National Association for Small Schools

Mervyn Benford National Co-ordinator

Cloudshill, High Street, Shutford, BANBURY OX15 6PQ Tel: 01295780225 (Fax: 01295 780308)

Chairman: Bill Goodhand Tel: 01400 272623 Business Manager: Brenda Edwards Tel: 01929 463227

12th. May 2003-05-11

Sir, Re: Proposed Closure of Hermon Primary School

This school was proposed for closure with five others a few years ago a very well-argued case by those schools jointly saw the proposal withdrawn. The Council deceived everyone, simply retreating to fight another day, deciding to pick off schools one by one. First went a very good school, Bwlch y Groes. Then, to divert attention elsewhere came the closure of another deserving and successful school, Moylegrove. Now, as was always predictable, the Education Department returns to the survivors from its first hit list.

Just how long can this naked assault on the small schools of rural Wales be tolerated. The whole of educational provision in rural Wales is seriously at risk if Pembrokeshire is allowed again to succeed for it will confirm a precedent others may be keen to follow. The Assembly has a clear policy affirming the importance of schools to their villages despite several ambivalent clauses that wilful LEAs are able to exploit if allowed. The UK Government requires a ”presumption against closure” for English schools. Aberdeenshire Council has just ruled in favour of keeping most of its small schools open and pledged that future policy will be based on the wishes of parents. Why are Welsh rural children to be so cruelly betrayed? Post-election words from the Assembly’s new rulers seem more hopeful but these need translation into action.

It is done in the name of finance yet the most pressing problem to have faced the Council recently has been that of the many unfilled places it has in urban areas. Last time round in its defence Hermon showed that the vast majority of these were in six large schools and the Audit Commission itself argues the problem is largely an urban one. Yet it is village schools that are being attacked. Hermon in fact is over-subscribed! It has all the parental and community credentials the Assembly policy argues as a reason for retaining small schools yet if the Bwylch y Groes and Moylegrove precedents are followed Hermon will be sacrificed to the alleged “greater good” of the Authority’s economic rationalisation programme by which it hopes to gather grants for re-building other schools.

There is no evidence that new buildings add one iota to a pupil’s maths. scores, nor that larger schools guarantee success. All the available hard evidence argues that smaller schools on the whole are the more successful through their closeness to home and the strong sense of professionalism within a small team of teachers. Ceredigion’s fine A level results from pupils most of whom had their early education in small schools shows what Johnstone proved in Scotland a decade or more ago, namely that smallness of scale is positively advantageous. It is but bureaucratic and administrative priority that values largeness and impersonality and the inevitable disaffection bred in all but the most advantaged pupils.

The question facing your readers affects far more than one small village in a Welsh-speaking area. The rich fabric of rural Wales and its culture are seriously threatened by this proposal which we urge everyone to resist.

Yours sincerely

Mervyn Benford