Welsh Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced new rules setting out a presumption against the closure of rural schools.
The Welsh Government is changing the School Organisation Code that guides decisions about schools.
Kirsty has launched a consultation on the changes, which include:
- Proposers having to consider whether a rural school will be closed by referring to a ‘rural school’ list
- Proposals to close a rural school must identify clear and specific reasons for closure, set out the alternatives that have been identified, with an assessment of these including likely education benefits, impact on the community and the likely effect on travelling arrangements and explain why the closure is the most appropriate course of action.
- Federation to be considered as an alternative in all cases.
- Consideration of alternatives to be a two-stage process with the proposer having to consider other alternatives that emerge during the consultation process.
- Any consultations on closures to be published on a school day and the local community made aware.
- The code will be revised to better reflect that addressing surplus places does not necessarily mean closing schools and alternatives to closure should be considered.
Kirsty has also announced that for the first time ever there will be a definition of a rural school. The Welsh Government will develop a rural schools list with designated rural schools.
Kirsty Williams said:
“Rural schools face unique issues and I want to ensure that pupils that attend them have the same opportunities as children in other areas.
“These proposals strengthen the School Organisation Code to make sure that councils do everything they can to keep a rural school open before deciding to consult on proposed closure.
“Talking and engaging with the local community is vital. If there is a consultation to close a school, all options and suggestions that emerge form this must be considered before a decision is made. This might include federation with other schools or increasing the community use of school buildings to make the school more viable.
“Rural schools are at the heart of community life. I therefore want to make sure these schools get a fair hearing when their future is being considered. These plans will play a key part in our national mission to raise standards and offer opportunities to all our young people.”
Last year Kirsty Williams announced a new £2.5m a year rural and small schools grant to support schools working together and councils are due to submit their plans to the Welsh Government shortly.