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Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Lifestyle choice affects schools
Colette Hume
By Colette Hume
BBC Wales education correspondent

Victorian children playing in the street
An Education Act was passed in 1870 to introduce school boards
Queen Victoria's family of nine children was not exceptional in the 19th Century.

She and husband Prince Albert watched with pride as they married their way into the great royal houses of Europe.

But for the vast majority of her subjects having a large family meant more help on the land or greater earning potential in the factories or the docks.

The 1830's saw a population explosion across England, Wales and Scotland.

The population of 7,250,000 people in 1751 rose to 16,539,000 by 1831, according to author AN Wilson.

As the century wore on, so those numbers continued to climb and educating this growing population was a massive task.

Both the church and the non-conformists were already providing some schools, but by 1870 the government finally decided to take a firm hand on education in Wales and England.

Funding formula

In 1870, Prime Minister William Gladstone worked an Education Act through Parliament which saw the introduction of schools boards in every parish throughout Britain.

It led to a mass school building programme and it is those village schools, 130 years later, which are facing an uncertain future.

We are now having fewer children - partly because of more sophisticated family planning - and because of huge changes in lifestyle.

Employment is now centred in towns and cities instead of the country. And both partners are expected to work and many people now live miles from an extended family that once would have provided childcare.

As the numbers on the register falls, the cost of educating those who remain rises.

The Welsh Assembly Government says it has no plans to change the funding formula which says 70% of the money given to schools is based on the number of children being taught.

Councils across Wales are reorganising their schools, closing smaller rural schools and replacing them with larger schools drawing children in from a wider area than ever before.

The authorities argue that new, larger schools give children access to better resources and a chance to mix with a bigger group of children.

School closure protesters in Carmarthenshire
Protesters across Wales have taken to the streets to try to save schools

Newer buildings and better facilities are, they say, the way forward and, of course, there is the issue of cost.

Educating a child at a small school can, say councils, cost two or three times as much as educating that same child at a larger schools.

But many parents and village groups argue the small schools are part of what makes their community special.

For some parents, the school was the main reason for moving to a particular town or village.

Many are worried school closures will sound the death knell for their village, removing the focus from their community and forcing their children to travel longer distances to school.

Parents at some small schools reject the argument about cost and say small schools and small classes mean more attention from teachers and better results.

The higher price of a small school education is, they say, a price worth paying.

Across Wales from Anglesey to Powys, Cardiff to Gwynedd, campaigns are gathering pace as more and more councils unveil plans to close some schools and open others.

The face of education is changing here in Wales, but those changes will not take place without a struggle.


SEE ALSO
Small schools face closure
17 Jul 03 |  Wales
Parents discuss small school plan
30 Jun 06 |  North West Wales
School with 13 pupils could close
01 Feb 07 |  North East Wales
Pupils call to save small schools
07 Jun 06 |  Mid Wales
Governors refuse school changes
27 Oct 06 |  North West Wales

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