Today, Powys County Council brought proposals to close four schools to Cabinet. Two of the four schools are in the Montgomeryshire area and one of them, Churchstoke C.P. School, is the school my children attend.
We moved to the village at the end of August 2020. It was a monumental move in our lives, 90 miles from urban South Monmouthshire to rural North Powys. The village school was one of the deciding factors in making the move. The school’s intimate nature, it’s position at the heart of a community was the village’s selling point. My children started there in September and settled in almost immediately. They each found their place in their mixed-age classrooms among their peers.
The threat of closure is a phenomenal burden for a school to carry. Particularly during a time when tensions are high due to living through a global pandemic that has altered life insignificant (and probably permanent) ways. Right now, we don’t know what ‘normal’ will look like, and teachers and support staff are carrying tremendous loads trying to teach children both in a classroom and at home.
Stripping the proposals back to Powys County Council’s ‘facts’, reveals an even more terrifying picture. The recommendations are based on information that is 12 months out of date. The appraisal is littered with errors from there being no expectation that the school numbers will increase, to the percentage of children who receive free school meals. Not to mention the omission of the children currently attending the school with additional learning needs.
Cabinet members have also raised concerns about the loss of the community’s Welsh identity because our closest primary school is in Shropshire (most parents would choose to send their children to this school). Criticisms were also made regarding the shortsightedness of the proposals to close these schools when there is a much larger plan to transform education in Powys as a whole. Concerns have been raised that the proposals do not satisfy Powys’ Rural Schools Policy.
Today, four communities in Powys arm themselves. Today, they prepare to fight for their schools. Churchstoke and Llanbedr already have petitions with over 1000 signatures apiece. They already have a community spirit.
What they need now is support. These communities need help from everyone who believes that a school is much more than the place a child attends for an education. School is where community life and a sense of belonging begin… and they shouldn’t be closed unless there’s a damn good reason for it.