Pilot scheme with head share keeps two closure threats at bay. Glyn Bellis reports
Two Church in Wales village schools have joined forces under one head in what is described as a "unique" pilot scheme.
Denbighshire county council said Ysgol Dyffryn Ial and Llantysilio near Llangollen - at one time under threat of closure - now have a stable future because of the "clustering" project. It will run for 12 months.
Other small schools in Wales have clustered together for survival, but this is believed to be the first involving Church in Wales primaries.
The clustering arose due to the retirement of the headteacher at Ysgol Dyffryn Ial. The school found it difficult to recruit a replacement, and is now being managed by Llantysilio's head, Gordon Hughes.
Denbighshire, like many Welsh counties, is facing a dilemma about the future provision of education in rural areas because of falling school rolls. Last year it announced a major shake-up which would have involved merging or closing 14 schools to reduce surplus places, but it was dropped after angry protests from parents.
A Denbighshire county council spokeswoman said the authority was seeking consultants to advise on its "modernising education" programme and they were expected to begin work in March.
She added: "The situation at the two schools will be reviewed some time in the next 12 months."
Councillor Dewi Owens, the council's cabinet member for lifelong learning, said: "This project will enable Ysgol Dyffryn Ial to have a stable leadership for the next 12 months.
"Clustering will also benefit both schools, with the release of the head to lead and monitor without a teaching commitment. It is an excellent example of collaboration between the Church in Wales, the governors of the schools and the local authority.
"This is a positive local response to a difficult issue."
Cathy Pasley, secretary of the parent-teacher association and a governor at 36-pupil Ysgol Llantysilio, said: "If this saves both schools it's a good idea.
"Parents are very pleased. We will fight any future plans for closure. We need small schools - it kills villages and rural areas if they close."
Paul Anyon, vice-chair of governors at Dyffryn Ial, which has 59 pupils on two sites, said parents there also welcomed the change.
"We went to the county and, with the help of the link officers, we approached the governing body of a nearby Church in Wales school because that was important to us, and it agreed to share the head Gordon Hughes."
He added: "The school is a crucial part of the village. It's the meeting place for parents. If we lose it, we lose the heart of the village. We have already lost the chapel and we've had to fight to keep our post office."
The Rev Manon Parry, director of lifelong learning for the St Asaph diocese, said: "We're thrilled the schools have been able to work in this way. It's a positive step forward for them.
"Rural schools face more difficulties than most and it's a way of combining resources and being stronger."
One in six Welsh schools had to re-advertise to fill head vacancies last year, compared with one in three across England and Wales (TES Cymru, January 13).
But research from Education Data Services found that small rural and faith schools continue to find it much harder to recruit leaders - with 44 per cent of Church of England and 59 per cent of Roman Catholic schools having to do so.