School closures have “damaged the economy of rural Wales” and “ripped the heart from local communities”, according to Montgomeryshire Assembly Member, Russell George.
This follows newly released figures from the Welsh Government which shows that since 1999, 224 local authority maintained schools have been closed with rural areas worst affected.
Data drawn from the Schools Register show that Powys has closed 26 schools since the establishment of the Assembly in 1999.
Currently the Welsh Government does not have a definition for ‘rural schools’ – this despite the needs of rural schools being unique to those of urban areas.
School closures are often extremely detrimental to community cohesion and often lead to increased travel times. The average public travel time for Welsh children attending secondary school is 35 minutes.
Mr George has argued that the disproportionate rate at which schools in Wales’ countryside are being shut down underscores that the Welsh Government is failing to protect the interests of rural communities.
Mr George said:
“Too many good schools have closed their doors due to the policies of successive Welsh Governments and it is our rural areas that have been hit hardest.
“Not only have these closures caused heartache and disruption for pupils, parents and teachers, but they have damaged the economy of rural Wales and ripped the heart from some local communities.
“I fully appreciate that sometimes it's correct for a small school to close when the community itself comes to that view, but it is unacceptable that rural schools have been disproportionately affected by school closure programmes and it clearly demonstrates the Welsh Government's neglect of the countryside."
"Now that we have a Cabinet Secretary for Education who represents Powys, I hope that we see a reversal in this trend which has seen good schools shut their doors.
“No good school which is able to deliver the national curriculum should be forced to close without the agreement of parents, teachers and governors.
“Schools are an enormous focal point for community cohesion in rural areas. When a school is closed, it’s not just pupils who are impacted but parents, teachers and local businesses.
Cllr Phyl Davies, who is the Mayor of Llanidloes, and who has supported Mr George in his call said:
“If we want our rural communities to thrive and have a prosperous future then the Welsh Government must in future explore all alternatives to closure.
“The learning experience of our children must be at the forefront of any decisions over their schooling.”