Welsh Language Commissioner finds failings in consultation over closure of a primary school
Anthony Lewis, local democracy reporter
The Welsh Language Commissioner has found failings in the consultation carried out by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council over the closure of a Pontypridd primary school.
Aled Roberts concluded in a report that RCT Council broke three standards (91-93) when consulting over the closure of Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton as part of the 21st Century schools reorganisation in Pontypridd.
An investigation was prompted by a complaint from a parent member of the Pontio’r Gymraeg yn Lleol campaign group concerned that the plans would have a detrimental effect on the Welsh language in the communities of north Pontypridd.
The plans, which have now been pushed back until 2024, will see the closing of Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton so that children from the communities in the north of Pontypridd wanting a Welsh medium primary education will transfer to new school on the existing site of Heol y Celyn Primary School in Rhydyfelin.
Whilst fully supporting the need to invest in a new building for Ysgol Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton, Pontio’r Gymraeg yn Lleol said that parents and supporters argue that the travelling distance to the new site is likely to discourage parents from choosing a Welsh medium education which will have a detrimental effect on the Welsh language in the communities of north Pontypridd.
During a judicial review in July 2020, a High Court judge ruled that RCT Council had failed to consider the impact of changes on Welsh medium education, a decision which was later successfully appealed by the council.
In his report, Mr Roberts found that the council has failed to comply with standard 91 in that the “consultation document regarding a policy decision to reorganise schools in Pontypridd did not include specific questions which sought views on the effects (whether positive or adverse) that the policy decision under consideration would have on — (a) opportunities for persons to use the Welsh language, and (b) treating the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language.”
He also said the consultation document “did not discuss adequately, offer options that considered nor provided information regarding the possible effect of the all of proposals on the Welsh language in order to enable the public to respond to the consultation in an informed manner.”
On standard 92 he said the document did not include specific questions which sought views on, how the policy under consideration could be formulated or revised so that it would have positive effects, or increased positive effects on opportunities for people to use the Welsh language and treating the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language
He also said they did not adequately discuss, provide options to consider or provide information regarding how it was possible to formulate the policy under consideration.
And, on standard 93, Mr Roberts said the document did not include specific questions which sought views on, how the policy under consideration could be formulated or revised so that it would not have adverse effects, or so that it would have decreased adverse effects, on opportunities for people to use the Welsh language and treating the Welsh language no less favourably than the English language.
He added that it did not adequately discuss, provide options to consider or provide information regarding how it was possible to formulate the policy under consideration so that it would not have adverse effects, or that it would have decreased adverse effects.
On behalf of Pontio’r Gymraeg yn Lleol, mother-of-four, Lowri Chinnock-Davies said: “Although the council has stated they will not undertake further consultation, it is hoped that they carefully reflect on the findings of this report and appropriately consult with the parents and communities of the affected areas and fully consider the impact of removing Welsh language education from these local communities.
“Throughout the process we have specified other local sites for development which could be considered but instead they have ploughed ahead with plans to build a new school outside of the catchment area because they are freeing up a site.
“We will continue to call for improvements to Welsh medium early years and primary school provision within the communities of Ynysybwl, Glyncoch, Coed y Cwm, Trallwn and Cilfynydd to ensure that the language continues to grow and thrive and is accessible to all.”
A council spokesman said: “The council has acknowledged the comments and recommendations of the Welsh Language Commissioner.
“Those actions required in respect of the Welsh language standards have been addressed by the council.”
“When consulting upon proposals to invest £37m to transform the delivery of Welsh and English medium education in the greater Pontypridd area, the council complied fully with the requirements of the Welsh Government’s School Re-organisation code.
“This included going over and above the statutory consultation requirements of the code, to provide a full-range of opportunities for residents, parents and pupils to consider and comment on these plans and inform this key decision.
“The decision of the council was upheld by Court of Appeal following legal challenge.”