Anger over Builth Wells and Llandrindod schools' merger

Reporter:

Keri Trigg

BUILTH Wells residents have slammed proposals that would see the town’s high school merge with Llandrindod’s.
 
Under current Powys County Council plans, the two schools will  shut in 2018, and re-open as one school across two sites in a bid to save money and raise standards.
 
It is argued the measures are needed in order to improve secondary education in the towns, after both schools were placed in special measures at their latest Estyn inspections.
 
At  a  public meeting at Builth High School last Thursday, November 24, Adam Johnstone, a spokesperson for the  Keep Builth High School Open action group, outlined  PCC’s plan which would see both schools close at the end of the 2017/18 academic year.
 
They would then reopen in September 2018 as a singe school over two campuses, with one management committee, board of governors, and head teacher.
 
He also addressed fears that once the merger goes ahead, the council could decide at any point to close one campus without having to consult again, saying this would impact the town severely.
 
“The concern that I have is that this effects the kids, but also a lot of the local businesses as well,” he said.
 
“The portfolio holder within Powys and a number of others who are supportive of the idea are playing down any further impact on the kids and the communities in which we live.
 
“When it was put to full council it was very heavily voted against. There were 32 against and only nine votes for it at that time.”
 
He added the portfolio holder for education, Cllr Arwel Jones, had issued the statutory notice on the closure of both schools following a council meeting on September 27, with the objection period due to end on November 14. This has since been extended to December 8.
 
“If you think you do not support this way forward, talk to your friends and families in the area and make them aware,” said Mr Johnstone.
 
“Is this an ambition for one school on one site further down the line? We are in the same situation that Gwernyfed and Brecon were in.
 
“I personally do not believe this is the best way forward. Two schools do need two management teams.”
 
He also outlined Estyn’s response, which states: “It is not possible to establish whether standards will be at least maintained by the proposal.”
 
Others at the meeting also voiced concerns that the merger would increase the workload of teachers, causing standards to drop. Some also accused local county councillors  of failing to represent the views of the town, including Cllr Avril York who voted in favour of the proposals when they were put to full council.
 
Jeremy Pugh said: “It’s about time our county councillors got off their backsides and did something. You are there to represent the people in this town and the people of this town do not want this.”
 
Cllr David Price argued that cuts in funding meant something needed to be done to make up the shortfall, and that standards of education were suffering due to many teachers not teaching their specialised subjects.
 
“One of the main problems in education is the reduction in funding, and we can’t get away from that,” he said, adding that falling pupil numbers were an issue as “you get paid per pupil.”
 
Cllr Price continued: “Every time a proposal comes forward, people stand up en masse and say ‘we don’t want this,’ but if something isn’t done we are going to be going over the edge.”
 
Other members of the public  claimed standards were beginning to rise and the schools should be given time to improve without a major upheaval, and that the predicted savings of £123,000 were minimal.
 
Danielle Rees said: “You are standing there representing yourself, not us.
“Maybe we do need our schools to improve and maybe a period of stability would do that. In this area we can’t lose any more services.”
 
Adam Johnstone later  met with Cllr  York, who was unable to attend the public meeting.
 
“It’s clear that Powys do have some financial challenges,”  said Mr Johnstone.
“There are a number of schools that have falling pupil numbers so they need to do something.
 
“It is their view that by achieving what they call ‘a critical mass of pupils’ across both sites, you can better focus the teaching and therefore improve educational standards. They are looking at the John Beddoes and Newtown model.”
 
Cllr York agreed to seek clarification from Ian Roberts, PCC’s head of school services, on a number of concerns raised at the meeting if the plans were to go ahead.
 
These include whether PCC would be obliged to consult again if they sought to close one site in the future, and whether both towns would be equally represented on the governing body in order to avoid Llandrindod, the bigger town, holding all the cards.
 
The action group, headed by Amanda Rees and Sarah Wheeler, is distributing objection letters around the town, which are also available at the Cwtch Cafe. The objection period closes on December 8.

See full story in the County Times

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