Council under fire over proposed closure of Welsh language school in village dominated by second homes
Gwynedd Council have come under fire by language campaigners for a push to close a Welsh language school in a village dominated by second homes.
Council chiefs will be asked to issue a statutory notice to shut the 10 pupil Ysgol Gynradd Abersoch by the end of the year.
The school lies at the heart of one of the coastal communities most impacted by Wales’ housing crisis, with properties selling for as much as £3m and even semi-detatched family homes costing as much as £500,000.
The school can hold 34 but is operating at 24% capacity. Projections show that pupil numbers would grow to only 12 by 2023.
But Cymdeithas yr Iaith have accused Gwynedd Council of being “uninspiring” in its proposal, which will be heard by the Council’s Cabinet a week today.
If the Council refuses to change its mind, the school could close at the end of 2021, and the school’s pupils transferred to Ysgol Sarn Bach.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith spokesperson Ffred Ffransis said that the decision to close Ysgol Abersoch was “entirely predictable” as the local community had “never had the confidence” that the Council would listen to the consultation.
“In their blinkered approach, officials say that none of the alternative proposals would solve the problem of small numbers of pupils and the consequent cost per pupil of providing education,” he said.
“We accept that the number is particularly low mainly due to children having to leave school at the age of eight, and a lack of housing and planning policies, as well as a lack of balanced economic development have meant that there are few permanent young residents in the village.”
But he added that “cooperation with other schools would provide obvious opportunities to increase class numbers, especially as a neighboring school is overcrowded”.
“Abersoch governors could also be willing partners in a project to extend the educational experience of all pupils in the area by developing an ‘Ysgol Traeth a Natur’ (‘Beach and Nature School’) on the Abersoch site,” he said.
Speaking of the decision to to issue a statutory notice to shut the school, Cllr Cemlyn Williams, Gwynedd Council’s cabinet member for education, said: “I fully appreciate that this is a difficult time and it is always sad when a consultation must be held on the future of any school.
“Full consideration has been given to all the options put forward and I am grateful to everyone who has contributed.
“Presenting this report is not something that we take lightly, but we have a duty to ensure that we provide the best possible education and experiences along with the best possible learning environment for our children.
“Having evaluated all the options in detail, and given the projections that the school’s pupil numbers will remain worryingly low for the coming years, the recommendation is that Ysgol Abersoch should close at the end of 2021.
“Naturally there has been a desire in the village to see the school continue, and every effort will be made to ensure that there will be a strong link between the Abersoch community and Ysgol Sarn Bach where many pupils are already attending from Key Stage 2 age.”
The most recent consultation period has continued to see widespread local opposition, however, with 154 responses received.
Local councillor, Dewi Wyn Roberts, noted in his response: “Although I think it is impossible to have a full and fair consultation in the Covid circumstances, the consultation is clear that there is a clear objection to closing the school and that if this goes ahead this is contrary to the desire of the community including the children, parents, residents, school staff, community council, local member and Member of Parliament.
“As a result, it is easy here to find that the issue is a fait accompli which is a great shame.”
Additional reporting by Gareth Williams of the Local Democracy Service.
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