Heledd Fychan, Plaid Cymru Councillor representing Pontypridd Town ward
Last week schools and sixth forms in Pontypridd were saved from closure after a historic legal judgement.
Since the plans were first mooted there had been uproar locally with children, young people, parents, teachers and the wider community joining forces to raise our objections.
The proposals were numerous and included changes to both Welsh and English medium primary and secondary education. The Council stated that all were interdependent on one another and had to be accepted as a complete package of reform.
The campaign was different to usual, as we weren’t fighting against plans to reorganise or close individual schools. Rather, we believed that there were flaws in the plans put forward by Rhondda Cynon Taf Council and called for alternative options to be considered. Options we believe would deliver better equity of provision and opportunity in both languages for our children and young people.
Twice, along with other local Councillors, I called the decision in, and asked the Council to reconsider and listen to the arguments put forward. Twice the decision was upheld, leaving campaigners with no option but to pursue a Judicial Review.
We were vindicated last week, when a High Court Judge ruled in our favour on two counts:
- That the decision to close the 6th forms at Pontypridd High School and Hawthorn High School should have been referred to Welsh Government Ministers for final approval.
- That the Council had failed in its duty to consider the impact of closing Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton on the Welsh Language and notably Welsh medium secondary education – an argument supported by the Welsh Language Commissioner.
Importantly, the Judge also confirmed that Welsh law should be interpreted bilingually, and that English and Welsh texts have equal status. The Council’s defence required one to ignore the Welsh text, with the Judge stating: “I do not consider that to be the correct approach to legislation passed in Wales”.
This ruling, therefore, has wider implications for school reorganisation in Wales, as well as the need for bilingual interpretation of all legislation passed in Wales. Further, the Welsh Language Commissioner has stated that he will be writing to every Local Authority in Wales to make them aware of the judgement, calling on them to strengthen how they consider the impact of their decisions on the Welsh language.
So what next for schools in Pontypridd?
RCT Council is still considering the judgement, and we as campaigners have called for there to be genuine dialogue between the community and the Council on the future of education in the area.
The alternative proposals put forward during the consultation period included a different site to the north of Pontypridd for a new Welsh-medium primary school and different ways of reorganising sixth form education. These now need to be adequately explored and considered.
In the meantime, it is our children and young people who are losing out. With such uncertainty about the future of the schools in question, some people have already made the decision to move their children elsewhere or not to pursue Welsh-medium education as the future of the provision in the northern part of Pontypridd is too uncertain.
This has highlighted that there remains a disparity in terms of equity of access to Welsh-medium education. Whist all children may have the right to Welsh-medium education, it is only truly feasible if there is ease of access for everyone.
This includes ease of access to breakfast and after school clubs, as well as access for parents who do not have a car to reach the school to attend parent evenings, concerts or collect a child if they are taken ill or are injured at school.
Only then will all children have the right to Welsh-medium education.