New rules setting out a presumption against the closure of rural schools in Wales are to be introduced, Education Secretary Kirsty Williams will announce today.
The Welsh Government will also create a new £2.5m per year fund to help schools work together and increase the community use of buildings.
Changes will be introduced to the School Organisation Code that guides local authorities decisions about schools. These will include:
- A presumption against the closure of rural schools;
- Cases to close rural schools must be strong;
- Local authorities to carry out more rigorous consultation and conscientiously consider all viable alternatives to closure including linking up with other schools, known as federation.
Other plans include:
- A new £2.5m per year rural and small schools grant to support schools working together. This includes encouraging greater use of technology to combat the issue of professional isolation, providing administrative support in schools where the head teacher has significant teaching commitments and increasing the community use of school buildings. This grant will be made available from April 2017.
- For the first time ever, the development of a definition of a rural school.
- Funding for the development of federations across all maintained schools and better information and guidance for those considering collaboration and federation.
- Plans to develop school leaders will include proposals to build capacity of experienced, successful leaders of rural schools to deliver effective leadership across groups of rural schools.
Kirsty Williams said:
“Small and rural schools play an important role in our national mission in raising standards and extending opportunities for all our young people.
“Pupils in rural schools deserve the same opportunities as children in other areas of Wales. However, they face particular challenges including small pupil numbers, budget and resource pressures and greater difficulty in recruiting head teachers and teaching staff.
“Let me be clear - this isn’t simply about keeping all schools open. This is about raising standards in all of our schools, no matter where they are based, and ensuring all schools get a fair hearing when their future is being considered.
“These changes set out a presumption against closing rural schools and new incentives for rural schools to link up and work together for the benefit of both teachers and pupils. I want to see rural schools working more formally together and across the country, forming federations and looking into the possibility of sharing buildings with other services to ensure school buildings remain viable.”