Village schools have been central to Welsh rural life but modernising ministers want to do away with them. Adi Bloom reports
This term four small schools in Carmarthenshire, Wales, returned from their Christmas holidays to the news that their days are numbered.
It is an issue dear to the heart of Tory Assembly Member, David Davies (see profile above) who has fought closures of other two-room schoolhouses, in his own Monmouthshire constituency.
"These are schools that perform well in every inspection report, and have support from parents. It seems illogical to close them down," he said.
"It's social engineering: they want to close down successful schools, and send the children to failing schools in poor areas."
Despite an extended process of appeals and deliberation, Jane Davidson, Welsh Assembly minister for education and lifelong learning,would not reprieve the four two-room schoolhouses in rural Carmarthenshire.
In a letter to the county's director of education, a representative for Ms Davidson said: "The minister notes that... the current pattern of provision in four small schools was unsustainable for the future and did not meet the authority's aspirations."
Two of the schools, Cwmbach and Llangynin primaries, have in effect already closed: all parents had withdrawn their children, in anticipation of the announcement. But the decision will affect the 38-pupil Llanboidy primary and Henllan Amgoed, a 28-pupil, two-teacher primary.
"We're not happy at all, because we're a very small village. Once the school closes, there's very little left here," said Trefina Jones, head of Henllan Amgoed.
A larger, amalgamated school with indoor toilets and a hall is to be built at Llanboidy. This is due to open in September 2004, with places for 100 pupils.
The closures are the latest in a series recommended by Ms Davidson: of the 10 appeals from small schools which the Assembly has reviewed since devolution in 1999, it has yet to uphold one. But her decisions are likely to have implications for the upcoming Assembly elections in May.
"We're going to do our best to make sure this is an issue in the election debate," said Ffred Ffransis, Carmarthenshire-based campaigner on behalf of small schools.
"The Lib Dems are trying to gain support in rural Wales, but they are part of a coalition government that is closing every small school in sight.
"The only time village communities see anyone from the education authorities is when they want to close schools down."