Tory-Lib Dem battle lines drawn on school closures in Powys election
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
Liberal Democrats have warned that a programme of school closures will continue in Powys if the Conservatives are still in power after May 5.
But Conservatives believe this is an “exciting” time for education in Powys and point to a number of school building projects underway and in the pipeline.
Powys is the only part of Wales that is a Liberal Democrat and Conservative battleground at all tiers of government. There are currently 13 Conservative councillors and 14 Liberal Democrats, with the council run by an independent and Conservative coalition.
Changes to the School Organisation Code – including the presumption against closing rural schools – were brought in under the Welsh Government Liberal Democrat education minister, Kirsty Williams in 2018.
Powys Welsh Liberal Democrat group leader, James Gibson-Watt said: “It was Kirsty Williams, who introduced statutory safeguards for rural schools to protect them from closure.
“Protection that Powys County Council’s Conservative education portfolio holder (Phyl Davies) has ignored in his wrecking-ball drive to shut down Powys’ rural schools.
“In fact, it is the Conservative’s policy on school closures that has caused members to resign from their own group.
“The threat to Powys’s rural schools comes from the Tories and if they retain power in Powys after the May election they will no doubt continue their rural schools closure programme.
“If the people of Powys wish to see our village schools retained in the future, then they should vote for Welsh Liberal Democrat candidates, who are all committed to seeing our rural schools kept open within new clustering arrangements in each secondary school catchment area.”
Powys Conservative group leader, Aled Davies countered the Liberal Democrat’s arguments and said that the Conservative “put education first.”
Mr Davies said: ”We have made huge investments in our schools across Powys and the improvement delivered has been welcomed by Estyn, the Welsh Government education inspectors.
“Phyl Davies’ leadership along with the new senior management team in the schools service has also been recognised by Estyn.
“Estyn has endorsed our new Strategy, ‘Transforming Education in Powys 2020-2030’
“The strategy identified the following reasons as to why substantive change is necessary.”
Mr Davies said that these reasons are:
- High proportion of small schools
- Decreasing pupil numbers
- High number of surplus places
- Building condition
- Financial pressures
- Inequality in access to Welsh-medium education
- Limited post-14 and post-16 offer
- Inequality in access to SEN (Special Educational Needs) provision
- Historical lack of political decision making.
Mr Davies added: “All of these issues are being addressed.
“But most importantly, underpinning the strategy agreed by the cabinet has been a commitment to place the learner at the heart of every decision that we make.
“The needs of our children, have been our central guiding principle.”
“The schools are benefiting from the investment we are making, their financial position has been stabilised, the backlog of maintenance issues are being address and there is a significant and exciting Capital programme.
“A new high school in Brecon a Church in Wales primary school in Welshpool.
“The new Ysgol Gymraeg y Trallwng will open very soon.
“New builds are being planned in Llanfyllin, Machynlleth, Cedewain, Ysgol y Dderwen, Brynllywarch, Brecon primary (Cradoc and Mount Street schools) Sennybridge primary.
“These are exciting times to be involved in education in Powys.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.