Village head admits closure is best option

27th March 2009 at 00:00
It may rip the heart out of the community, but a roll of nine pupils is not viable, she says

Buddug Bates cannot form a choir, let alone a football team, at her rural primary school. Now, after losing a long battle against closure, she admits her pupils will be better off in a larger school six miles away.

Ysgol Efyrnwy, in the Powys village of Llanwddyn, 16 miles southwest of Oswestry, will shut this summer after pupil numbers fell from 45 to 12 in eight years.

The school, run by Mrs Bates for 12 years, was given a reprieve last summer. But a predicted slump to just nine pupils this September sealed its fate under the county's reorganisation plans. Next year, pupils will travel to Ysgol Pennant, a primary also led by Mrs Bates.

She conceded that pupils have lost out on educational, social and sporting experiences because of the dwindling roll, despite enjoying excellent facilities and higher than average funding per pupil.

The school used to field successful football and rounders teams, and its pupils won youth festival competitions. But Ms Bates said there were no longer enough pupils to put together a choir or a team.

"I believe children need to interact with others, and when you are facing a roll of nine, that's not a viable number for good social interaction," she said.

With only two classes of six pupils aged four to 11, the village school has been under threat of closure since 2007. Protesters said closing it would rip the heart out of the community and they fought the closure with Mrs Bates' support.

But she admitted the school was struggling to meet the aims of the revised primary curriculum, introduced last September, which places a greater emphasis on teamwork.

David Thomas, Ysgol Efyrnwy's chair of governors and head of languages at The Maelor School in Penley, Wrexham, thinks the ideal class size is between 16 and 24 pupils. The average primary class in Wales has 24 pupils.

"People say the smaller the school, the more individual attention you get," he said. "But there comes a point when that is outweighed by the lack of social interaction and people to spark ideas off."

Bill Goodhand, chairman of the National Association for Small Schools, disagrees. "Even with 12 or nine pupils, it's possible to have an exceptionally successful school," he said. "It depends on the quality of the staff and governors, and the support of the parents."

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