‘Misleading’: Evidence which led to closure decision for Abersoch school called into question
Gareth Wyn Williams, local democracy reporter
The evidence on which Gwynedd council decided to close a Welsh language school in a holiday home hotspot was “inaccurate and misleading” according to councillors who want to revisit it.
The cabinet’s decision to close a seven pupil primary school has taken a further twist after being called in for scrutiny by a key council committee.
Last month saw the cabinet rubber-stamp the closure of Ysgol Abersoch despite the concerns of the local community which had run a much publicised campaign to keep it open, with language campaigners also fearing its impact on Welsh culture in the popular resort village.
Unusually for the county, the school educates children only up to the end of school year three, before moving on to Ysgol Sarn Bach for the remainder of their primary education.
But decision makers pointed to forecasts showing no major upswing in pupil numbers, with the future of the school described as having been “vulnerable for some time” – costing the authority £17,404 per pupil compared to the county average of £4,198.
Ysgol Sarn Bach, based 1.4 miles away, is set to educate all children throughout their primary education, with transport already provided from the village.
But the Plaid Cymru cabinet’s decision has now been called into question by one Llais Gwynedd and two independent councillors, with a further debate to take place next week.
While the Education and Economy Scrutiny Committee has no power to overturn the decision, it can refer it back to cabinet if members find the issues raised to be valid.
Having been referred to the committee by its chair, Cllr Beth Lawton, as well as councillors Alwyn Gruffydd and Elwyn Jones, the issues raised include:
- Claims the report on which the decision was based is “inaccurate and misleading in terms of the impact on the community,” as well as the Welsh language.
- Not taking future local housing and employment into consideration, including construction of a new hotel creating 40 jobs and land being earmarked for 15 new homes at Bryn Garmon.
- Concern over the footpath between Abersoch and Sarn Bach and claims that one child is ineligible for the offer of free transport due to age policies
- Questioning the decision to close the school in the middle of the academic year, leading to claims it will be “confusing for the children,” and result in a “negative impact on their education” with no explanation of the logic behind the decision.
Pressure group Cymdeithas yr Iaith had condemned the authority’s decision to close the school, accusing the authority of “undermining its own housing and language policies by abandoning Abersoch.”
Spokesman Ffred Ffransis added, “This is sending a clear signal to other communities under stress that the council is not prepared to stand up for them.
“The council’s own assessments acknowledged that closing the school would have a negative impact on the Welsh language and the community, yet they have ignored them.
“They have betrayed this vulnerable community and undermined their hopes of using the school as a basis for the revival of the Welsh language locally.”
But while it was suggested that the Ti a Fi nursery group could be retained in Abersoch even after closure of the school, cabinet member Dafydd Meurig said, “The damage has largely been done (in Abersoch) by years of inward migration and the use of so many second homes.”
Officers also pointed to the fact that of the 26 eligible children living in the catchment area, 21 were being educated at schools other than Abersoch.
Efforts would take place, they added, “to encourage community collaboration between the alternative school and the community in Abersoch,” while promising that all pupils – including the nursery aged child – would be offered free school transport to Ysgol Sarn Bach, despite the reasons stated in the call-in request.
The Education and Economy Scrutiny Committee will discuss the report when it meets next Thursday, October 21.
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