surplus spaces" does not mean nothing is happening. The very space created by fewer pupils often gives those who are left much greater opportunities - something both Powys and the Assembly would surely applaud.

Secondly, Cllr Jones says that surplus spaces "cost more than £4m a year". No they don't! Empty space costs nothing! Maybe it makes it more expensive to educate those who remain but the two issues should not be confused. Of course a small school is more expensive to run than a large one but so is a medium-sized one. The most "cost-effective" primary school is probably a mega-school that serves a radius of 30 miles but is that what we want for our children?

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