Closure is all about the way it's done

13th June 2008 at 01:00
It must be heartbreaking for rural villages in Wales at present
It must be heartbreaking for rural villages in Wales at present (page 1). Almost daily there is news of yet another primary school having to close.

But the schools, said to be the lifeblood of small communities, are not the only victims. Post offices, pubs and petrol stations are also shutting as tight-knit rural communities witness a mass exodus of young families, forced out by expensive housing.

The closure of any primary school is sad, but sometimes it is simply inevitable as pupil rolls nationwide take a tumble.

The one piece of research that has attempted to shed light on this highly emotive issue - a study led by Professor David Reynolds - has now been called into question. It is, however, the scientific basis of the report, not the conclusions, that the critics are slating.

Professor Ray Pahl and Dr Liz Spencer suggest that the interviewees, headteachers and teachers, who spoke so glowingly of closures and amalgamation, were more than willing participants. But surely that insults the heads and teachers who took part?

In Pembrokeshire, the Reynolds report found that following closure there had been a 95 per cent increase in the quality of education, and a 76 per cent increase in educational standards. It is difficult to argue with hard facts. Heads in the area believe bigger has meant better, and many are very happy to say so. Schools' relationships with the local authority are still good, despite all the upheaval.

The difference with this county is that the authority showed some sensitivity. It presented the hard facts of its school closure programme, consulted widely, and since then has pumped the money back where it matters - into the classroom.

Ernie Jones, the head pictured on the front page this week, is realistic about the closure of his school, Llangurig Primary in the rural village in Powys. Numbers have dwindled so dramatically that there are now just eight pupils left.

The point of the Assembly committee's inquiry is unclear. It could lead to national guidelines on school closure. However, what it has done is give campaigners a chance to state their case. They need - and deserve - to be heard.

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