Over the years there have been a number of campaigns to save local village and community schools within Monmouth and Torfaen County Boroughs - some have been successful, some have not and some of the campaigns continue to this day. Now, while very few people, least of all the children and parents, would want to see a village or community school close, the closures across most of Wales continue from Gwent to Gwynedd and in between.
Much is made of cost savings, but, a closed or closing village or community school is more than just bricks and mortar and additions or subtractions to a balance sheet. One immediate effect is that aside from the damage done by the loss of the school to the local community, and immediate result is that parents or the county council end up in the businesses or providing transport to and from more distant schools. Not to mention the fact that the communities affected end up losing yet another focus (often along with their Post Offices and their Pubs) as well as losing potential community facilities and no one ends up with smaller classes.
Now while, I cannot comment on what's going on outside of Monmouthshire, in the eyes of many people Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) is pursuing a policy of short term thinking when it comes to the closure of Primary Schools across the county. Certainly MCC need a fair and proper financial settlement from the National Assembly, it's needs should be properly assessed, accounted and catered for. Many local people have concerns about the small schools closure policy which is suspected of being driven by potentially questionable motives whether immediate short term financial gain from school closures and a more medium term motive of cashing in when it comes to disposing of the former school sites for commercial gain.
Over the last few years there have been a number of campaigns to save community and village schools, some have been successful in their fight like in Ponthir, at Llanfair Kilgeddin and in and around Abergavenny as well as elsewhere within the county of Monmouthshire, and elsewhere across Wales. Other campaigns across the county and across Wales, from north to south will continue despite some pretty tepid assurances from local County Councils.
This issue of retaining village and community schools is of particular importance; both MCC, other County Council’s across Wales and the National Assembly need to seriously think again and take a more mature longer term view, and should have the courage to take a fresh look at the way small community schools fit into our education system - the English model of education does not necessarily fit in Wales.
While school rolls may fall in the short-term, over the longer term population and school rolls will rise in the villages of Monmouthshire because people will want to live in these communities. The cost of building a brand new school will be significant larger than improving an older school that may has been retained for educational and community use.
Elsewhere people do things differently, they take a longer more community minded view of education, while travelling in Asturias, in Spain, a few years ago I came across rural schools that were open with school rolls as low as 10 pupils. We need to rethink the way we run our community and village schools, there is now reason why a head teacher could not be responsible for 4 or 5 smaller schools across relatively wide rural area, modern technology can be used for shared administrative services and we could even end up with smaller class sizes.