A ‘right’ to education in Wales? Debate about bussing children to England after school closure
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
Councillors in Powys have debated whether closing a school that sits right on the Wales and England border would mean having to bus the children to a school in England.
Councillors asked whether the children who lived in Wales should be bussed to a school in Wales, instead, with one saying that education in Wales was “not just about the language” but going to a school that “teaches and promotes Welshness”.
And an education consultant said that it was “a right” for children living in Wales to have access to a school that taught the Welsh education curriculum.
If Churchstoke primary school was closed, children could go to English schools, and Powys County Council (PCC) would have to pay to bus them there, they said.
The cabinet eventually voted unanimously to start the statutory process to close Churchstoke primary school from August, with pupils to transfer to their nearest alternative schools in Powys.
At the council meeting on Tusday education officer, Marianne Evans admitted that the authority would have to pay to bus children from Churchstoke to the nearest school, which is just over the Shropshire border in Chirbury.
Adult Social Care and Welsh language portfolio holder, Cllr Myfanwy Alexander (Independent – Banwy) however said: “Parents living in Churchstoke have a right to transport to the nearest school in Wales would they not?
“Chirbury might be closer but they would have a right to be taken to Montgomery or wherever else might be a closer school?”
Ms Evans said: “We want them to stay in Wales, we would then need to provide transport to the closest school in Powys.
“However if they choose to transfer to Shropshire, and it’s the closest school, then we’d also have to provide transport as well.”
At the meeting County Councillor for Churchstoke, Cllr Michael J Jones, has stressed that the village was growing as were the school numbers.
Cllr Jones said: “There has been a spate of house building.
“A housing association development has been completed, and the majority of which are family homes.”
Cllr Jones explained that there were 27 children living there, and 14 of them already attended Churchstoke with several more at pre-school.
He believed that social housing associations would not have chosen to build in Churchstoke if they thought the village would not have a school, “in walking distance.”
Cllr Jones said: “Because of the new housing and the fact there are 90 children in the pre-school group, numbers will be in the mid forties, there could be 63 in two years time.”
“Inevitably cost per pupil will fall, but if the school does close all of these children will have to be transported somewhere.
“Those costs would rise, and be far more than the £19,000, (estimated transport costs) and wipe out the £50,000 expected annual savings.”
Cllr Jones continued: “A poll of parents has shown that 69 per cent would send their children to an English school.
“Churchstoke is in Wales. Welshness is not just about language, but culture, heritage and identity. The school teaches and promotes Welshness.”
Education consultant, Geraint Rees said that the new Welsh education curriculum had a “global vision,” and it was “a right” for every child in Wales to be taught through it.
He explained this is why the recommendation said: “transfer to another school in Powys.”
Council leader Cllr Rosemarie Harris, (Llangynidr – Independent), said: “Proposed development, projected pupil numbers and transport costs ran as a thread through nearly all of the correspondence we had.”
“I would seek assurance from our officers that those will be looked at extremely carefully.”
Each pupil at Churchstoke costs £7,475 which compares to the Powys average of £4,264.
The school has 38 pupils at the moment, and had been projected to fall to 16 by 2025 but that calculation did not include the housing developments.