Byline: By Abbie Wightwick Western Mail
Pupils from small rural schools see their results and Welsh-language skills improve when they move to bigger institutions, according to a controversial new study. Today's report comes amid a backdrop of contentious education shake- ups across the Wales.: FROM PAGE 6&7: 'Extraordinary findings on rural school closures show we may be over-anxious to hang on to the past':Academic results and the Welsh language improve when small schools close and pupils are moved to bigger settings, a controversial study published today will say. The pounds 30,000 research, commissioned by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, is the first assessment of the effect of small rural school closure in Wales. In Wales' nine rural counties 53% of primary schools - that's 394 in number - have 90 pupils or less and are categorised by the Audit Commission as "small" and potentially unsustainable. Today's report cautions that Wales has an inappropriately nostalgic view of its rural past and the schools that served it. Such institutions are costly and often unable to provide 21st century education it, it warns. The report, entitled Small School Closure in Wales: New Evidence, comes as local education authorities across Wales struggle with falling rolls, crumbling buildings and tight budgets. As a result almost all have closure and reorganisation plans in process. The study asked pupils their views, for the first time. None reported any lasting negative effects and all said their experience of school had either improved or remained the same after moving to bigger settings.
Half said they spoke more Welsh after moving to bigger institutions and half said they spoke the same amount.
Researchers Professor David Reynolds and Dr Meriel Jones looked at the experiences of six schools in Pembrokeshire and Powys, those that had closed and those that had taken pupils from schools that shut.
A total of 48 people, including eight pupils, governors, parents, teachers, and head teachers were interviewed. Members of community groups and rural school campaigners were also asked their views.
Responses from schools, the study found, were overwhelmingly positive, even on the main areas of concern; the effect on small communities, the Welsh language and academic achievement.
Of the 21 people questioned in Pembrokeshire 95% said effectiveness and quality of education improved after closure.
Researchers spoke to three heads, six governors, six parents and six teachers from Ysgol-y-Frenni, Maenchlochog Community Primary and Monkton Community Primary in Pembrokeshire. Out of the 21:
80% said efficiency and cost per head had improved
76% said academic results improved
95% said social aspects of school improved
61% said the position of the Welsh language improved
52% said the local community had improved - of the rest 24 % said the community had got worse or stayed the same since closure.
Ysgo-y-Frenni, which has 155 pupils, opened in 2004 to house pupils from Ysgol Crymych, Ysgol Hermon and Ysgol Blaenffos which had closed.
Maenchlochog took children from Pennfford School which shut in 2001 and Monkton was an amalgamation of Monkton Infants and Priory Junior in 2001. It now has 219 pupils.
Half of those questioned said they now spent longer getting to school but said children had better opportunities and there was more professional development for teachers in larger settings.
"The entire sample said that the situation after amalgamation had been happier. Fourteen out of 21 could think of no disadvantages at all," the report says.
Positive changes identified by respondents included better buildings and facilities, more teamwork and higher morale among staff. They said the local education authority should have done more to help and consult over closure but 95% said they felt more favourable to closure having experienced it. …