Councillor hits out at holiday homes as eleventh hour bid to save Welsh medium school fails
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
A councillor has hit out at holiday homes, as an eleventh hour bid to save a Welsh medium school failed.
The council Executive’s decision to close the 38 pupil Ysgol Talwrn and build a £6m extension of Llangefni’s Ysgol y Graig had been the subject of a “call-in” request amid concerns over the consultation process,
But Friday saw the Corporate Scrutiny Committee rebuff any overturning, citing a need for clarity with the axe having hung over the school for several years, Cllr Bryan Owen compared the situation to Aberffraw, which he said had 40 holiday homes by now, and where the local school had already been lost.
The education chief, Cllr Meirion Jones, had earlier claimed that responsibility for the language “shouldn’t fall entirely on schools,” adding his disappointment after witnessing some Welsh speaking parents and grandparents choosing to speak English with their youngsters, stressing the need for the community to also play its part in language transfer.
But according to the opposition leader, who led the “call-in,” the move would have a detrimental impact on the community.
Cllr Bryan Owen said: “We’re told that it would cost £1.4m to keep Ysgol Talwrn open, but what price do you place on keeping a community alive?
“You only have to look at Aberffraw, which has already lost its school.
“We’re now in a situation where local meetings there are held entirely in English, despite the village being traditionally one of the Welshest when I was growing up there.
“Things have changed over the past 15 years or so, there are over 40 holiday homes there by now.”
With Ysgol Talwrn to shut once a new extension at Ysgol y Graig opens in 2023, the Welsh Government will provide 65 per cent of the £6m cost.
The new block will increase the capacity of the 2009-built school from 330 to 480, with Talwrn-based pupils offered transport for the 1.8 mile twice daily journey.
Decision makers had argued that with only 40 per vent of Talwrn pupils speaking Welsh at home, compared to 72 per cent of y Graig’s, it was felt that the move would boost rather than hinder the language.
The report also noted that only a third of Ysgol Talwrn’s pupils actually live within the catchment area, with most based in Llangefni itself.
But Mr Robat Idris Davies, speaking on behalf of the community, said many felt that the school had been “targeted since the start,” while the primary schools at Bodffordd and Henblas had been offered reprieves.
“If Covid has shown us anything it’s that fewer children should be clustered in one place, I don’t believe we’ve been provided with any good reasons as to why Ysgol Talwrn should close,” he said.
“Every possible measure should be taken to ensure that traditional establishments are kept alive in our communities.”
Education head, Rhys Howard Hughes, stressed that while the consultation process was postponed earlier into the pandemic, “they could not hold on forever.”
Referencing arguments that the pandemic had hindered community engagement, he said that more had taken part in the most recent consultation than those previously involving Ysgol Talwrn.
Local member, Cllr Bob Parry, added: “We’ve been accused of rushing the process, but that’s certainly not the case.
“Talwrn has had this hanging over its head for four years and it needs sorting out, people need to know one way or the other and the Executive has led the way.”
With members told that 12 options had been considered before recommending closure, the sale of Ysgol Talwrn is set to generate around £150,000, with a warning that “doing nothing” would result in Ysgol y Graig being “significantly over capacity” in future.
Members voted to back the original decision to shut Ysgol Talwrn by ten to two.