29 Jan 2015

Victory in campaign to save St Davids only secondary school

They may live in Britain’s smallest city – St Davids in Wales – but a council climbdown hands a sizeable victory to a campaign by local people against plans to axe its only secondary school.

It is Britain’s smallest city. And it might just have seen one of Britain’s quickest victories for people power.

The Pembrokeshire community of St Davids, population 2,000, had been gearing itself up for a fierce fight over plans to axe its secondary school, Ysgol Dewi Sant.

The proposals – announced late last week as part of a shake-up of secondary and post-16 education in mid and north-west Pembrokeshire – would have “ripped the soul” out of St Davids, according to locals.

This morning, hundreds of people from the city, including parents and children, descended on the headquarters of the county council in Haverfordwest. Bearing hastily-put-together banners and posters, they chanted “Save Our School” as politicians filed into the building for an extraordinary meeting to consider the plans.

‘City would be finished’

“St Davids is such a close-knit community, it’s such a good school,” one parent told Channel 4 News. “It’s madness.” Another said: “If they take the school away, the city will be finished.”

But as the campaigners – including sixth form students from Ysgol Dewi Sant – settled down to watch proceedings in the council chamber, a last-minute amendment was put forward. It was, in effect a U-turn: a reprieve for 11-16 education in St Davids, although sixth form provision would move elsewhere.

One county councillor praised the passion and commitment of the St Davids campaigners, who’d sent him hundreds of emails. “I’ve got a very old computer,” he said. “You’ve nearly blown it up.” Another suggested the U-turn wouldn’t have happened without today’s protest.

Get together and fight, because you can Victorious St Davids protester

Outside the reaction was barely-contained jubilation, and not a little surprise at the speed at which events had moved.

“This is just unbelievable – it’s people power,” said one woman, still holding her “Save Ysgol Dewi Sant” placard. There was a lesson, she said, for other small communities fighting closures of schools and hospitals. “Just look at St Davids. Just keep fighting. Get together and fight, because you can.”

Consultation period

Today’s vote means the start a consultation period on the proposals, which are part of wide-ranging changes to secondary education in this part of Pembrokeshire.

The county council – faced with increasing numbers of surplus places and a need to improve special needs and Welsh language provision – had proposed closing Ysgol Dewi Sant and four other schools, and creating three to replace them.

The council’s leader, James Adams – who proposed this morning’s amendment – said change was necessary in order to improve secondary education in the county.

“It’s about educating the children of our community – our responsibility – as close as we possibly can to their homes and their communities,” he told the meeting. “But it’s also about recognising that we must raise standards, that we must provide the options that children require to make successful futures for themselves – either here in Pembrokshire, or wider afield.”

Controversy remains over proposals to consolidate sixth-form education in much of Pembrokshire into fewer locations – an essential step, says the council, to deal with falling numbers in the county’s sixth forms and funding pressures, and a better way of ensuring high quality post-16 education.

Back outside the council offices, as the banners were packed away, among the campaigners was a Ysgol Dewi Sant student. The outcome, she said, showed St Davids might be small, but it was mighty.

A small city, which will be toasting a big victory tonight.