SCHOOLS RE­PRIEVE

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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

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