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Cautious welcome for deferred Cymdeithas decision

Ysgol Cilcennin
Ysgol Cilcennin

CYMDEITHAS YR IAITH CYMRAEG has welcomed a decision by Ceredigion Community Council’s Learning Communities Scrutiny Committee postponed making a recommendation on the future of four Aeron Valley Schools.

Ysgolion yn Dihewyd, Cilcennin, Ciliau Parc, ac Felinfach are all threatened with closure under one option of a planned reorganisation of schools.

Tony Schiavone of Cymdeithas’ education group said:

“We are glad that the committee did not rush to a decision without talking with the very people that any decision would affect. There was considerable disagreement among committee members and deciding on the future of schools is not something to be taken lightly.

“We encourage everyone in the relevant communities to voice their opinions and offer additional ideas: they know their area best.”

Cymdeithas also said that the figures in their report do not support the Council’s case.

Toni Schiavone added: “Instead of threatening four schools we hope that the Cabinet will listen to local opinion instead of following the same predictable negative route again.

“We would like to see an Aeron Valley Federation to combine the Secondary School with the primary schools in the town and the four rural schools in the valley.

“The site in Felinfach could be developed and become a cultural centre for all schools in Ceredigion, counteracting recent trends to make the curriculum more restricted.”

CONTINUOUS REVIEW

Although the Council said they are reviewing the situation of schools in the Aberaeron catchment area as part of a continuous review, there are only three years since the discussion on the future of Trefilan and Dihewyd schools, the two smallest schools in the Aeron Valley.

Both communities fought for their future, and in one last ditch attempt, Trefilan parents decided to send their children to Dihewyd, travelling past two other schools, so that all the children would be in the same school and save that school.

To all intents and purposes the community decided that it had to sacrifice the school. On that basis, Dihewyd School remained open.

Only three years earlier Mydroilyn School was closed, with the children going to Dihewyd.

Cymdeithas have expressed considerable concern that the criteria used to assess schools are far too limited and do not take adequate account of schools and school buildings as valuable community assets in rural areas.

SCHOOLS SEEN AS FINANCIAL ASSETS

Toni Schiavone told The Herald: “‘Sustainability’ and ‘viability’ are always used as reasons to justify closing schools but there is no clear strategy to protect rural Welsh communities, or to use schools as assets to integrate children from families who have moved to the area.

“Schools – like houses – are seen purely as a financial assets. People in these communities are seen as opponents in the debate that officers need to get the better of, without any desire to work together in partnership.

“A report has been put together, and includes a list of options for the future of the schools, but the report does not indicate anywhere what the objective of the review is – whether it is to reduce the number of empty places or to try to save money.

“The figures in their own report do not support their case in this instance regardless of their aim:

• According to the Council’s own estimates, the numbers of children will rise over the coming years, and Dihewyd School is full as it is

• The newest school, Ysgol Bro Siôn Cwilt has the highest percentage of empty places, after Cilcennin School

• Regarding the condition of school buildings, three of the four schools under threat are in the highest category but one.”

SCHOOLS ‘KEY COMMUNITY ASSETS’

Spelling out Cymdeithas’ alternative vision be retaining the integrity of village communities by retaining schools, Toni Schiavone continued: “We advocate establishing a national Key Community Asset Fund to enable communities to purchase a building (hall, shop, school, etc.). In this model, the building would be managed by a community trust and the Education Authority would rent a part of the building in order to organise a school.

“That way, the community benefits and the Council benefits from having no responsibility to spend local taxes on renovation. The project would also be open to other investment funds that are available for schools e.g. European community development funding, or Lottery funding.

“We have seen the impact of the closure of village schools across Wales, where villages and communities slowly decline – young families do not want to move somewhere where they will have to travel far to get an education for their children.

“More than 25 schools have closed in Ceredigion in recent years but there has been no case study to look at the impact on any area – it seems this is not a consideration for the Council.”

A spokesperson for Ceredigion County Council told The Herald: “The content of the review was discussed in a meeting of the Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Monday 9 May. The Committee felt that there wasn’t enough information contained in the area review for them to recommend a preferred option to Cabinet. They noted the need to consult with the local community before discussing the options.

“Feedback from the Overview and Scrutiny Committee will be reported to Cabinet on 17 May. The suggestions outlined in the statement in question are predicated on some factual inaccuracies. All the relevant correct facts are available for public perusal in the Council’s report.”

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Dayne Stone

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