Could school closures be on the cards as talk of “rationalisation” is put back in the spotlight with pupil numbers declining across Pembrokeshire.

Planning for school places across the county was the focus of schools and learning overview and scrutiny committee this week with the number of schools with surplus places, and those that are oversubscribed, highlighted.

A report to committee on Thursday (September 30) states that there are 17,010 full time equivalent pupils in all local authority-maintained schools – 9,636 in primary, 1,210 in ‘all-through schools’, 6,005 in secondary and 158 in special school.

It adds that there had been a small increase in the total number of pupils in 2020 and 2021 but it was not clear if this will “reverse the declining trend” that has seen a reduction in number s of 10 per cent since 1996, and a five per cent reduction during the last 10 years.

Committee chairman Clr. John Davies highlighted part of the report, presented by Huw Jones, planning places and admissions officer, that “suggests that another programmed of rationalisation will be required” with reference made to the reduction of schools.

Mr. Jones said the council would “have to be led by members on what the appetite is for school reorganisation” and there were some areas where “there is a desperate need to rationalise provision,” with federation of schools in the same organisation category a possible solution.

“We are at the point now where we need to re-look at the picture of where our schools are and readdress the situation of having the right schools, of the right type, in the right places.”

The “future shape of education provision” needs to consider a number of factors including improving standards, extending Welsh medium provision, sustainable education communities and better quality buildings.

This might involve, the report states, reducing the number of headteachers with a significant teaching commitment, more federations, reduction in the number of schools, removal of VC status from council owned faith schools, reducing the number of schools in poor condition and extended in three to 16/three to 19 provision.

Clr. Paul Rapi raised the impact second homes had on school places, linking the drop in Tenby’s schools to lack of families with children after “prices have shot up” and he highlighted the need to consider future developments like Brynhir on increasing pupil numbers.

Similar issues in north Pembrokeshire were highlighted by Clr. Mike James.

Parental choice and transport were also highlighted as affecting schools, with individual sites expected to “sell” themselves as a preferred option.

The committee agreed to add to the recommendations to cabinet that the council be encouraged to do more in the creation of employment opportunities to support the retention of families in Pembrokeshire.