School closures have “damaged the economy of rural Wales” and “ripped the heart from local communities”, according to an Assembly Member.
The statement – from Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Education Secretary Darren Millar AM – comes in response to newly released figures from the Welsh Labour-led Government which show that since 1999, 224 local authority maintained schools have been closed with rural areas worst affected.
Data drawn from the Schools Register show that Carmarthenshire has closed 26 schools since the establishment of the Assembly in 1999 – the largest number of all Wales’ 22 local authorities.
In the same period, Ceredigion and Rhondda Cynon Taf recorded 22 closures apiece, while Powys had 21 closures and Pembrokeshire 16.
Currently the Welsh Labour-led 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 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.
Darren Millar AM, who represents Clwyd West, said that the disproportionate rate at which schools in Wales’ countryside are being shut down underscores that the Welsh Labour Government is failing to protect the interests of rural communities.
“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,” said Mr Millar.
“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 local communities.
“It is unacceptable that rural schools have been disproportionately affected by school closure programmes and it clearly demonstrates Labour’s neglect of the countryside.”
He added: “No good school that is able to deliver the national curriculum should be forced to close without the agreement of parents, teachers and governors.”
Paul Davies AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary, said:
“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.
“If we want our rural communities to thrive and have a prosperous future then the Welsh Labour 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.”
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