CLAIMS by a campaign group that primary school closure proposals are “flawed and potentially illegal” are wholly inaccurate and misleading, Powys County Council has said.

David Edwards, who created the Save Our Community Schools (SOCS) Facebook group in the wake of proposed school closure proposals across the county announced earlier this year, likened Powys County Council (PCC) to a “schools closure machine” that is “steamrolling through communities”.

The local authority is looking to reconfigure and rationalise the primary school provision in the county as part of its ‘Strategy for Transforming Education in Powys 2020-2030’ programme and has already begun or concluded consultations on shutting the doors at Castle Caereinion Church in Wales School, Churchstoke County Primary School, Llanfihangel Rhydithon County Primary School in and Llanbedr Church in Wales School. The future of Cradoc School and Mount Street Infants and Mount Street Juniors School in Brecon are also under discussion.

Multiple Montgomeryshire schools – including Llanfechain and Llangedwyn Church in Wales School, Ysgol Pennant in Penybontfawr, Ysgol Bro Cynllaith in Llansilin, Llandysilio Church in Wales School, Carreghofa County Primary School in Llanymynech, Arddleen County Primary School and Ysgol Brynhafren in Crewgreen – also face an uncertain future.

But the council has hit back at the claims made by Mr Edwards and has stressed that proposals have been developed robustly and in line with the council’s schools strategy, which was approved in April 2020.

Councillor Phyl Davies, cabinet member for education and property, said: “The claims by this campaign group are malicious, wholly inaccurate and misleading.

“Their baseless claims could damage the integrity of the council if left unchallenged.

“The Strategy for Transforming Education in Powys 2020-2030 is one of the most important documents that the council has produced following extensive engagement with learners, the teaching profession and the wider public, who expect us to deliver change that will benefit all learners.

“The strategy will not only help us to transform the learner experience and entitlement for all our learners but also help to address the significant challenges facing our education in Powys. These challenges include a high proportion of small schools in the county, decreasing pupil numbers, high number of surplus places, inequality in access to Welsh-medium education, limited post-14 and post-16 offerings and inequality in access to special education needs/additional learning needs provision.

“Difficult and significant decisions need to be made if we are to deliver this strategy. The proposals we have developed to date have not been reached lightly. They have been challenged by senior leaders within the council at every step during their development and, as part of this process, we have also sought independent legal advice to ensure that they are robust.”

The council has also denied it is using the pandemic for refusing any form of public meetings with affected communities and confirmed that consultations around school proposals are held in accordance with the Welsh Government’s School Organisation Code.

Although the code does not require meetings to be held with parents or the community as part of the consultation process, the council still provides a platform for members of the public to express their views. The current platform is effective and wide reaching with the council receiving high numbers of responses to its proposals as part of the consultation process.

“It is also disingenuous to claim that the council is using the pandemic for refusing any form of public meetings,” added Cllr Davies.

“All consultations around school proposals are held in accordance with the Welsh Government’s School Organisation Code, which does not require meetings to be held as part of the consultation process.

“We do meet with governors, school staff and learners to seek their views on our proposals.

“Members of the public are given an opportunity to participate and give their views on proposals as part of the consultation process. In fact, we have received over 400 responses to one of the consultations we held recently.

“I want to reassure our citizens that all our proposals have been and will be developed robustly and that learners are put at the forefront of our decision-making. When the times comes to engage with schools’ communities, we will provide them with the platform to give their views, which will be considered fully by the council.

“We want the best for all our learners and I believe that this strategy will see us deliver a legacy that will allow learners to thrive and reach their potential and compete with the rest of the world.”

In a letter to new education minister Jeremy Miles, Mr Edwards accused the council of rushing through their proposals and using the coronavirus pandemic as cover.

“My understanding of the situation in Powys, in a nutshell, is that there are too many primary schools in the county, with an overall declining population and that the authority must get its house in order or face special measures,” writes Mr Edwards.

“However, Estyn's July 2019 report focuses primarily on 16/16+ education issues and certainly nowhere suggests that mass primary school closures are necessary.

“Powys’ reaction to this has been to create a schools closure machine aimed at steamrolling through communities, regardless of individual school performance, regardless of its own local development plan and regardless of its declared climate emergency statement. Worst of all, regardless of any detrimental impact on education.

“Added to this are the difficulties around proper consultation caused by the pandemic and which the authority appears to be trying to use to its advantage by, for example, refusing any form of public meeting with affected communities.

“Education has suffered immensely through the pandemic, now is not the time to be loading children and parents with yet more stress and anxiety.”