A question of Morals?
An Open Letter to the Community, February 16, 2021
On February 9th, 2021, the 136th anniversary of Castle Caereinon Church in Wales Primary School being in its current location, the Cabinet at Powys County Council (PCC) voted unanimously to commence the statutory process to close the school effective 31st August 2022 with pupils to transfer to their nearest alternative schools. The decision to close the school during a pandemic raises an interesting moral and ethical quandary for the community. At the time of PCC taking the vote, it is currently illegal for residents of the community discuss face to face or knock on doors to increase awareness. Castle Caereinon is a rural community and not all residents are able to use digital platforms as broadband speeds can be as little as 1Mb. So how is the community to raise awareness and consolidate activity to PCC?
Academic research recognizes that announcing school closure has a negative effect on a pupil’s capacity to learn. Making this announcement in a pandemic further questions PCC’s moral position as student’s well-being is already being tested. Making this announcement will surely increase anxiety levels further.
It is plausible to consider that the announcement of the school closure is in effect a direct result of sustained neglect in rural community education, with seemingly a lack of PCC offering a strategic approach to education in rural communities. Castle Caereinon was presented with this unfortunate situation some 10 years ago which it successfully overturned. With continued cost cutting measures, is it right that the controlling body that has neglected to implement an effective education strategy in rural communities, also be the controlling body to make the assessment to close the school?
PCC have stated that by closing the school it will save £58,000 per year. Granted, in times of austerity and governing through a pandemic it is important to manage public finances effectively. However, in PCC’s assessment for closure there is no mention of the provision that PCC will make to provide transport to alternative schools. Instead, PCC have made it clear that pupils can select from several schools in the wider region but have failed to advise parents that PCC will only provide transport to one school under its current school transport policy. Are PCC therefore embarking on a strategy to actively discriminate rural communities which will disproportionally affect faith schools and families of lower income?
A small school does not mean ineffective teaching. Small schools do enable intimate knowledge of the students, their backgrounds, inspire commitments and benefit from a strong community participation. The school is dedicated to providing a curriculum that creates lifelong learners, celebrates ethics and informed citizenship. The school has had to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and is creative in its learning by inviting guest speakers and teachers from neighbouring schools to provide specialist lessons. A direct result of this creativity is that the pupils are ambitious and capable learners that have represented the school across multiple platforms, including debating in the Senedd. With this collaborative approach to education is the school actually formulating a strategy for rural education in the absence of PCC as it pursues financial efficiency?
It is unfortunate that PCC has not made an effort to use current information in their assessment with reports being compiled back as far as 2016. Nor has it recognized that pupil numbers will increase by 20% come September, nor has PCC acknowledged planning of 31 additional new houses in its assessment. PCC has not recognized that closure of the school may ultimately undermine the viability of the community itself. The village hall is an integral part of the school and provides access to many clubs and societies. The economic effects as well as the well-being far outweigh the £58,000 projected gross saving as closure will drive younger families away and deter new families moving to the community. PCC have not disclosed the net financial impact.
Are PCC putting financial efficiency ahead of rural communities and forgetting the role it is designated to provide?
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