Halt all school closures along the English border says Powys councillor
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
Calls to halt the closure process in all schools along the border with England have been made by a councillor.
At the cabinet meeting on Tuesday, November 23, Cllr Stephen Hayes “expressed his satisfaction” that education department staff had recommended that Churchstoke primary school “shouldn’t be closed.”
But the county councillor for Montgomery said more research needed to be done to understand the attraction of schools over the border, amid concerns Wales’ schoolchildren could be lost over the border if schools in Powys closed.
Back in February, the Independent/Conservative cabinet backed starting the process to close the school at the end of August 2022.
A consultation was held on the proposal between April 14 and June 2 this year, where 347 people responded to the online form and a further 163 written responses were received on the proposal.
Education portfolio holder, Cllr Phyl Davies told the committee that “complex issues” had been thrown up by the consultation which had seen the recommendation changes.
Cllr Stephen Hayes said: “Up to 80 children from the area travel to Shropshire schools. This is not an issues just affecting Churchstoke and its catchment.
“Primary schools all along the long border from Ysgol Bro Cynllaith (Llansilin) to Hay (on-Wye) have been unable to impress on the authority that they exist in a distinct and competitive market.
“We don’t understand how parents in these border areas make decisions on their children’s education, what influences them, when the key decision is made?”
Cllr Stephen Hayes said that he believed that understanding what Shropshire and Herefordshire schools were doing to “successfully incentivise” parents to choose an English school and why Powys was not “countering that” needed to be investigated.
Cllr Hayes said: “There are between 16 to 18 schools, some 20 per cent of our primary schools located within three miles of the English border.
“We can’t sit by while children resident in Powys are being educated in England without at least taking steps to understand the problem and make it easier for parents to opt for a Powys education.”
Cllr Hayes added that following research into the problems: “at least we will be making decisions from an informed position.”
He suggested that it would now be a “mistake” to consider the future of any primary school “within five miles of the border” until that work is done.
Council leader, Cllr Rosemarie Harris said that the council had been aware for some time of the numbers of post-16 age pupils leaving Powys to be educated outside.
“We haven’t perhaps been as aware of the primary school children as we had as we should be,” said Cllr Harris.
Finance portfolio holder Cllr Aled Davies – who represents a ward including Ysgol Bro Cynllaith in Llansilin – one of the border schools mentioned which is also under threat of closure.
Cllr Davies said: “Our transformation programme is about the making the offer in our schools so compelling that pupils will want to stay in Powys.”
Cllr Phyl Davies said: “We do need to do more to learn why this outward migration is happening before we bring any more proposals in these areas and what effect they would have.”
]He added that he would “urge” education officers to start work investigating this as soon as possible.
The cabinet voted unanimously to drop the Churchstoke closure proposal.