Council Cabinet presses on with Ysgol Abersoch closure proposals
Gwynedd Council’s cabinet is pressing on with the planned closure of a village primary despite calls to delay any decision until the situation is clearer.
Calls to pause the process needed to shut Ysgol Abersoch fell on deaf ears on Tuesday as decision makers unanimously voted to consult on closing the 10 pupil school by the summer of 2021.
In advance, school governors had penned a public letter urging the cabinet to wait until recently installed programmes had been “allowed to flourish”, including a new on-site Cylch Meithrin.
“The present requirement to conduct consultations in a virtual setting has excluded contributions from the majority of governors, parents and other important stakeholders, putting us in an impossible situation,” it said.
“We urge the cabinet members, in particular given the Plaid Cymru stance on growing the use of the Welsh language, to suspend any decision on the consultation until a time when the impact of our initiatives are given the opportunity to succeed, and when a fair and democratic process can be followed with full representation from the interested stakeholders.”
The local councillor, Dewi Wyn Roberts, spoke of the school’s importance as one of the last bastions of the Welsh language due to the linguistic challenges facing the village.
He added that the education department had “moved quickly” to propose closure and that while the community of Llanhaelhaearn had largely accepted the recent decision to close their village school, community leaders were “still battling” in Abersoch.
Cllr Roberts also spoke of embryonic plans to establish 40 new jobs and more affordable homes in the village, which he said could boost pupil numbers significantly, also questioning the lack of full council and scrutiny committee input into the closure process.
“I feel there’s an aspect of cherry picking at play here, without looking in full at other factors,” he told the virtual cabinet meeting.
“Its impossible to hold proper meetings due to Covid, Zoom meetings simply aren’t the same, and I’m shocked that this is going ahead today. You don’t have to make a decision now.
“I sincerely hope you (as members) are brave enough to challenge this report and take a step back and pause.”
The education portfolio holder, Cllr Cemlyn Williams, said that while he “did not relish” presenting the report, it had “not been compiled on a whim.”
Its contents, however, noted concern over pupil numbers with the future of the school described as having been “vulnerable for some time” – with the eight full-time and two nursery pupils costing £17,404 per head, compared to the county average of £4,198.
Unusually for Gwynedd, Ysgol Abersoch serves pupils only up to the end of school year three, before then moving on to Ysgol Sarn Bach for the remaining three years of primary education.
But if closure is approved following the statutory consultation, pupils would attend Ysgol Sarn Bach for the entirety of their primary education.
Education officers believe that the school running at 24% capacity is not sustainable, and with only a modest increase in pupil numbers being projected, finance chiefs calculated that closure would achieve annual savings of £96,062 even after taking the extra schol transport costs into account.
The results of the statutory consultation are expected over the coming months.
By Gareth Williams – Local Democracy Reporter
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