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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The fate of our schools

I made careful note of the press reports of Estyn's Annual Report and its assertion that Councillors are bottling difficult decisions to close schools. Gwynedd is testimony to what can happen when elected members do grasp the nettle, but as ever timing is everything and perhaps the year of a local election is not the best time to propose the widescale closure of small schools.

I have to say though that I do not recognise the picture that was painted. Yes, there are examples of Councillors backing off from controversial proposals in the face of sustained and organised resistance and there are examples of badly thought-through and poorly-researched closures being withdrawn once their limitations are exposed, not least in my own Swansea.

However, there are also instances of local Councils delivering on school improvement plans, as in Pembrokeshire, and others, such as Swansea that have carried out a huge amount of work on condition surveys and then sought to engage with the local community in drawing up an extensive programme of change and improvement.

The big problem for all local authorities is the failure of the Welsh Assembly Government to provide sufficient capital funding to deliver properly planned improvement programmes that eliminate surplus places, whilst at the same time enhancing the educational experience of school children.

And then there is the WAG factor, otherwise known as the propensity of Assembly Government Cabinet members to talk the talk about school reorganisation and investment and then to oppose and obstruct proposals that come forward irrespective of their merits, just because Labour no longer control the Council.

Estyn may well have a point of sorts but is it not time that they inspected the national politicians who are making Councillors jobs that much harder by their continual interfering and lack of support?
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