True belonging is a concept beyond price

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Sadly, against a backdrop of falling rolls, so much of the debate about the closure of small schools has been about financial considerations
Sadly, against a backdrop of falling rolls, so much of the debate about the closure of small schools has been about financial considerations. The social policies of successive governments over the past 30 years have been driven by an apparent need to adhere to market forces. The education of our children and young people should be a far nobler exercise.

It is time education departments stopped dancing to the financiers' tune and developed an education system our people deserve.

With the guidance of the Assembly government, we are now getting away from the hideous 1988 national curriculum by introducing the play and skills-based strategies. It's encouraging to see a return to the whole-person approach, as opposed to the "Gradgrind" method.

Our small rural schools have always made a child feel an important part of the community because they are more readily a close-knit family. Everyone can be appreciated and respected and developed into rounder individuals. All too often large schools can become factories and battlegrounds where survival of the fittest rules.

Being small has not prevented these schools successfully providing primary education of sufficient quality for young people to progress to university. They can continue to do so in the future.

Many people in Wales attended small schools and have achieved success in later life. Neither have the schools been a hindrance to children transferring to a much bigger secondary school later on. Modern technologies, so important in education today, can quite easily be installed. I've seen this in the smallest of schools.

In recent years, many small schools have been used as venues for Welsh learners' classes in the evenings, eagerly attended by non-Welsh speaking parents who have moved into our rural communities.

In this way, the schools have been centres of social cohesion and played a leading role in retaining Welsh as the language of those communities.

Dr Phil Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers Cymru, implied recently that fostering the Welsh language had nothing to do with education in Wales. Such sentiments hark back to the Treason of the Blue Books of the 1840s.

In Wales we have established bilingual education and an increasing number of Welsh-medium schools. Many of the financial difficulties faced by local authorities could be overcome by creating one education authority for the whole of Wales. Pooling resources would make more money available to the poorer areas, so they could retain smaller schools.

One director of education would suffice instead of the ridiculous arrangement at present, serving 22 counties. After all, the whole of Wales has a population of only 3 million. This model worked successfully for inner London for many years. The country could easily be divided into 10 or 12 divisions for administrative purposes.

Cuba keeps schools open that are much smaller than the "dodgy 90" referred to recently by David Hawker, the new director of the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills. If a Third World country can show that kind of commitment, why can't we?

When people look back at education in Wales in the early 21st century, would we rather they think that we knew how to balance the books and save money, or would we prefer them to think that we kept our small schools open against difficult odds, helping to preserve the Welsh language while making wonderful contributions to nurturing communities?

Rhydwyn Ifan is a supply teacher with more than 30 years' experience.

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