Pupils de-bunk council's paper on closure plans

24th June 2005 at 01:00
Pupils challenged education officials over plans to close their school this week - armed with a jargon-busting version of the council's own consultation paper.

The complex document was re-written in plain English for the 11 to 16-year-olds so they could have their say on controversial proposals to shut their school. The Dylan Thomas community school in Swansea is set to close in 2007 as part of the council's on-going reorganisation plans.

Staff, parents and pupils met education chiefs this week to thrash out why their school was a target. Armed with the facts, "emotional and tearful" children told council chiefs they would fight on to keep it open.

They have already written to children's commissioner Peter Clarke, asking him to intervene, and have ordered special "save-our-school" wristbands to wear as part of their campaign.

Mark Campion, Swansea council's personal and social education adviser, was given the task of rewriting the consultation document for the children.

This is the first time children had been consulted by the council over educational provision. He also visited the school earlier this week to talk to pupils about the plans.

Mr Campion said: "The children at the school have all rallied to try to save it from closure. This is about acknowledging their concerns and including them in the consultation process."

Named after the city's legendary son, the school only attracts 558 pupils out of a possible 1,500. Almost half have special educational needs.

The Liberal Democrat-led council blames falling pupil numbers for its uncertain future, and says money saved from the closure will be ploughed back into education in the city. But a group set up to fight the school's closure has accused the council of social bias, saying it was an easy target because few parents are from professional backgrounds.

According to inspection agency Estyn, Dylan Thomas has the highest proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals in Wales - 62 per cent.

Head Malcolm Willis, who has been at the school since its official opening in 2001, said pupils numbers had actually risen, not fallen. Council predictions that pupil numbers would fall again were unfounded, he claimed.

If the school closes, pupils will have to travel to Bishop Gore comprehensive in the more affluent Sketty area. But Mr Willis said Bishop Gore was not equipped for the special needs of his pupils, including many with autism.

Swansea council says the closure proposal has been made for educational reasons only. Education cabinet member Mike Day said: "Money is going into servicing surplus spaces. We want to see it being directed towards pupils."

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