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‘Freak’ spike in births blamed for families missing out on first choice school

22 May 2024 3 minute read
Parents with children denied a place at a village school with siblings who already attend the school.

Twm Owen, local democracy reporter

A ‘freak’ spike in births in a rural village has been blamed for 17 families missing out on their first choice primary school.

A total of 47 applications were made for just 30 places in the reception class at Gilwern Primary School for this coming September – disappointing 17 families including some with children already at the school and those whose children attended the nursery on the same site.

More than 400 people have signed a petition, launched by “Hopeful Gilwern Parents” to allow an extra class at the school to accommodate the demand.

Tomos Davies, the Conservative councillor for the nearby villages of Llanfoist and Govilon, asked, at Monmouthshire County Council’s May meeting, how the authority intends to support those parents.

Other preferences

Labour’s Martyn Groucutt, the cabinet member for education, said alternative places, including those identified as other preferences by parents on application forms, have been offered by the county council.

But the Labour councillor said an additional class at Gilwern has been ruled out: “We have been asked to consider admitting all 47 and while I understand the request we must be mindful of accommodating and associated staffing of the current school which is for 210 pupils in class sizes of 30 in each year group.”

Cllr Davies said 17 families have been “left in limbo” at a “deeply distressing and concerning time” and could have to wait until July for the council’s “lengthy and cumbersome” appeals process to conclude.

He asked if Cllr Groucutt would commit to “fast tracking the appeals” and also questioned if the council was satisfied data provided by Gwent’s Aneurin Bevan Health Board was accurate, and whether figures were impacted as the village’s GP surgery had been registered with neighbouring Powys Health Board.

‘Freak year’

In response Cllr Groucutt said: “We do have accurate figures from the health board and they do show this is a freak year in Gilwern and looking forward, the future data we have is to 2027, this is the only year with such a spike.”

He also added he couldn’t make any assurances on fast tracking the appeals, as the panel has an independent element, but said “I will do my best to get the panel assembled at the earliest possible opportunity”.

At the meeting Cllr Groucutt also stated that four children, with siblings already at the school, but from outside the catchment area weren’t offered places in line with the admissions policy consulted on, and agreed, in 2019 when the Conservatives controlled the council.

It is “keen to identify alternative schools for whole family groups to attend should that relieve family pressures,” said Cllr Groucutt.

During his answer Cllr Groucutt also said the last time a Labour government had followed the Conservatives in power, in 1997, new prime minister Tony Blair had been under “tremendous pressure” to limit class sizes to 30, and said “that’s something we’ve stuck to as educationally well worth while rather than overcrowding and effecting the quality of teaching.”

At that point Conservative group leader, Cllr Richard John asked: “How is this relevant?”

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21 days ago

Did anything unusual happen 9 months before this freak spike in births?

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