Friday 3 October 2008

Frameworks and Blueprints

A few years ago, Carmarthenshire County Council first produced its 'Modernising Education Programme'. The plan was produced in order to deal with an increase in the number of spare places in schools, and the need to modernise and improve the facilities available for education in the county. As aims, who could disagree? It's almost what the Americans would call 'motherhood and apple pie'.

But there was a sting in the tail. It was always obvious that one way of delivering those objectives would be to close a number of rural schools, and Plaid called very clearly for the whole policy document to be subject to a proper public consultation. The council's response was that there was no need for that, because each and every individual proposal would be subject to full and proper consultation.

That's a promise which has come to sound increasingly hollow. When they do consult on the individual proposals, the consultations have come to look like a formality, and alternative suggestions are rapidly discounted. Indeed, in a letter to the local press last week, the cabinet member for education actually stated that the MEP 'is a complete project', and made it clear that there is, in his mind, no place for arguing against individual elements. What was a framework seems to have become a blueprint, which must be slavishly followed. And they wonder why so many think that the consultation processes are a sham.

The news that the One Wales government has produced some new guidelines for governors on creating federations is encouraging. This creates a real opportunity for school governing bodies in rural areas to take the initiative themselves and look at different ways of forming federations which could enable more rural schools to remain open.

I certainly hope that governors will look at this carefully as an alternative to allowing the county council to close their schools. And I hope that the Labour/ Independent Party coalition running the county council will set aside its blinkers long enough to give serious consideration to the wishes of the governors and their communities.

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