Welsh language primary school in village dominated by second homes given statutory notice to close
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
A statutory notice has been officially launched to close an eight pupil primary school amid claims by one local member that Gwynedd Council isn’t fully committed to protecting the Welsh language.
Giving the public 28 days to state their objections, Ysgol Abersoch will close by the end of December if given final approval.
The school currently educates children up to the age of eight before they transfer to Ysgol Sarn Bach, based 1.4 miles away.
But under the plans approved by Gwynedd Council’s Cabinet on Tuesday, children would receive the entirety of their primary education at Sarn Bach.
According to number crunchers the eight full-time and two nursery pupils currently cost the authority £17,404 per head – over four times the county average of £4,198.
But the closure of the school has been criticised by groups including Cymdeithas yr Iaith, with spokesman Ffred Ffransis describing the authority’s approach as “blinkered” and that Abersoch was already suffering from a holiday home problem.
“We accept that the number is particularly low mainly due to children having to leave school at the age of eight, and a lack of housing and planning policies, as well as a lack of balanced economic development have meant that there are few permanent young residents in the village,” added Mr Ffransis.
“Parents pay the price for these types of public policy, and the council should instead use the dedicated school site and resources as part of the ‘Adfeddiannu’ agenda to give the community new hope.”
But during Tuesday’s meeting the education portfolio holder, Cllr Cemlyn Williams, accepted it was a difficult decision but insisted it was the right one.
Noting that forecasts did not bode well for increased pupil numbers over the coming years, he was adamant that the authority had a duty to provide the best education and educational environments possible.
Officers also advised that while there were 26 children in the catchment area, 21 were currently being educated at schools other than Abersoch.
It was stressed, however, that free transport would be provided to Ysgol Sarn Bach.
The school can hold 34 but is operating at 24% capacity despite the village having a full-time population of 783, with projections showing that pupil numbers would grow to only 12 by 2023.
But Abersoch councillor, Dewi Wyn Roberts, said that “all branches of society” in the village were opposed to the school being closed.
He added that with Ysgol Llanbedrog being over capacity, he questioned how such a situation had been allowed to develop, raising concern over the lack of available affordable housing.
“Only the towns generate more tax income than Abersoch yet this will take a vital resource out of the village,” he added.
“Losing the school from the village will mean less Welsh being heard on the streets and people being aware it’s a living language.
“If the decision is to close then it will show that the cabinet and council is not really dedicated to protecting our language and culture and that the decision is solely based on saving some money.
“Your consciences will have to live with your 30 pieces of silver.”
But members, many declaring a “heavy heart,” unanimously voted to press on with the statutory notice.
Cllr Ioan Thomas noted he found it “odd” 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 other schools in the county.
He also rejected claims that the authority was not committed to the promotion of the Welsh language, with Cllr Dafydd Meurig noting he would like to see the building retained as a community resource even if the school closed.
After the 28 day objection period, a further report will be submitted to Gwynedd Council’s Cabinet to decide whether or not to confirm the proposal.