'Axe city schools for rural ones'

27th July 2007 at 01:00
a retired secondary teacher is to call on the Assembly government to shut down urban schools to subsidise small schools facing the axe in rural areas.

Kay Wilkinson from Anglesey will controversially suggest this as one solution to falling pupil rolls across Wales in a speech at the Professional Association of Teachers' (PAT) annual conference in Harrogate next Tuesday.

In an impassioned speech to delegates, the PAT's Welsh executive committee member is expected to launch an attack on a "policy of despair" in closing small schools in rural areas due to falling rolls.

And she will detail their virtues compared with city counterparts as she proposes a list of alternatives to closure. "Why not and this is probably the most controversial suggestion I have close those surplus schools in town areas, where they will save money on buildings, and use the surplus teachers to reduce class sizes, or even use one teacher to a class?

"The cost savings could be used to support and maintain the excellence in rural schools and increase people resources in town schools," she is expected to say.

Ms Wilkinson, who recently left the Royal Hospital School in Ipswich, will cite the plight of schools in Powys where six closures are proposed while a glut of newly qualified teachers cannot find work. However, she agrees the economic imperatives to shut schools in rural areas is strong.

"A local councillor acquaintance put it to me like this: 'It costs nearly three times as much to educate a child in a small rural school as it does in larger town schools in my ward'," Ms Wilkinson says in her draft speech.

But she goes on to argue that rural schools are at the heart of villages and communities, with much greater involvement of both children and the community in extra-curricular activities than in cities and towns.

"The school needs to select a football team in a small rural school you are on the team. When the choir goes to the local concert or Eisteddfod, all the children are members as well as parents."

Ms Wilkinson also suggests that the one-to-one attention given to pupils in small, rural schools makes it educationally superior to those in larger town and city areas. She will describe it as "nurturing".

Other alternatives to closing down small rural schools suggested in the speech are federating under one head, all-age schools and greater moves towards community-focused schools.

It is estimated that surplus places across Wales are due to rise by 100,000 by 2014 from the current 76,000. Peter Morris, chair of the PAT Welsh executive, will also call on the government to stop interfering by using social engineering in the educational life chances of young people.

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