The Welsh Liberal Democrats on Powys County Council have criticised Conservative-Independent plans to shut four primary schools.
The Tory-Independent Council Cabinet conducted consultations on the closure of Castle Caereinon Church in Wales School, Churchstoke County Primary School, Llanbedr Church in Wales School and Llanfihangel Rhydithon County Primary School this Spring, whilst the affected communities were still under COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and without the involvement of the children who would be most impacted.
Questions have also been raised about whether the planned closures are compatible with the ‘presumption against closure for rural schools’ policy introduced into the School Organisation Code by former Welsh Liberal Democrat MS for Brecon & Radnorshire and Education Minister Kirsty Williams.
Commenting, Glasbury Councillor and Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats on Powys County Council, James Gibson-Watt said:
“I am shocked but, alas, not surprised that the Tories and Independents would show such disregard for the local communities, families, children, and staff. The height of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown was obviously not a time when everybody could have the opportunity to properly participate in the consultation process.
“The Conservative Portfolio Holder for Education and Property, Phyl Davies, has twice refused to confirm that the views of pupils at these schools have been taken into account. Our understanding is that they have not.
“The Rural Schools element of the Welsh Government’s Schools Organisation Code is clear that if feasible options are available as an alternative to closure of the rural schools listed in the Code, then those options should be pursued instead of closure.
“The current council Cabinet is paying no more than lip service to those requirements and I am firmly of the view that this places the Council in breach of the Code.
“The Council’s School Transformation Plan is ambitious but directionless. It is not clear how these closures really fit into the wider strategy or why the focus seems to be reform at primary level when Estyn has highlighted greater problems with our secondary schools.
On top of all this, even the Conservative MS and MP for Brecon & Radnorshire do not appear to understand why their own Tory colleagues have ignored the input of communities and seem “to be pursuing rural schools” (their words).
“The Tories are out of their depth without a paddle.”