Welsh Lib Dem Education Secretary Kirsty Williams unveils plans to support Wales’ small and rural schools
These plans are the result of Kirsty Williams’ Progressive Agreement with the First Minister, and were a key priority for the Welsh Liberal Democrats before the election.
Plans include a new £2.5m per year fund to promote community usage of school buildings and support greater school to school working amongst other measures, changes to the School Organisation Code which guides local authorities on decision-making about schools, and develop effective leadership across groups of rural schools.
Welsh Lib Dem Education Secretary Kirsty Williams said:
“Small and rural schools play an important role in our national mission in raising standards and extending opportunities for all our young people. All children must have access to the best possible education and the same opportunities as other children in Wales, wherever they live.
“I want to ensure that local authorities do not simply view school closures as an easy option. The plans I am unveiling today will enable councils and schools to be innovative and do what is best for pupils and their communities.
“These changes set out a presumption against closing rural schools and commit investment to enable schools to work together. I want to see schools working more formally together, forming federations and looking into the possibility of co-locating services within school buildings to ensure that they remain viable.”
Cllr William Powell Welsh Lib Dem Rural Affairs Spokesperson welcomed the proposals:
“Welsh Liberal Democrats have long recognised the value of rural schools as vital resources at the heart of our towns and villages. Too many rural schools Wales have faced closure over recent years, as a result of urban-centric policy. This has frequently served to undermine the sustainability of our communities and in some cases their cultural identity.
“It is fantastic to see Welsh Liberal Democrat principles put into practice. Rather than carping from the side-lines, our party will remain the voice of rural communities right at the heart of government.”
Changes will be introduced to the School Organisation Code that guides local authorities decisions about schools. These will include:
- A presumption against the closure of rural schools;
- Cases to close rural schools must be strong;
- Local authorities to carry out more rigorous consultation and conscientiously consider all viable alternatives to closure including linking up with other schools, known as federation.
Other plans include:
- A new £2.5m per year rural and small schools grant to support schools working together. This includes encouraging greater use of technology to combat the issue of professional isolation, providing administrative support in schools where the head teacher has significant teaching commitments and increasing the community use of school buildings. This grant will be made available from April 2017.
- For the first time ever, the development of a definition of a rural school.
- Funding for the development of federations across all maintained schools and better information and guidance for those considering collaboration and federation.
- Plans to develop school leaders will include proposals to build capacity of experienced, successful leaders of rural schools to deliver effective leadership across groups of rural schools.