Parents whose children’s schools have been threatened with closure in the middle of lockdown have accused the local education authority of putting their wellbeing under pressure at the worst possible time.
They said it was hard enough home schooling during Covid closures without the added blow of being told their children’s schools may shut for good.
And they don’t know how they will break the news to their children who have already suffered a year of education disruption and can’t meet friends under the latest lockdown restrictions.
Powys County Council has announced plans to consult on shutting four small primary schools:-
- Castle Caereinon Church in Wales School
- Churchstoke County Primary
- Llanbedr Church in Wales School
- Llanfihangel Rhydithon County Primary.
All have either less than 40, or less than 30 pupils. The council argue that children will get better education transferring to other schools.
Parents dispute this though and said the timing could not be worse. And they said lockdown means they are unable to meet or air their opposition easily.
Powys County Council’s cabinet will be asked at a meeting next week to start the statutory process to shut the schools.
If agreed a consultation on closure would start later this month. All four schools would shut at the end of August 2022 at the earliest with pupils transferring to their nearest alternative school, if the proposals are approved following consultation.
Parents vowed to fight the plans and said losing their schools for good would be “one more blow” to children after a terrible year.
Council chiefs insist the pupils would transfer to other schools “better equipped to meet the requirements of the new national curriculum”.
But mum and qualified nurse Kate Stradling said the timing was “cruel” and “very ironic” with the announcement coinciding with Powys’ supporting a children’s mental health awareness week.
She and husband Richard said their daughter Angharad, seven, is thriving at Llanbedr Church in Wales School, which serves villages including Llanbedr, Llangenny, Glangrwyney and Fforest Coalpit.
Their three year-old Evelyn is due to start in April and their eldest, Ethan, 12 left the school to go up to high school last summer.
Richard is also a key worker, but as he works nights for a supermarket, they don’t get keyworker school places in the pandemic and he has been helping the children learn from home.
“It is horrendous timing to announce this in the middle of a pandemic when the children are already having it topsy turvy. I am flabbergasted,” said Kate.
“I feel the council is trying to sneak this out before the children go back to school, if they do, after half term.
“We are not able to meet as parents or a school at the moment. The children have been split up from their peers for so long. My children can’t wait to go back to school. This will affect them. It’s an added blow. It could not have come at a worse time.”
She said transferring from Abergavenny Hospital to the new Grange Hospital where she treats Covid patients has shown her just how stressful moving can be, especially at an already worrying time.
Janine and Gareth Phillips, have a son Bailey, seven, at Llanbedr Primary and their younger son Rudi,is due to start in September when he turns three.
Janine said the small class sizes include a wide mix of year groups which means the younger ones learn from older peers and move forward faster.
“The timing of this is horrific. We are devastated,” she said.
“Our son adores the school. It’s an important part of the community. It’s a focal point and it will rip the heart out of the community if it closes.
“Having a school puts life into a village. If schools go people will leave and the houses will be bought up as holiday lets.”
Three generations of Sadie Welch’s family have attended Llanbedr Primary. She said she doesn’t know how she will break the news to daughters Cali-Rae, seven and Taila-Rae, four, that it may shut.
She is worried there won’t be enough places in other primaries nearby and children will have friendships split up andlearning interrupted further.
“It’s a fantastic school, My grandfather Allan Howells went to Llanbedr Primary and my husband. It’s devastating they want to close it. My children will be beside themselves and very upset if this happens.
“It’s crazy to do this now when children’s mental health and wellbeing is already struggling. It would have a massive impact.
“It’s disgusting to hold a consultation now because it’s harder for us to get our point of view across in the lockdown. It’s a bit sly.”
She said the benefits of small schools were clear.
“They are like home from home, the class sizes are small and you get a lot of feedback. The children all know each other and the older children look out for the younger ones.
“Kids have already missed out on so much this year. To do this now is disgusting.”
A Powys Council spokesman confirmed this week is Children’s Mental Health Week, a national initiative, run by Place2Be, which the council is supporting.
He added that the Welsh Government changed its School Organisation Code last year in response to the coronavirus outbreak: “They made a statutory notice which temporarily modifies certain requirements in the code to allow school organisation proposals to continue in the context of restrictions in place to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Powys Council cabinet member responds
Cllr Phyl Davies, Cabinet Member for education, said: “We are committed to transforming the learner experience and entitlement for our learners and we will achieve this by delivering our Strategy for Transforming Education in Powys 2020-2030.
“Our strategy is ambitious, exciting and we believe it will give our learners the best possible start they deserve. However, as we start to implement it, we will be faced with significant decisions as we look to address some of the challenges facing education in Powys which include the high proportion of small schools in the county, decreasing pupil numbers and the high number of surplus places.
“These proposals have not been reached lightly but we have ensured that the best interest of the learners at these four schools were at the forefront of our discussions and decision-making.
“If these schools were to close, then the learners would be attending schools that would be better equipped to meet the requirements of the new national curriculum and that could provide a wider range of educational and extra-curricular opportunities.
“I am recommending to Cabinet that we start formal consultation to close this schools.
“Staff at all our schools have been working in extraordinary circumstances due to the Covid-19 pandemic and I want to pay tribute to their hard work and commitment during this extremely difficult period.
“However, we need to ensure that we can give our learners the best possible start they deserve so it is important that we continue with our transformation plans for education and deliver our strategy.”