Carmarthenshire Council are extending school consultations until the end of the summer term ‘to make sure everyone can have their say’. The move follows criticism of the council for holding consultations to close or reorganise a number of schools during the lockdown.
The council is consulting on a number of schools in the county, including the proposed closure of Ysgol Mynyddygarreg near Kidwelly and Ysgol Blaenau near Llandybie, as well as proposals for Ysgol Y Felin in Felinfoel, Llanelli to move from English medium to Welsh medium education.
At a meeting on 1 March, the council’s Executive Board decided to extend the consultation periods for the following consultations until Friday 16 July:
- Proposal to review primary education provision in the Mynydd-y-Garreg and Gwenllian areas
- Proposal to change the age range of Swiss Valley School from 4-11 to 3-11
- Proposal to review primary education provision in the Blaenau and Llandybie areas
- Proposal to re-design and remodel behaviour support services at Ysgol Rhydygors to improve provision for children and young people
- Proposal to change the nature of provision at Ysgol Y Felin
It follows a Notice of Motion which was submitted to Full Council on February 10 on whether it is appropriate to consult on education provision during the pandemic.
Welsh Government has also published new non-statutory guidance on best practice in regard to consultation on school organisation proposals during the pandemic in which it recommends that consultation periods should be lengthened to allow as many people as possible to consider the proposal and have their say.
Cllr Glynog Davies, the Executive Board Member for Education and Children’s Services, said: “We have to remember the restrictions put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic do not mean statutory proposals for school reorganisation cannot take place. However, local authorities should consider the implications of those restrictions and take every step possible to make sure that consultations are fair and inclusive recognising the unique circumstances in which they are taking place during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The non-statutory guidance was published by Welsh Government two days after we passed the Notice of Motion in full council. It says where possible we should consider whether to postpone consultations or extend the timeline to allow as many people as possible to have their say. Although we are not required to hold consultation meetings, the code also recognises these can be very helpful to disseminate information and for people to express their views.
“We as a council are encouraging people to go to ‘drop in’ sessions and virtual meetings and of course they can write to us and phone us directly. It says we should take every step to get over any barriers to consultations and as a county we have done that. I do however propose that we extend the consultation period for these projects in relation to the School Organisation Code until end of the summer term, that is Friday July 16.”
Council Leader Emlyn Dole said an extension to July 16 would also give people time to prepare an alternative business plan if they wished to do so and officers could advise them on the required content of that type of plan if they wanted, for example, the community of Mynydd-y-Garreg who have expressed their concerns.
Cllr Cefn Campbell seconded Cllr Davies’s proposal adding: “I think it is a wise and sensible motion under the circumstances, Cllr Davies has stated that throughout we have followed the guidelines under the School Organisation Code. But this gives every opportunity for parents and staff and everyone else to give their opinions. The response we have had so far has proven that our consultation has been very effective, but this would allow more time and show that we are willing to be flexible as well, as the guidelines have changed since that original Notice of Motion.”
Cllr Davies added: “In the last full council meeting I stated that we were complying with Welsh Government guidelines, and that is what we are doing today.”
The consultations will now close on Friday, July 16. If you have already submitted your views the council has advised that you do not need to re-submit them.
To take part in the consultation you can either complete a submission on the council’s website, email the council at DECMEP@carmarthenshire.gov.uk or call 01267 246426.
Other consultations that are being carried out on projects under other legislation, for example, under the federation process of maintained schools’ guidance, School Admissions Code and The Welsh in Education Strategic Plans (Wales) Regulations 2019 are unaffected by this consultation extension.