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Closure expert eases the pain

Torfaen helped valley secondary school to close gracefully

THE ANNOUNCEMENT of a school closure often sparks passionate parental-led campaigns to keep them open. But the expected strength of feeling over plans to close a beloved secondary school in Pontypool led Torfaen, one of Wales's smallest local authorities, to hire an education consultant to help ease the heartache.

Ingrid Wilson has been helping the tight-knit valley community mourn the loss of Trevethin community school for the past year. Many of the residents, young and old, were pupils at the school and have fond memories of their school days.

Old pictures, log books and staff records have been collected and displayed as part of a plan to turn around bad feeling and make the closure a real celebration. Pupils have even performed a play.

"Closing a school is always a sad time for staff and pupils," said Ms Wilson. "Torfaen wanted to ease that pain."

The school was created in 1982 by the merger of Pontypool Girls grammar school and Trevethin Boys secondary modern.

The play, The Gold of the Afon Llwyd', was commissioned to bring the year-long transition project to an end. Around 40 pupils from three schools acted out a plot which starts with a search for the elusive gold of Afon Llwyd.

Performers travelled back in time to meet soldiers from the First World War, suffragettes and even the world-famous Pontypool Front Row reportedly the best and toughest players in rugby history. In the end they realised that the gold is actually the people of the valley.

Philip Michell scripted the play with funding from the Welsh Arts Council and Basic Skills Agency. He drew inspiration from meetings between past and present pupils, many of whom were now pensioners. Trevethin's remaining pupils will be transferred to West Monmouth and Abersychan secondaries following the school's closure this week.

Dr Rod Cunningham, schools' development officer for Torfaen, said local authorities needed to deal with closures sensitively.

He said. "We were determined that the move would be as painless as possible for the children."

The decision was made as part of the county's reorganisation plans to tackle falling pupil rolls. Many other schools have been earmarked for closure across Wales, with vehement opposition.

In Cardiff, the backlash was so intense the local authority had to revise its plans, but closures are still inevitable. Trevethin co-head Jan Preece said: "Once people accepted it they threw themselves into the transition project. It has been very rewarding."

Leader, page 26

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