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Cautious welcome for deferred Cymdeithas decision

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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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Alerts issued ahead of Storm Brian

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NATURAL RESOURCE WALES (NRW) is warning people that parts of the Welsh coast could see localised flooding as Storm Brian combines with high tides this evening and tomorrow.

The conditions could cause a storm surge, which in some areas could lead to overtopping of sea defences. Current predictions show that the worst affected areas are likely to be along exposed sections of the west coast of Wales from Southern Gwynedd to Llantwit Major.

High tides in these locations are expected to peak between 6am and 11am tomorrow (Oct 21).

NRW has already issued a number of flood alerts for the west coast, and is likely to issue flood warnings for Aberystwyth and Newgale later today. Further alerts or warnings for other areas will be issued as necessary.

24/7 Emergency response workers from NRW will be out at key areas of the coast over the next couple of day to monitor the high tides and condition of its sea flood defences.

NRW has also contacted its partner agencies such as local councils and the emergency services to ensure that appropriate responses are in place should the need arise.

Richard Hancox, from Natural Resources Wales said: “Conditions across the coastline are likely to be extremely dangerous this weekend and we urge people to stay clear, and avoid visiting the coast during this time.

“We know people are tempted to try and take photos of these storms, but it really isn’t worth putting your life at risk. Sea spray and flood water can knock you off your feet easier than you might think, and the large waves can send debris flying onto shore.

“If anyone is concerned about the risk of flooding to their home, please check to see if flood warnings are available in your area, and visit our website for advice on how best to prepare.”

Flood alerts and flood warnings are updated on the Natural Resources Wales website every 15 minutes.

Information and updates are also available by calling Floodline on 0345 988 1188. People can also register for free flood warnings either by calling the Floodline number or at NRW’s website.

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​Major bequests for Aber research ​

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TWO major legacies to support postgraduate research have been announced at Aberystwyth University’s Founders’ Day held in the Old College on October 13.

The University revealed that Eleanor and David James had donated £2m to the institution where they both worked for 35 years, while former student Margaret Wooloff has bequeathed £400,000.

Both bequests will be used to fund postgraduate research at the University, in line with the wishes of the benefactors.

The legacies were announced as part of the University’s now annual Founders’ event, which echoes the celebrations held in the town back in October 1872 when the first students arrived at Old College.

The Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, Professor Elizabeth Treasure, said: “It is extremely fitting that these very special bequests have been the focal point of this year’s Founders’ Day event. They remind us how the University has been supported since its early beginnings by the generosity of the people of Wales and the wider world.

“Eleanor and David James, and Margaret Wooloff all dedicated their lives to the furtherance of knowledge and their valuable contributions to education in Wales will live on in their legacies. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”

The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Aberystwyth University, Louise Jagger, said: “There is a very strong bond between the University and our family of alumni across the world. Eleanor and David James and Margaret Wooloff were all active members of the Old Students’ Association during their lives and we are immensely grateful to them for their support over the years. Their generous legacies will now enable the scholars of the future to pursue their particular fields of expertise and undertake research with impact, which is integral to our mission as a leading University.”

Members of the local community joined staff and students at the Old College to mark Founders’ Day.

The guest speaker at the event was Ceredigion MP Ben Lake who said: “The story of how Aberystwyth University – or the University College of Wales as it was originally called – is one in which we can all take pride as a nation. Driven by the vision of its founders, the dream of establishing a college with University status in Wales was made possible thanks to the generosity of ordinary people. The roots and foundations of the University reflect our values in Wales and it is vitally important that we commemorate and celebrate this very special heritage.

“May I take this opportunity to congratulate Aberystwyth on being named recently as the University of the Year for Teaching Quality by the Good University Guide – a well deserved accolade which is testament to the dedication of all its staff.”

In July 2017, the Heritage Lottery Fund announced that it had earmarked £10.5m for ambitious plans to redevelop Old College in time for the University’s 150th anniversary in 2022.

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Driving Wales to international skills success

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AS SKILLS CHAMPION for Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr and Coleg Ceredigion principal Barry Liles is at the forefront of aspiring young people to develop high quality, world-class skills.

The vehicle used to drive this ambition are skills competitions, which are held on a Welsh, UK and international level.

Competitions in Wales begin with regional Welsh Government supported competitions which are events that culminate to find Wales’ top competitors who progress to take part in UKSkills national and WorldSkills international events.

This year, 36 competitors from the UK are competing at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi, four of which are from Wales, two of which represent Coleg Sir Gâr, which is an impressive percentage of UK representation. These competitors have undergone a rigorous training process by WorldSkills UK, supported by training providers and employers.

Coleg Sir Gâr students have been selected for Team UK since 2009 when carpentry student Cliff Williams made the team in 2009 competing in WorldSkills Calgary. He was followed by web designer David Bowen who competed for in WorldSkills London, 2011. Carpenter Gareth Jones won gold in EuroSkills in 2012 followed by Simon McCall and Eleni Constantinou who won two silvers at EuroSkills in 2014 for hairdressing and carpentry with Eleni progressing to represent the UK and Coleg Sir Gâr in hairdressing at WorldSkills, Sao Paulo in 2015.

Last year, the college was ranked joint third place in the UK for its medal success in the Skills Show – the UK final, for achieving three golds, one silver and one bronze award. The show, held at Birmingham’s NEC every year, brings together medal winners from all nations to compete and showcase their skills and to hopefully continue their journey to the international arena, representing the UK in Worldskills which brings over 50 competing countries together and is likened to the Olympic games.

Barry Liles, Skills Champion for Wales said: “To have an impact on the economy and raise Wales and UK’s GVA, we must raise the skills of the UK population and we’re trying to do this from a young age and we’re significantly targeting industries that are important to Wales’ economy.

“The anticipated result is hoped to impact on young people and help them raise their ambitions and to find highly skilled work.”

In Wales, to help achieve this ambition, is a Welsh-Government funded project called Inspiring Skills Excellence (ISE), which is providing a supportive infrastructure to enable competitors from Wales to achieve success at national and international level.

“Much of our work is supporting competitors across Wales in their participation, training and mentoring to help them achieve excellence in skills relevant to economic growth and delivering medal winning success at national and international competitions,” said Paul Evans, ISE pan-coordinator for Wales.

“Using state of the art equipment we also engage with schools, providing hands-on and exciting experiences for young people to raise awareness of careers and the pathways available to them.”

Barry Liles added: “Being Skills Champion for Wales is a long-held ambition perhaps because I came from a vocational engineering background, I am very passionate about it.

“Industry skills are vital in our economy and I don’t want Wales to be left behind, in fact in the last seven years we have helped drive the nation forward to being one of the leading and successful nations in UK skills competitions.”

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