Brecon and Radnorshire’s Member of Parliament and Conservative Candidate for the Senedd elections have joined forces to call for a moratorium on local school closures during the coronavirus pandemic.
At the beginning of February, Powys County Council announced plans to close four primary schools across Powys as part of its Strategy for Transforming Education in Powys 2020-2030. This includes Llanbedr Church in Wales School and Llanfihangel Rhydithon County Primary School in Brecon and Radnorshire. The future of two other schools – Cradoc and Mount Street School in Brecon – are also under discussion.
Should Powys County Council Cabinet approve the recommendation to start the statutory process, consultation on the Llanbedr and Dolau proposals would start later this month. Those schools could close at the end of August 2022, with pupils transferring to their nearest alternative school, if the plans are approved. A separate consultation on the future of Cradoc and Mount Street Schools is underway.
Following uproar from the schools, parents and local communities, Fay Jones MP and Cllr James Evans have called for a pause on these proposals, citing the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. They argue that the opportunities for the community to consider the recommendations in full and respond to the consultation process are drastically limited due to the current coronavirus restrictions. With a ban on in-person meetings and patchy broadband coverage in the area, they have concerns that some could be frozen out of the consultation process completely.
Commenting on the proposed school closures, Fay Jones MP said:
“I fully sympathise with the pupils, teachers, parents and governors of Llanbedr, Dolau, Mount Street and Cradoc schools – as well as the other schools in Brecon and Radnorshire which are earmarked for change.
“Pupils have been through more than enough over the last twelve months. The last thing they need as the schools finally start to return is this degree of uncertainty. On top of this, I do not believe parents and governors will be able to argue their case fairly.
“This is too important an issue to be discussed on Zoom – particularly with the appalling broadband we have in the constituency. These proposals should be paused until the community has a chance to consider the proposals in full and can hold open in-person meetings.”
Cllr James Evans, Conservative Senedd Candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire said:
“I acknowledge that Powys County Council are under severe financial restraints due to underfunding from the Welsh Labour Government, and that difficult choices have to be made, I have asked the Cabinet to defer this issue until the Covid-19 restrictions have been eased.
“It is highly questionable to hold a consultation process during lockdown, when we are unable to meet in person and when a vast majority of the population in Dolau and Llanbedr have poor connectivity and limited access to online meeting platforms.
“I am asking for this issue be deferred until such a time when a full and robust consultation process can take place. All stakeholders must have the opportunity to meet in person to discuss these proposals and the impact it could have on their localities.”