Pressure on Welsh Government to explain why no small rural schools have received capital funding
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
Pressure is being put on the Welsh Government to explain why no small schools in Wales appear to have benefited from hundreds of millions of pounds of capital funding.
Councils, especially rural ones, have had to make controversial decisions about closing small schools for reasons including declining pupil numbers and difficulties recruiting staff.
That led to Welsh ministers introducing a presumption against the closure of rural schools in its school organisation code.
At the same time, the Welsh Government has, along with councils, been paying for a vast programme of school modernisation and new builds.
Carmarthenshire councillor Darren Price told a cabinet meeting that he had received an email from a Welsh Government official to say they were not aware of a rural school with fewer than 50 pupils receiving a share of this 21st Century School Programme funding.
Cllr Price, who is not a cabinet member but has been leading an education scrutiny task and finish group, said this had come “as a bit of a shock”.
He said it was obvious to him that the programme of school rebuilding and the presumption against the closing of small schools “are not quite alongside each other”.
Cabinet member, Cllr Linda Evans, said she thought every council would want to know what the benefits of the 21st Century School Programme were for small schools.
“We have to have fairness,” she said.
‘Case for closure’
The task and finish group also looked at other matters, such as how the council consulted on its various education policies. These include altering the language in which lessons are taught.
The Plaid Cymru-Independent cabinet endorsed the group’s six interim recommendations, and will write to the Welsh Government on the funding issue for small schools.
Speaking afterwards, Cllr Price said he felt the funding process for new and modernised schools was heavily focused on financial criteria, in turn pushing councils towards shutting small schools.
Welsh language society Cymdeithas yr Iaith said rural communities were being let down, and that it would be contacting Education Minister Jeremy Miles to explain why no small schools seem to have received 21st Century School Programme money.
The Welsh Government said bids for 21st Century funding were submitted by councils themselves, and that every proposal was then carefully assessed based on its strength rather than the size of the school.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “A presumption against closure doesn’t mean a rural school will never close, but the case for closure must be strong and not taken until all viable alternatives have been considered.”
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