Fantastical Fantasy?

The Carmarthenshire News has arrived. This is a promotional publication for Carmarthenshire County Council and associated public organisations.

‘£151m extra for schools’, exclaims the main headline.

The article mentions the “fantastic news” that Carmarthenshire can afford fully to fund its ‘Modernising Education Programme’ until 2020.

The ‘Modernising Education Programme’ is decidedly not fantastic for very many families living in and around Llandovery, in the east of the county, because Llandovery’s comprehensive school, Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, will be closed.

The objections that poured in from Pantycelyn’s pupils, parents and governors, and from the wider community, were ignored because the county council appears to believe that good education requires big, shiny new buildings, even if pupils must spend a significant part of each day in buses trundling to and from the planned Super Campus at Ffairfach.

Travelling last week south-westwards from Builth Wells through Llanwrtyd Wells, Llandovery and Llanwrda to Llandeilo, I realised that when Pantycelyn has closed there will not be a single state secondary school between Builth Wells and Ffairfach, Llandeilo. That is a road distance of 37 miles.

What sort of world are we educating children for? The fans of large central campuses seem to have confidence that long-distance travel to and from school will be easy and affordable, that the certificate-centred education in big schools will be the best route to well-paid permanent jobs, and that the climate and resulting weather will be benign enough to allow pupils to attend school every day.

All these assumptions are widely believed, but should be questioned. We probably face years of rising fuel prices because there are no new big discoveries of easily extractable oil, and the technologies for extracting oil from sands, as in Canada, are expensive, wasteful and deadly to the environment. As for the utility of certificates, how many unemployed and under-employed graduates do you already know? The weather? The world is warming, and that means more extreme weather, more storms and, counter-intuitively, more ice and snow in some areas. How safe will it be for buses full of schoolchildren to negotiate flooded roads, icy roads? How well maintained will the roads be, if they are frequently scoured by heavy precipitation?

Local, decentralised services seem to me a better way ahead than a reliance on large construction projects that are inherently inflexible.

Carmarthenshire County Council as currently constituted is unlikely to agree.

Elections are in May.

The forthcoming election raises another issue. Accepting that councillors are often public-spirited and hard-working, should the publicly-funded Carmarthenshire News praise their actions without allowing space for alternative opinions?

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