John Milsom calls for more research on the costs of closing small schools in Wales
A report published today by Hyb – Hyrwyddo Ysgolion Bach / Promoting Small Schools – concludes that village school closures in Wales are going ahead in the absence of sound cost information. Carried out by Cambridge Policy Consultants, it finds:
- School size is only one of the factors that influence cost per pupil. Analysis of individual school budgets shows that there is some small increase in cost, on average, when there are fewer than 90 pupils, and more pronounced increases when pupil numbers fall below 30. However there are schools with fewer than 30 pupils which don’t show this increase.
- The consultants estimated that, even if all small primary schools in Wales with fewer than 90 pupils were to be closed, the resulting savings would be only just over 2 per cent of the total primary individual schools’ budget.
- There is no centrally held information to assess the impact of school closures on transport costs. However, the research estimated that additional transport costs would be in the region of £500 to £1,900 per pupil per year. If this is correct, any cost savings resulting from school closures would almost certainly be negated.
It is highly irresponsible that mass closures of village schools are being considered without the full cost implications being known. What evidence is available suggests that school closures will lead to little or no savings to the education budget.
Furthermore, where will the money come from to build the centralised area schools which are now the flavour of the month? In the present economic climate it will be increasingly difficult for LEAs to sell off school buildings to raise capital money. It could well make more economic sense to make the best use of current assets. Hyb calls on the Education Minister to respond to the report’s recommendations and commission proper research to ascertain the full facts.
Hyb supports the Welsh Government guidance that educational considerations should come first when considering the future of schools – be they small or large. This should be made abundantly clear by the Minister to LEAs who think they are going to make quick savings from closures without looking fully at the facts.
Hyb was established in 2009 with the aim of reviewing and commissioning research into rural education and small schools. The group is an amalgamation of Powys Community Schools Action (established in 2005 to support small schools in Wales), Association of Communities in Wales with Small Schools (ACWSS) and individual members, representing small schools in Wales. The group’s report Cost of Small Primary Schools in Wales – Review of Evidence together with Hyb’s commentary, is available at http://hyb.org.uk/research.