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William Powell AM delighted to hear news that future of Gwernyfed High School has been secured

2015 Gorffenaf 16 3:56 PM

Following the news that the campaign group fighting to secure the immediate future of Gwernyfed High School in Powys, William Powell, Welsh Liberal Democrat Member for Mid & West Wales has said:

"I am delighted that Powys County Council has decided to quash current plans to close Gwernyfed High School.

"Since making my case at Powys County Council Cabinet in March, I have consistently maintained that there were serious shortcomings with these proposals. It is great to see that, with the help of Michael Imperato and a committed group of activists, supported by legal aid funding, the community were able to get the result that we wanted."

The comments made by William Powell at the Powys County Council Cabinet meeting on 24th March, can be read below:

"Mr Chairman - I would like to thank you for granting me the opportunity to speak to this item this afternoon.

"GHS and its shoehorning into the Strategic Case for the creation of the Beacons Learning Campus is a matter of enormous concern to the residents in my Ward of Talgarth, to pupils, parents and indeed to the wider community at large.

"There was initially genuine shock in my community that one of the most flourishing schools in the history of Powys should be nominated for closure - and offered up in such an obvious dash for cash to bank roll a much needed redevelopment at Brecon.

"The shock is now slowly turning to anger, combined with a determination to see off the gross injustice of what is being proposed.

"However, while it would be easy for me to vent my feelings at the proposed closure of my own former school - and to rehearse the valid arguments heard over the past week, I propose instead to leave my guns at the door. I intend to look forensically at what Welsh Government requires of an authority in bringing forward a school closure plan - and to assess how well the proposals before you today stack up.

"In promoting these plans, Powys CC relies heavily on creating a sense of inevitability, a kind of destructive momentum, so as to 'break the spirit' of students and their parents, so that resistance appears not only misguided, but also futile.….But the Gwernyfed spirit is something altogether different. Indeed, if we read the School Organisation Code of WG, issued in 2013, we are reminded - and I quote:

"'There is no presumption in favour of or against the closure of any type of school. The prime purpose of schools is the provision of education and any case for closure should be robust and in the best interests of educational provision in the area.'

"The closure of a highly performing, 'yellow' school, with a history of prudent budgeting - to merge with a school in special measures, with a budget that is out of control? Something is wrong here, surely?!?

"But the WG School Organization Code goes on to say:

"'Nevertheless, in some areas, a school may also be the main focal point for community activity, and its closure could have implications beyond the issue of the provision of education. This may be a particular feature in rural areas if school buildings are used as a place to provide services to the local community.'

"Mr Chairman, these words could have been written with Gwernyfed HS in mind. Never, in the decades since Powys came into being, has there been, in a single school, such a powerful melding together of educational success and community generation.

"The WG Code continues:

"'The case prepared by those bringing forward proposals should show that the impact of closure on the community has been assessed through the production of a Community Impact Assessment, and how any community facilities currently provided by the school could be maintained.'

"When considering whether a closure is appropriate, special attention should be given to the following: 

  • Whether the establishment of multi-site schools might be considered as a means of retaining buildings, or the reasons for not pursuing this option;

  • Whether alternatives to closure, such as clustering, might be considered or the reasons for not pursuing these as an alternative;

  • Whether the possibilities of making fuller use of the existing buildings as a community or an educational resource could be explored;

  • The overall effect of a closure on the local community, particularly in rural areas or those receiving funding as part of regeneration activity; and

  • How parents' and pupils' engagement with the alternative school and any facilities it may offer could be supported

"Case law has established that the consultation process should: 

  • Be undertaken when proposals are still at a formative stage;

  • Include sufficient reasoning and information for particular proposals to enable intelligent consideration and response;

  • Provide adequate time for consideration and response; and;

  • Ensure that the product of consultation is conscientiously taken into account when the ultimate decision is taken.

"Mr Chairman, the proposals before you today fall well short of what is demanded by WG. They are little more than a rushed re-tread of the previous, unsuccessful bid. I urge you not to embark upon this foolish and irresponsible endeavour - and to join us in working up a better- and more sustainable plan for education in our rural heartland of Powys."