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Carmarthenshire school closure plans put on hold… for now

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Proposals to close primary schools in Mynyddygarreg and Blaenau have been put on hold pending the outcome of an extended review of Carmarthenshire County Council’s Modernising Education Programme.

Cllr Glynog Davies, Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services, has asked his education team to enhance a review of the programme which is currently underway to ensure it continues to meet the needs of children and communities.

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It means proposals due to be agreed today (Monday 6 December 2021), will not proceed at this time.

The extended review will seek to ensure that the MEP can adapt to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Brexit and climate change, which has changed the way people are living and making choices, how the education system has been affected and the rising costs of construction.

Cllr Davies said the review should look at how parents’ choices for their children’s education might change following the last 20 months.

The council has already noticed a shift in parental choice following the most recent annual admission of pupils during the pandemic.

With the construction industry having been hugely affected by the pandemic, with increased demand and rising costs for labour and materials, Cllr Davies said it is important to look at the knock-on effect this could have on the delivery and budgeting for school regeneration projects.

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“We want to be able to factor these considerations in as we review the MEP, to have the time to properly consider how society is changing and how this will affect education services,” he said.

“Across the authority, several other departmental reviews are also underway. It would be prudent to ensure the MEP continues to align with the council’s priorities and objectives, and therefore it makes sense to take the outcome of these reviews into consideration also.

“I am asking officers to do this piece of work for me urgently.”

Speaking to fellow Cabinet members he said: “I hope that you will agree that no decision can be made today without this work taking place. I am asking that Cabinet does not push ahead with proposals for Ysgol Mynyddygarreg and Ysgol Blaenau at this point in time, and I will not be announcing the statutory notice for these schools – we have to give full consideration to these proposals.”

A campaign group set up to prevent the closure of Ysgol Mynyddygarreg said in a statement: “The Community and Governors of Mynyddygarreg are overjoyed with Carmarthenshire Council’s decision not to close Ysgol Mynyddygarreg. The community is passionate about our village and our school.

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“After campaigning for more than a year we are pleased that the Cabinet has listened to our voices and given us certainty for our future, showing the way for councils and communities to work together for better outcomes.

“We are also very supportive of Ysgol Gwenllian and hope that their badly needed new school will be imminent. Looking to the future, the school can now build on its excellent teaching reputation and we look forward to an exciting future for the children, staff and the wider community.”

A petition opposed to the school closure attracted over 1000 signatures.

There are concerns however that the council could restart closure plans after the local authority elections in May.

Leader of the Labour group on Carmarthenshire Council, Cllr Rob James said: “Fantastic result for both Ysgol Blaenau and Ysgol Mynyddygarreg. Great work by both campaigns to ensure the school are not closed this academic year.

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“We are concerned that the Cabinet will now review the viability of all schools after the local elections. We need to stop the sword of Damocles over schools and worrying pupils and parents over potential closures.

“There are 30 schools with less than 100 pupils in Carmarthenshire, so if you want to ensure that your school is not closed after the elections, consider being a Councillor.”

Whilst the Plaid-led Cabinet agreed to postpone the closures, Cllr Glynog Davies confirmed the council’s commitment to continuing the delivery of a number of projects already in development.

These include a new state of the art specialist school to replace Ysgol Heol Goffa, a new primary school to replace Ysgol Pen-bre, and planned improvements at Ysgol Bryngwyn in Llanelli and Ysgol Bro Myrddin in Carmarthen.

He said the council will also prioritise plans for a new school to replace Llanelli’s Ysgol Dewi Sant and for new primary schools in Ammanford and Llandeilo.

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(Lead image: Mynyddygarreg SOS)

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