My three children went to John Beddoes School when it was amongst the best in the country (not so long ago- the last one left in 2003). They are now an assistant head teacher, a vet and a doctor and are products of an outstanding Welsh education.
I myself was a teacher of Modern Foreign Languages there from 1998 until 2010. I worked in a thriving department which regularly achieved exam results which surpassed the national averages, and which encouraged pupils of all abilities to take one or even two GCSEs in foreign languages – this is just an idea of how good the school was then.
Over the years I have seen the school starved of funds, with crumbling buildings and falling staff levels. For some years we have seen the pupils in the nearest schools (which are in England) being taught in more modern buildings and receiving a greater per capita funding. In fact you are probably unaware of the friendly rivalry between ourselves and our neighbours in England, a rivalry which over the years has become more of a battle for survival against a much better funded English system
Imagine how these English border schools must now be looking on their Welsh counterpart. Imagine how much they must be not laughing at, but rather feeling for, their more impoverished Welsh neighbour. I don’t suppose they get any pleasure at watching a neighbouring school being run down, although there will be no doubt a certain Schadenfreude at John Beddoes’ fate.
Imagine too the feeling of dejection and failure in a school which for years has had so little support from its County Council or from its government. Both organizations should feel ashamed of themselves for allowing one of the best schools in Wales to become a failing school. I get even angrier when I hear that this has been known about for some time but nothing has been done. Not one of you has stepped forward to offer support and there has been scant advice on how to improve things.
If you want to show England how poor Welsh education has become, then close the school, but if you wish to demonstrate how a Welsh education can actually send children off into the world (as it did my three) with an outstanding basis for employment, then I challenge you to restore John Beddoes to its former heyday. The children are great, the staff are talented, willing and hard-working. It wouldn’t take much to make JBS a shining example again of Welsh education, and one that would once more challenge our neighbouring English schools.
I am not even going to go into what it would do to our town if the school was shut, or where these children would go (to English schools for the most part). Have you ever even been to our lovely town and seen its location, many miles from any nearby Welsh school (I think the nearest is 22 miles over a hilly route)? Do you understand the historical importance to the town of the name of John Beddoes and the inheritance he left for our children?
The input from Newtown High School is to be welcomed and I am delighted to hear of the steps towards a better school already taken by Mrs Price and her team, but it should only be an interim measure. Consideration should be made perhaps of developing a model 3-16 through school site for both Presteigne Primary School and John Beddoes School, which could then be taken up by other isolated communities in Powys. This would be an ideal and willing community to undertake such a plan.
I implore the Welsh Government and Powys County Council to be imaginative in the way you deal with such a huge and sparsely populated region. Closing schools just isn’t the answer, be proactive in leading the way to a more considered approach, instead of this knee jerk reaction. John Beddoes School hasn’t even been given the time following its inspection to pull itself up. Do not punish the pupils, the school and the community for poor management and lack of county council support. Give it the time and the resources to become once again the beacon of excellent education on the Marches that it once was.