The Future of Education in Powys
Updated: January 2024
Lib Dem and Labour-run Powys County Council are proposing to change the language category of Ysgol Bro Caereinion to a Welsh Medium School by September 2025. The Councils proposed changes could be introduced on a phased basis year-by-year starting with Reception and Year 7 in September 2025. I have serious concerns that parents and primary schools that feed into Ysgol Bro Caereinion were not adequately consulted ahead of these proposals coming forward.
In addition, children who want to learn through the medium of English within the catchment area will not be able to receive free school transport to attend the nearest high school teaching in the medium of English, this is wrong, and is a concern have raised directly with the Welsh Government Education Minister.
Despite very clear commitments made ahead of the May 2022 Powys County Council election not to close rural schools, the Liberal Democrat-led Council have brought forward a series of proposals’ to close several rural schools.
There are plans to review the Llanfyllin catchment area for primary education, and school closure proposals have also been published for the closure of Llangedwyn Church in Wales school, Ysgol Bro Cynllaith and Brynhafren school.
There has been an opportunity to feed into the recent consultation on the closure of Llangedwyn CinW school, this consultation has now closed for comments and will now be reviewed by the Council.
The Powys Council Cabinet has decided that the Llanfyllin catchment review will now go on to the next stage. Disappointingly, the proposals do not go hand in hand with the building of new schools in the area, which had been part of previous proposals. It is my firm view that the Llanfyllin catchment review should only take place in conjunction with plans for new school builds.
There was also consideration to close two schools in Newtown, Maesyrhandir and Treowen primary schools, and increasing the size of the new Ysgol Calon y Dderwen to take additional pupil numbers. Powys County Council decided not to close Maesyrhandir school, but are still taking forward a proposal to close Treowen school. I have grave concerns with this proposal as the site for the new build Ysgol Calon y Dderwen may not have sufficient adequate capacity to accommodate additional children, the area may not be able to accommodate the additional traffic at school drop off and pick up times, and a significant number of further homes are likely to be developed in the Treowen area. I believe the councils proposals may be short sighted. Along with Craig Williams MP, we have met with parents and residents in Treowen.
I have made the point, and will continue to do so, that consultations must be genuine and that all residents’ views need to be meaningfully listened to before decisions are made, including comments from those residents who may not be able to engage through electronic/remote meetings. It is important that Powys County Council takes the time to listen to all parents and communities which may be impacted by proposals, especially ensuring that their proposals address the needs of all learners, including those pupils who thrive in small school settings.
I have organised meetings with parents from schools which have been considered for closure and I have spoken with many residents via my advice surgeries. I was pleased to have played a part in ensuring that residents’ and parents’ concerns were listened to during the consultation on the future of Churchstoke school. The council did not proceed to close this school. This does demonstrate that proposals can change and that it is important to take part in consultations and attend local meetings.
The ultimate decisions on school re-organisation proposals are predominantly for Powys County Council and Powys County Councillors to take. I will continue to actively encourage people to engage with consultations and I will respond to the Local Authority myself based on my views, and views which have been presented to me, but I have, and will continue to raise specific issues on proposals as concerns come forward.
School Admissions and Home to School Transport
As the Council’s school re-organisation proposals have progressed, I have called on the Council to change their Free Home to School transport policy, the current policy is not fair or reasonable. An increased number of parents have contacted me following the Council refusing to provide free home to school transport in many areas. There should be far more flexibility applied by the Council in my view, because of marginal distances involved, or to ensure reasonable choice of accessing education in the parent/pupil’s choice of language, or to avoid siblings being split up, I have called for the Council to re-consider their decisions and to be more open to providing free transport to a child/parents’ choice of school.
In some instances, appeals have been won by parents. However, from my perspective, there does not seem to be a consistent approach being applied by the Council. In some areas, parents have greater choice than other areas and for some individual cases, the Council has overturned its original decision but for others, with similar circumstances, they have not. Unfortunately, this means that there is a risk that children will have to go to a different school to their sibling(s) or a parent would have to travel behind a bus taking one sibling to school separately. This seems to work against one of the Council’s vision to become a ‘greener powys’.
Concerns have also been raised with me about the School Admission applications process, whereby the Council has refused applications to attend certain primary and secondary schools of choice. This follows a change in catchment areas for feeder schools and a change in the capacity numbers for some schools. I have called on the Council once again to re-consider their decisions on certain admission refusals particularly when again the Council has overturned its original decision for some but not for others with similar circumstances. The capacity issue is going to become a greater concern as some schools are already showing signs of becoming over capacity which may further increase with demand in future years.
In terms of the influence which I am able to exert, I will continue to take up matters with the relevant political leaders in order to support individual cases where I believe that the Council needs to be more flexible. I will also continue to highlight the concerns with my colleagues in the Welsh Parliament. I regularly speak with County Councillor colleagues who share my concerns and have supported them as they brought forward a motion to Powys Council, calling for the leaders of the council to review and update the school transport policy so that it is flexible and supports parental choice (particularly where there is no extra cost to the council). I am pleased that Councillors have done this and was voted unanimously for by Councillors. The Cabinet now needs to ensure the policy is updated to reflect the motion which was passed by the full Council.