west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

The Erasure of Rural Wales Edges Closer

Llansawel Show, September 14th 2013: day out for the sheep

Llansawel Show, September 14 2013: the sheep classes are the focus of deep discussions throughout the day.

by Pat Dodd Racher

Llansawel Show was yesterday. Sheep, poultry, ponies, giant vegetables, odd vegetables, flowers, jams, cookery, arts and crafts.  Lots of entries from children at Llansawel School. Burgers (local), beer (from local pub), ice cream (local). The weather was kind, all in all a very pleasant afternoon. Most people, certainly most older people, were chatting and conducting the business of the day in Welsh.

One field to the east is Llansawel School. The word around the village is that the school will close in 2016, and under-11s will be bussed to Cwmann on the outskirts of Lampeter, between 12 and 13 miles from Llansawel village along twisty roads. The AA calculates that the journey is just on half an hour, without any stops. Add in the numerous stops made by school buses…. You get the picture.

True, Llansawel School received an indifferent inspection report from Estyn this summer. The less-than-complimentary word “adequate” is scattered through the report like faded confetti. There were 15 full-time and five part-time pupils in May, in a school that can accommodate 60, and the cost for each was £9,297. Only two primary schools in the county had a higher cost per pupil, said Estyn’s report.

Llansawel village, the surrounding farms, the heart of the Welsh countryside – you would expect several pupils to come from Welsh speaking families, would you not? I was staggered to read that only 5% of pupils speak Welsh at home. Five per cent of 20 is exactly ONE. One pupil, in a rural Carmarthenshire Welsh-medium school, whose family speak Welsh. Many more than this, 40%, have additional learning needs and 35% are entitled to free school meals, the latter statistic indicating serious disadvantage. Another salient factor is, in Estyn’s words, “since 2010 a high percentage of latecomers have joined the school, particularly in Key Stage 2 (ages 7-11)”. This context suggests to me that the term “adequate” stems more from declines in community cohesiveness, linguistic capability and economic prosperity in the catchment area, than from any lack of educational ambition within the school.

Village veg at Llansawel Show

Competitive growing: village veg at Llansawel Show.

What do we have here? A supposedly Welsh-medium primary school where children have to learn Welsh as an additional language and who do not use the language outside school. Children coming and going as their families move from one short-term rented home to another. There are empty houses in Llansawel, into which newcomers move for a time, but there is no work for incomers and no public transport for commuting.

Current policy is to close schools down as numbers dwindle. Kevin Madge (Labour), the leader of Carmarthenshire County Council, is quoted thus in last week’s (September 11) Carmarthen Journal, referring to the impending closure of Llanfynydd Primary School, further down the Cothi valley: “Again on this occasion these schools are closing themselves…… We cannot sustain a school with 10 or 11 pupils” (my emphasis).

I have never seen a school close itself. People open and close schools, Mr Madge. Closing rural schools as an automatic reaction to falling rolls reflects an absence of rural policy when we have never been in greater need of revitalising our country districts.

State secondary education is being withdrawn from Llandovery, 12 miles to the east of Llansawel, enforcing long and tiring daily journeys on children as young as 11. Most of the village primary schools have already gone. There is a vicious cycle of decline, the domino effect of services disappearing, the jobs they offered vanishing, and people of working age departing, if they can. There are few children on farms, because nearly two in every three farmers in Wales are aged 55 and over and thus mainly in the grandparent generation, according to the BBC. In any case, there is often insufficient income for multi-generational farms.

That will change as we crash into the global limits of food, water and fuel supply. Then our countryside will be appreciated for the precious resource it is, local food production will race up the political agenda, and the amenities that have been destroyed will have to be recreated. Wouldn’t it be more constructive, over the long term, to protect the few remaining rural schools and in that way to slow the closure of pubs, post offices, shops and other communal meeting places? Otherwise the thread of tradition will be broken, local knowledge and language will wither away, and the impact of that loss could be far more serious than the powers-that-be yet realise.

Back in Llansawel, without the involvement of children in the school, Llansawel Show itself would have fewer entries and fewer visitors. It could, in time, become yet another falling domino.

What fate awaits Ysgol Gynradd Llansawel, an   under-occupied Welsh-medium primary where scarcely any children speak Welsh at home.

What fate awaits Ysgol Gynradd Llansawel, an under-occupied Welsh-medium primary where scarcely any children speak Welsh at home? Villagers anticipate closure in 2016.

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14 thoughts on “The Erasure of Rural Wales Edges Closer

  1. Pingback: Language Locked Out by Indifference | west*wales*news*review

  2. D.E.P.Welch on said:

    As an old pupil of Llansawel school & of Llandeilo grammer school I am
    shocked at the current situation of only one primary school in the Cothy valley
    until you reach Nantcaredic .

    Please note it was 9.25 miles to Llandeilo grammer school & the journey took
    one hour to travel there,if the weather conditions were poor you could add a further 30 mins to the trip .I consider sending infants to this sort of journey
    is a very poor idea,in fact I wonder at the mentality of the instigators.

  3. Pingback: Llansawel Show in Pictures, September 14th 2013 | Llandeilo Local Food Guide

  4. EmlynUwchCych on said:

    What has happened to Carmarthenshire’s master plan of an area school for the Cothi Vale? Llansawel would have been the ideal site for that.

    Instead, the Council have shut Rhydcymerau, Caio and Brechfa schools in quick succession. Rhydcymerau and Caio children were meant to have gone to Llansawel, so why are there so few on the roll there?

    The roll-call of defunct schools in that vast area is soon to be added by Llanfynydd and Llansawel:
    Abergorlech,
    Crugybar,
    Ffarmers,
    Llanycrwys,
    Rhydcymerau,
    Caio,
    Brechfa.

    All gone in the last 30 years of progress.

    Let the ghosts of a thousand Vale of Cothi pupils and their teachers haunt the bureaucrats and councillors in far-away Carmarthen.

    • Parents say they are wary of sending their children to schools which are rumoured to be facing closure, especially as in Carmarthenshire the rumours are nearly certain to be true. If only there were an integrated policy for rural areas, for work, housing, and essential services!

      I have spoken to people with children at Llansawel School who say that they will try to move to Llandeilo, because they think the bus journeys to Cwmann would be too long and tiring, and unsafe in bad weather. Another village community in danger of disappearing….

    • In its final term Caio School had only 4 pupils remaining as many parents had either moved away for work opportunities or moved their children because of the fear of the school shutting, thus playing straight into the hands of the authorities. One of those 4 was my eldest son who loved the school but did go on to Llansawel school with a friend. Another of the pupils left for big school and the other moved on as he was the son of the then head mistress at Caio.
      It frustrates me when I read about the Carmarthenshire County Council plans to revitalise rural wales, if only they encouraged and supported rural schools this would be a firm foundation for revitalising the majority of these small villages. If I were looking to move to an area to settle and live the first thing I would research as I have children would be the availability of a local school. Villages can promote themselves if they have a good school in their midst.
      Any way I could go all day about my feelings regarding rural school closures, suffice to say “we won’t give up without a fight”.

      • As you say, rumours of a village school closure are enough to deter parents from moving in. Carmarthenshire County Council still seems to hold the belief that big is good and centralised big is even better — but we can’t all live in cities.

      • If we all lived in towns or cities there would be no more agriculture, no cattle farming, no traditional rural heritage and so on. Rural life plays a huge part in everyone’s lives even if it doesn’t bring in the city big bucks, it is still a mainstay to our human survival. It was said recently on the news that Great Britain needs to invest more in its farming and industry again rather than the service sector. I really believe this to be true.

      • How can we persuade our local government that rural areas really matter, to everyone?

  5. The education program in Carmarthenshire seems designed to destroy much of the culture of rural wales. It is “sold” as a necessary economy to rationalize small schools. In a recession with the many uncertainties such as probable worsening poverty, depopulation as the young look for work elsewhere and a likely drop in the birth rate, it is clearly madness to close any community schools. There is no evidence that small schools produce poor results and the importance of stability and a short journey to school.
    It is claimed by the education department that the pupils in smaller primary schools lack the male role models provided by the few token male teachers in larger primary schools. Shiny new schools are apparently the best places to educate children as the teaching staff are magically improved by new classrooms. The welsh language is apparently best preserved in larger schools. None of these claims are ever verified by facts.
    Here in Llanelli where I live, rolls are falling in english medium schools, but increasing generally in the Welsh medium schools, two of which have a massive proportion of their pupils bused in from all over the area.
    When I suggested that instead of closing the English medium schools, amalgamating them to make bigger schools and busing out of area any children requiring welsh education, I was laughed at as a fool. Making the big overcrowded welsh primaries and the welsh secondary school even bigger by extensions and new builds was clearly the answer. Converting several english medium primaries and at least one of the 4 english medium secondary schools to welsh medium is clearly stupid. As this would only qualify for renovation funding and not the big fat Welsh government grants for new schools and big extensions it was clearly madness. It is primarily the poor children in our towns who are denied optimal education by the policy of centralising schools. They spend too much time on a bus, are isolated from their communities and if they miss the bus or want to stay for after school opportunities their poverty will derive them of schooling.

    Of course, not only the construction companies who benfit from this policy. When the cuts come it will be so much easier to cut the numbers of teachers and support staff in big units and stretch education to its limits. Richer parents have other options and are already using out of school tutors and/or using their affluence to send their kids to schools “out of area” where transport will not be provided by the county. As practically all of our children are heading for long journeys, only the affluent will be able to pay for choice.

    A few years ago I visited Cuba. They never closed a school, even when there were no pupils. It was mothballed as if there was a local population there was an assumption it might well be needed again some time. I suppose they have different financial priorities?

    • Interesting, I too have visited Cuba, the last time in 2011, and noted the ways that schools are fully integrated into the local community. True, they are often very short of resources, but every community has its school, as you say. Unfortunately I think Carmarthenshire’s policy is a lot more about bean counting than education, and lacks any connection with wider community well-being or with ‘One Planet’ priorities. Very sad.

  6. Pingback: The Erasure of Rural Wales Edges Closer | caloncymrunetwork

  7. Pingback: The Erasure of Rural Wales Edges Closer | Ecopoliticstoday's Blog

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