what we’re fighting for
For those of you who don’t yet know it, Pembrokeshire is stunningly beautiful county at the south western tip of Wales. Its communities are largely rural with their roots in farming and fishing, but its landscape, wildlife, and hospitality have brought it tourism, its geography has brought it industries based around its ports, and the legacy of Wales’ patron saint, St David, has given it a cathedral at the heart of Britain’s smallest city, Tyddewi (St Davids), pop around 1600.
In January 2015 our County Council put forward a proposal for public consultation on the future of secondary education affecting the rural communities around St Davids and Fishguard and the county town of Haverfordwest. From that moment onwards the consequences of the proposal have sunk in at different rates for the different communities. The first hit was the hardest hit.
Here on the St Davids peninsula we have a tradition of education that goes back to the early days of the Cathedral in the 12th century. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, in his St David’s Day sermon at the Cathedral this year put its origins even earlier, emphasising the importance of education in the life and ministry of St David himself. But the Council proposal for St Davids was to close its secondary school, Ysgol Dewi Sant, permanently.
The prediction of future falling student numbers and the certainty of budget cuts along with the need overall to raise educational standards in Pembrokeshire led to a much needed Council plan to reform the schooling system, but to close one of its best performing schools at the heart of such an iconic community just because it was inconveniently small was not the way forward. The Peninsula community rose up.
On January 29th 2015 we made national news when Pembrokeshire County Council performed a last minute U-turn and dropped its plan to close the school. (Here is the speech made by St Davids County Councillor, David Lloyd, at that meeting.) But its revised plan removed the 6th forms (age 16-19) from all three communities, bussing the St Davids students on a 30 mile round trip each day to a centralised 6th form unit at Pembrokeshire college.
At a packed community meeting following the U-turn it was clear that the people of the St Davids peninsula wanted something far more for their children. So the Schools for the Future campaign was born. A steering group of some 20 people have been volunteering their time to research the politics and finance, to look for educational models elswhere that we can learn from, to make contact with business and stakeholders for their input, and to share what we find with the wider community and invite their views and support.
As the weeks have passed it has become obvious that any plan that we put together has to work not just for St Davids, but also for Haverfordwest and Fishguard. The other major change over the weeks has been the growing willingness of the Council to engage in genuinely meaningful discussions over the Schools for the Future plan to the point where the Director for Children and Schools and the Leader of the Council are openly supporting the contribution that this plan can make to a solution that works for everyone. Some people continue to mistrust the whole process. Schools for the future continues to work in the spirit of constructive engagement.
With round table discussions between the communities and the Council in the offing, there is a growing realisation that the Schools for the Future plan may be a way forward for us all. If that’s your view, then please do back it.
Diolch yn fawr.