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Denbighshire primary schools under closure threat

Published date: 25 January 2013 |
Published by: Helen Davies
Read more articles by Helen Davies


 

NEXT month will see the start of a consultation about the future of 11 primary schools in the Ruthin area.

Free Press reporter Helen Davies spoke to Jackie Walley, head of modernising education at Denbighshire County Council, about the three stages of the review.

Stage One

“First of all we need to explain to people why we’re doing it,” said Ms Walley.

“The number of pupils we have in Denbighshire and the places aren’t sustainable.

“It’s about getting the right schools in the right area delivering the right education.”

Among the factors being considered in the review is the number of surplus places at each school.

Currently Ysgol Llanbedr has 72.7 per cent surplus places and Ysgol Pentrecelyn 61.7 per cent.

But at the other end of the council’s equation Ysgol Llanfair DC has 91 pupils in a school with a capacity for 83.

But Ms Walley says a decision about the schools will not just be based on surplus places.

“It’s not just as black and white as saying that school has lots of empty places so let’s close that one,” she said.

“One of the options is to take mobile accommodation away and that in itself reduces surplus places.

“There’s things like Welsh medium education and faith-based education to consider.

“We look at all the different factors and views.

“There’s the performance of the school, the number of pupils, funding, a whole
manner of things.”

Another factor considered is the use of mobile classrooms in the schools.

Ysgol Pen Barras tops the list with 61.9 per cent of capacity provided through mobiles.

“It’s a difficult balance because some mobile classrooms are excellent,” said Ms Walley.

“But the amount of money we spend maintaining mobile classrooms is not the best use of resources.

“There’s things like IT which we want to invest in for the future.”

Over six weeks in February and March, parents, staff and governors at the 11 primary schools will be asked for their views on the future of the schools.

It is important that people give reasons behind their opinions.

“We know it’s emotive, it’s their children,” said Ms Walley.

“But the views which come forward which are most evidence-based will have greater weight.

“We’re not just looking at the here and now, we’re looking at securing the best education for the next 20 or so years,” she added.

Stage Two

After the first consultation has been completed, council officers will gather all the information together and put forward a series of proposals for the future of the schools.

These plans will then be put to the council’s cabinet members for discussion.

“They will look at them and at the evidence we’ve gathered and either give their permission for us to move forward with it or say no,” said Ms Walley.

“We’re hoping to take it to cabinet around May or June.”

If the cabinet says yes, the council will then ask parents, staff and governors what they think about the proposals.

“Closing is an option, we can’t hide that fact,” said Ms Walley.

Stage Three

After gathering thoughts on their proposals for the future of these Ruthin area primary schools, the council will then publish a statutory notice of their decision.

If there are any objections to this, the issue is passed to the Welsh Government who will consider all the information and rule on the matter.

With some previous reviews in the county there have been objections at the first stage in the process, but none by the time it comes to the statutory notice.

But with other area reviews, objections have been raised at the final stage and the decision passed to the Welsh Government education minister Leighton Andrews.

“We’ve all got the same priority which is the children,” said Ms Walley.

“They only get one chance at education and we have to ensure that their education is not disrupted.”

She added: “We’re not going to be able to please everybody because there are very different views.

“We have got a fantastic opportunity to improve education for children in Ruthin.”

It is likely to be at least 18 months from the start of the first stage of the review next month before any changes come into place.

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