THE decision not to hold a public meeting on the proposed closure of a Powys primary school has been condemned by a prospective new Senedd candidate.
Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate Alison Alexander says a decision not to hold a public meeting on Churchstoke County Primary School’s prospective closure damages confidence in Powys County Council.
In an open letter to the education portfolio holder Phyl Davies, a member of the Conservatives, Ms Alexander states poor communication on school closure consultations has already damaged confidence and the refusal to hold a public meeting on the future of Churchstoke risks entrenching this lack of trust even further.
“It is very concerning to hear from parents that Powys County Council is not proposing to hold public meetings as part of the consultation process, despite this being the norm in the past,” said Ms Alexander.
“While I appreciate the ongoing nature of the pandemic has made it impossible to hold a physical meeting, there has not been ample justification for not holding a virtual public meeting.
“I would like to draw the council’s attention to the recommendations for consultations published during the pandemic. Although there is no statutory obligation for authorities to hold public meetings on proposed school closures, they are strongly recommended.
“Guidelines state that although there is no requirement to hold consultation meetings, the code recognises that such meetings can assist greatly in the dissemination of information and provide a suitable platform for consultees to make their views known.
“We know that some local authorities have arranged virtual drop-in sessions as a means for consultees to access information, seek clarification, or provide comments during the consultation period. We would encourage proposers to hold virtual meetings, drop-in sessions and/or online forums.
“Recognising that there may be barriers to some parents’ participation in online meetings, proposers should provide other ways for consultees to seek information and express their views. We encourage local authorities to take all steps possible to overcome any barriers and ensure that all voices are able to be heard.”
Pupils at the school hit the headlines earlier this year when they starred in an emotional and spirited video aimed at saving it.
Churchstoke’s defiant 38 pupils dance and sing throughout the three-minute clip, uttering phrases like “We are more than just a school” and “Please save our school, don’t shut us down”.
Churchstoke is one of four Powys schools that have been earmarked for closure by September 2022 by the council – the others are Castle Caereinon Church in Wales School near Llanfair Caereinion, Llanfihangel Rhydithon County Primary School in Dolau near Llandrindod Wells and Llanbedr Church in Wales School near Crickhowell.
“By not holding a public meeting, it is my belief the council is not making a concerted effort to fulfil the above recommendations,” added Ms Alexander, who is standing as a Lib Dem candidate in Thursday’s Senedd elections, hoping to oust Tory incumbent Russell George.
“Given the council has already felt the need to apologise publicly to parents and other stakeholders because of poor communication this would be an opportunity for the council to make some redress and demonstrate its willingness to engage thoroughly with the community.
“Many parents and children are already going through an extremely stressful time because of the pandemic. They should not have the additional burden of worrying that their voices will not be adequately heard during this consultation process and I hope the council reconsider their decision and engage fully with the community.”
A spokesperson for Powys County Council said: “It has been just over a week since we launched the consultation on our proposal to close Churchstoke C.P. School, which still has six weeks left until it closes. We have already received a large number of responses.
“All consultations around school proposals are held in accordance with the School Organisation Code. No meeting is being arranged for parents or the community as part of the consultation, this is in accordance with the requirements of the School Organisation Code which does not require meetings to be held as part of the consultation process.
“We will be meeting governors, school staff and learners to seek their views on our proposals.
“Parents and members of the community are able to respond to the consultation by either using the online response, by email or by writing to us.”
Details can be found on how to take part by visiting www.powys.gov.uk/transformingeducation and going to Churchstoke C.P. School under Current Consultations.
Those who would like a paper copy of the consultation document can contact the transforming education team by phoning 01597 826618 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
All the responses and issues raised during the consultation period will be collated into a consultation report and responded to. The consultation report will be considered by cabinet once the consultation closes.