Three facing axe... but councillors call for halt until new guidelines due in autumn
SCHOOL campaigners have been handed a lifeline after a scrutiny committee recommended they should stay open until new government guidelines are published.
Anglesey Council recently held a public consultation over shutting Ysgol Henblas in Llangristiolus, Llangefni’s Ysgol Corn Hir and Ysgol Bodffordd, replacing them with a new £10m primary built in the Llangefni area.
On Monday, members of its Corporate Scrutiny Committee were asked to recommend one of two options put forward by officers – shutting all three schools or keeping Ysgol Henblas open and building a smaller school to replace only Corn Hir and Bodffordd.
But they instead backed an amendment for any school closures to be put on hold until changes to the School Organisation Code are published in the autumn, expected to result in rural schools being officially designated and listed, making closures a “last resort” scenario.
Education portfolio holder, Cllr Meirion Jones, acknowledged education as “one of the council’s toughest challenges”, adding his understanding of parents’ concerns.
But, emphasising the authority’s main aim of generating the best possible learning environment, he added that additional factors include reducing the cost per pupil and improving education standards.
The plans have been broadly welcomed by Ysgol Corn Hir, with the Llangefni school already over capacity.
But closure proposals were slammed by campaigners in Llangristiolus and Bodffordd, who urged decision makers to keep both rural schools open.
Rhys Parry, the Chair of Governors at Ysgol Henblas, said that the school was “the heart of the village,” adding: “Some parents choose to send their children to larger schools, but others deliberately choose to send theirs to smaller, rural schools.
“Losing Ysgol Henblas would leave an area stretching from Pentraeth to Aberffraw with only two primary schools.”
Llinos Thomas Roberts, a parent at Ysgol Bodffordd, added: “Without the school, how is the cylch meithrin going to continue? We have already lost our shop and post office, what further long term damage could be caused by closing our school as well?”
Gareth Parry, of Ysgol Bodffordd’s Governors, accused council officers of “skipping a non-statutory consultation as the timing did not suit them.”
He added: “Its questionable if this has been a fair consultation, and borders on simple rubberstamping. Rushing to a judge- ment is a very dangerous thing.”
But Meirion Jones once again referred to the financial pressures on the authority, with education taking up around £40m of the £130m budget.
“To everyone that tells us that they’re not happy with what we’re doing, tell us how we can do things differently with the money we have available to us. There is no magic money tree.”
But, following an intervention by Cllr Lewis Davies, members voted for an amendment that the closure plans should be put on hold until the expected School Organisation Code is published in the autumn.
This was despite warnings from officers that building a new school to replace only Ysgol Corn Hir, was unlikely to gain Welsh Government funding.
Cllr Davies said: “With hundreds of schools yet to be built in this part of Anglesey and questions over the ownership of the Ganolfan at Ysgol Bodffordd, any decision should be delayed until the picture is clearer.”
Ffred Ffransis, from Cymdeithas yr Iaith, said: “We’re very grateful to the committee for their decision. We urge the council’s executive, to not only confirm their decision, but also to use this extra time to hold a genuinely open discussion with the community.
“This is a chance to ensure that Welsh-medium schools continue to be at the heart of community life and to respect the wishes of local parents who are so committed to their children’s education.”
The committee’s findings will be considered by Anglesey Council’s Executive when it meets on Monday.
Ysgol Henblas is one of the schools at risk of closure to be thrown a lifeline this week