Two more village schools to close in Ceredigion

Thursday's vote to close another two small schools in Ceredigion will sadden many people, and certainly the parents and children sitting in the public gallery in the council chamber. The council voted by 23-18 to close Mydroilyn school (15 pupils) and by a narrow 19-18 to close Capel Seion, the one, despite having only 14 pupils, thought to have the better chance of survival in the long term. The Plaid Cymru group proposed that the schools be given a further year to organise themselves and demonstrate their viability but the ruling Lib Dem/Independent coalition wanted closure this year and ultimately triumphed. Capel Seion and Mydroilyn schools are now expected to close at the end of the Autumn term.

There are, of course, valid arguments on both sides. Ceredigion actually has by far the highest proportion of very small schools in Wales and has not gone down the more draconian closure path of Gwynedd, Powys and Carmarthenshire which has led to much greater controversy in those counties (including the forming of a whole new political party in Gwynedd). Council officers at the meeting (showing, it should be said, much more partisanship than is usual for officers) put on a presentation showing that schools with 51+ children cost £3,521 per year per child whilst schools with less than 20 cost £9,056. They told of how small schools get poorer Estyn reports (although omitted to mention some notable exceptions) and how children miss out on the social opportunities available in larger schools.

On the other hand, as could be seen in the public gallery, the parents campaigning for their small schools to remain open are highly committed and a credit to their children. Small schools are usually much more than just schools but also important focal points for their community - Capel Seion has no post office or pub – and often help maintain a small local economy. These schools may cost more but, given the kind of society people aspire to in rural Wales, they're worth it. If we want a nice society, with villages that actually function as communities instead of dormitories, we should be prepared to pay a little for it. Capel Seion village has planning applications for 21 new houses which may have provided children to save the school in time. The very threat to the schools has been putting off new parents.

As well as the general reduction in numbers of children across the country, the biggest problem is really the changing nature of society. I know several parents in Capel Seion who have chosen to send their children to school in Aberystwyth town because the schools there are close to the parents’ place of work. This is easy to understand in an increasingly busy world where travelling back to the home village to collect children at school closing time entails leaving work significantly earlier every day and may have a crucial effect on the parents’ job prospects. In that sense, it’s not the Council who have been the prime movers in closing village schools but parents in the villages who have voted with their feet. School closures are an inevitable consequence of parental choice.

This doesn’t, though, make the final decision any easier on those dwindling groups of parents still bravely committed to Ceredigion’s small schools and the children who have only known the security of their close-knit homeliness.