A SENIOR councillor is disappointed that education chiefs couldn’t find a way of helping save a rural Powys school from closure.
At a meeting of Powys County Council’s Cabinet on Tuesday, October 24, councillors looked at a proposal to close Irfon Valley primary school in Garth between Builth Wells and Llangammarch Wells,
Pupil numbers at the school have dropped to 19 this term when only last January there were 43 children there.
The proposal to close the school has come unexpectedly – and follows the school Governors approaching the council for help in the summer.
They were concerned that the drop in pupil numbers would impact the school’s budget.
Education chiefs reviewed the issues and came back with a proposal to close the school on August 31, 2024.
The main problem is a lack of after school club and the convenience that gives parents has seen children move other nearby schools where this is provided.
This has also left very small numbers of pupils in some of the year groups.
School’s transformation manager Marianne Evans believed that a “snowball effect” had happened at the school.
Families seeing others move their children elsewhere also decided to join the exodus.
Conservative group leader, Cllr Aled Davies said: “Governors approached the council for support and help citing the afternoon club or wrap around care for the school being an issue for the fall in school numbers.
“It’s disappointing to see that the response was: oh well we’ll close it then, not put in place support to help stem the flow of pupils away from the school and better support.”
Cllr Davies said that when the education portfolio holder, Liberal Democrat Cllr Peter Roberts had been chairman of the scrutiny committee and looked at previous school closure proposals, Cllr Roberts had produced: “quite a few imaginative proposals.”
Cllr Davies said: “I’m disappointed to see he has failed to come forward with potential proposal that may have saved this school.”
Cllr Pete Roberts: “I think the fact that I couldn’t come up with a novel and imaginative idea as to how this school could be retained speaks volumes for the depth of the problem faced at this location.
“We are in an area where parental choice is strongly being exercised – and that is to move away.
“We’ve reached a stage where the school has 19 pupils – one pupil in Reception class and five in Year Six.”
He believed that it’s the right thing to do to go out to consultation on the closure proposal.
Cllr Roberts said: “Historically we have seen parents decide to support that school and bring it’s numbers up.”
“Like any school in the 40 – 50 (pupil) mark it is vulnerable to a lack of housebuilding and that’s a historic ongoing problem.”
“I think the horse has bolted on this one and I don’t see how we can turn the numbers around to maintain sustainability – in many ways I’d like to be proved wrong.”
Cabinet voted unanimously to support the proposal and start the closure process.