‘Early Christmas present’ for campaigners as two Welsh medium schools saved from closure
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
School campaigners said it felt like Christmas had come early after council chiefs decided not to close two primaries in Carmarthenshire for now.
And they said they were determined to ensure the two schools, Ysgol Gynradd Mynyddygarreg near Kidwelly, and Ysgol Gynradd Blaenau near Llandybie, created a long-term, sustainable future.
A report before cabinet had recommended the closure of the two rural primaries, which both have sizeable spare capacity, at the end of the current school year as part of a shake-up of education locally.
But cabinet members decided at a meeting on December 6 to postpone any closure decision.
Instead they are extending a county-wide review of school provision, but will publish new proposals for primary education in Kidwelly and Llandybie in due course.
Sue Woodward, chairwoman of governors at YGG Mynyddygarreg, said: “We are overjoyed that the council has listened to our campaign. We are so relieved.
“It gives us a semblance of a future. We have had this hanging over us since 2004. We have got a long way to go, and as a school we still need to sort a lot of things out.”
Mrs Woodward said she hoped the decision would enable the school and its supporters to implement a business plan which would attract more pupils.
She said lowering the admission to three, rather than the current term before youngsters turned four, would really help, and that investment was needed in the school building itself.
“It is the centre of the community,” she said. “The number of houses in the village has doubled in 10 years, and we need new facilities. The school really is the hub.”
Emily Evans, a parent, governor and vice-chairwoman of YGG Blaenau’s parent teacher association, said she had been expecting her children’s school to be closed.
“We are over the moon,” she said, referring to the decision. “It definitely feels like an early Christmas present.”
Mrs Evans also said that lowering the admission age to three at the school would improve pupil numbers, which would in turn generate more funding and help address the school’s deficit.
She added: “We have had this cloud over the school for years, which hasn’t helped.” Parents, she said, didn’t want to put their children in a school which might be closing.
Cllr Glynog Davies, cabinet member for education and children, told colleagues before the debates on the closure proposals started that he wanted to widen the ongoing review of school provision in Carmarthenshire.
New factors to consider included more parents working from home – and how this might affect their choice of school – rising construction costs, and “significant pressure” on the council’s capital spending programme.
“And we cannot forget Brexit,” he said. “Only by doing this analysis will we see any definite changes in pupil trends.”
Cllr Davies also noted that a cross-party council scrutiny group was reviewing the process by which schools and their communities were consulted on school reorganisation plans.
But he stressed he wanted to see new primary schools built in the Kidwelly and Llandybie areas, as proposed. New education plans for the two areas will be developed.
Cabinet members supported his recommendations.
Cllr Peter Hughes-Griffiths said the two under-threat schools now had the chance to solve some of their issues.
“We can’t be fairer than that,” he said.
Cllr Davies also confirmed the council’s pre-existing commitments to other new school builds, such as a replacement Ysgol Heol Goffa, Llanelli, a new Ysgol Pen-bre, Pembrey, and an upgrade of Ysgol Bro Myrddin in Carmarthen.
He said the council would also prioritise plans for a new school to replace Llanelli’s Ysgol Dewi Sant and for new primary schools in Ammanford and Llandeilo.
Referring the stalled Ysgol Dewi Sant scheme, Cllr Davies said: “We’ve had so many delays and objections with this.”
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Delighted to see another two Welsh medium schools escape closure.
It’s such a cheap and dirty trick to keep down the roll with rumour or threat of closure and then cite the resulting low roll as reason to close.