Money is no reason for closure

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Only abortion, animal experiments, mobile-phone masts and foxhunting seem to generate the level of passion and controversy that rural school closure plans such as Denbighshire's provoke. And no wonder. A dreadful gloom can descend on a village when children's playground laughter is silenced. No more sports days on the school field, no more carol concerts. What a loss.

Some parents complain that children who are bussed off to bigger schools bring back unwelcome "townie attitudes" to their village. Others claim that younger families will not move into a village that has no school - or they worry, less vocally, about the effect on property prices. All of these fears are understandable. The loss of a school can have social, cultural, economic and, in a dual-language country such as Wales, linguistic repercussions.

Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, was right to point out recently that financial considerations must not be the main reason for closing small and rural schools. But this does not mean that every school must be preserved in aspic even though schools are supposed to be at the heart of the Westminster government's new network of children's services. The truth is that small schools can be very bad as well as very good. Anyone who was unfortunate enough to be a pupil in a failing, one or two-teacher school with a leaking roof and outside toilets will agree.

It is also self-evident that something has to give if there will be 62,000 fewer pupils in Wales by 2016 and if Cardiff alone - falling rolls and closures are not just a rural problem - currently has 8,000 surplus places.

But not a single closure plan must be nodded through a council committee and then rubber-stamped. Each proposed closure throws up a set of advantages and disadvantages that must be meticulously weighed. The LEA accountants, who invariably favour closures, and the rural preservationists, who would save every school, should acknowledge that fact. Open minds only, please.

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