Cabinet member dismisses call to switch school to Welsh medium to avoid closure
Elgan Hearn, local democracy reporter
A council cabinet member has dismissed a call to switch a school to Welsh medium in order save it from closure.
Welsh and adult services portfolio holder, Cllr Myfanwy Alexander argued there weren’t enough Welsh speaking teachers to justify such a move for Llanfihangel Rhydithon primary school in Dolau, Powys.
The future of the school was discussed by councillors at a meeting of Powys County Council’s cabinet today (Tuesday, September 28). They voted to continue the process of shutting it down.
But Learning and Skills committee chairman Cllr Peter Roberts and local county councillor Hywel Lewis argued that there are the flaws in going ahead with the school closure at this time.
Cllr Roberts and his committee had discussed the closure proposal at length last week (Wednesday, September 22), and they recommended a decision should be postponed to allow investigations to take place into several alternatives.
These including federating with Llanelwedd primary school or becoming dual stream before eventually Welsh medium primary school.
Cllr Roberts said: “There is an identification of a desire for a Welsh primary school in the area in the next 10 years and the need to enhance the numbers of pupils coming through to support a Welsh language secondary school in the Ysgol Calon Cymru catchment area.
“The question has to be if not here where?
“This might be the most viable option.”
Cllr Hywel Lewis claimed that the actual cost per pupil is £4,939 not the £6,306 claimed in the council report.
Cllr Lewis added that in 2016 talks had taken place between the school, the council and Swansea and Brecon diocese for Llafihangel Rhydithon to become a faith school.
This would have made the process for federating with Llanelwedd, which is a Church in Wales primary school, much easier.
Cllr Lewis said: “The consultation report is an exercise in self-justification contains inaccuracies and have not considered all viable alternatives.”
Welsh and adult services portfolio holder, Cllr Myfanwy Alexander said: “These alternative propositions don’t seem to show any profound understanding of the way in which Welsh language education works.”
She said that if Llanfihangel Rhydithon became dual stream it would effectively need to have two sets of staff in one building.
Cllr Alexander added that if the 36 pupils were split into two language streams of 18 each: “the cost of staffing would be astronomical.”
Cllr Alexander said “You would have children of aged four and 11 being taught together, there is no evidence anywhere that is anything other than deleterious to learners.
“It fails for impossibility.”
She also said out there weren’t enough Welsh speaking teachers in either the Powys primary or secondary school sectors to justify a small school to receive a: “scarce resource to benefit a small number of pupils.”
Education portfolio holder, Cllr Phyl Davies said: “These are very emotive and difficult decisions, we have been criticised by the regulator (Estyn) part of the problem is we’re spreading our money and support too thinly within our schools.
“We should be spending our money on education not bricks and mortar.”
It is expected that the school would close on August 31, and it would save the council £59,000 a year.
The next stage will see a formal period to allow people to object against the proposal.
The cabinet will then receive another report on the objections.