Fate of Welsh language school in holiday home hotspot to be decided next week
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
The fate of a Welsh language primary school will be sealed next week amid claims that closure would leave the holiday home hotspot as a “ghost town” for chunks of the year.
Just shy of its 100th birthday after opening in 1924, Ysgol Abersoch will shut its doors at the end of 2021 if approved by the council’s cabinet.
If members approve the officers’ recommendation, the eight full time and two nursery pupils would be provided with free transport to Ysgol Sarn Bach from January.
According to number crunchers the school currently costs the authority £17,404 per head – over four times the county average of £4,198.
But closure has been criticised by groups including Cymdeithas yr Iaith, which described Gwynedd Council’s approach as “blinkered” and that Abersoch was already suffering from a holiday home problem.
A recent consultation attracted over 200 responses as well as two separate petitions, each containing 1,115 and 1,884 signatures against shutting the school.
One respondent claimed that leaving Abersoch without a primary school would result in it becoming “a holiday place for tourists for a few months a year and a ghost town for the remainder.”
Another said, “without the school Abersoch has no focal point, the very heart and soul will have disappeared.”
The school can hold 32 but is operating at only a quarter of its capacity despite the village having a full-time population of 783, with projections showing that pupil numbers would grow only slightly over the coming years.
Also, it was stated that of the 26 eligible children living in the catchment area, 21 were currently being educated at schools other than Abersoch.
Cllr Cemlyn Williams, Gwynedd Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, said: “Making a decision on the future of any school is not easy and we fully appreciate that this has been a difficult period for everyone connected with the school.
“I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the discussions on the future of Ysgol Abersoch including the pupils, staff and governors, as well as those who have contributed to the consultation and statutory objection periods.
“It is always sad when the future of any school is under consideration. However, we have a duty to ensure that we offer the best possible education and experiences along with the best possible learning environment.
“Having fully considered all objections, it is recommended to confirm the proposal to close Ysgol Abersoch at the end of 2021.
“There is naturally a desire in Abersoch to see the school continuing, and every effort will be made to ensure that there will be a strong link between the community and Ysgol Sarn Bach.”
The school currently educates children up to the age of eight before they transfer to Ysgol Sarn Bach, based 1.4 miles away.
But any closure would see the children receive the entirety of their primary education at Sarn Bach.
Speaking in June, cabinet member Ioan Thomas claimed “it made no sense” that a school would only educate children up to the age of eight, while pointing to the vast discrepancy in the spend per pupil compared to others.
But Cllr Dewi Wyn Roberts, who represents Abersoch on the authority, has consistently argued against closure, claiming it would result in the loss of a “historic resource” in the village.
“Recently I was listening to the Planning Committee discussing the erection of 12 houses in the Penygroes area and that there is a local demand for this type of development for local people,” he added.
“One of the concerns raised was the capacity of local schools to accept more children that will increase with this development. It highlights the fact that resources within society are important within upcoming plans.
“This decision is completely opposite to the Council’s ambition.
“The decision to close the school is unwise but to close the school in the middle of the school year and move the children to another school does not make any sense and will have a negative impact on the children’s education, if it will have to close then why not defer it until the end of the school year?”
A decision is expected when the cabinet meets next Tuesday, September 28.