THE future of two small schools in Carmarthenshire looks uncertain as Carmarthenshire County Council publish proposals to close Blaenau Primary School and Mynyddygarreg Primary School.
The proposed closures were a topic of discussion at one of the First Minister’s briefings when we asked what the Welsh Government’s views on the proposed closures were given that the village is expanding and is cut off from the proposed new school by a very busy bypass, meaning that children would be unable to walk to school safely.
Focusing on a local issue we asked the First Minister: At a time when community has never been more important Carmarthenshire, county council proposes to close two small schools in Carmarthenshire. One is in Blaenau Ammanford and the other in Mynyddygarreg. Both are areas of depravation and have suffered the loss of major industries and community facilities. In Mynyddygarreg they have lost every facility, which would otherwise bind a community together apart from the local school. The move would add 610 car journeys per week with cars having to cross a busy bypass. Walking to school is not an option and cycling would be perilous given that there is no safe route to the proposed new school. Would the First Minister study the proposals with a view to ensuring the villagers have a chance at saving the school?
The First Minister responded: “I am not familiar with the proposals in Mynyddygarreg. We have changed the rules during this Senedd term so that the presumption is that small rural schools stay open. The Local authority doesn’t have a level playing field. It positively has to make the arguments as to why those schools should close. It doesn’t mean that all rural schools will always stay open because sometimes there will be a case that a local authority can mount as to why that school should close. The presumption is that they stay open and that will be the case in Mynyddygarreg and Blaenau as well.”
Now Llanelli’s MP and MS have entered into the debate.
Nia Griffith MP said: “We encourage everyone who will be affected by this proposal put forward by the Plaid Cymru Carmarthenshire County Council Cabinet to make their voice heard during the consultation. Pupils, parents and staff at the schools, as well as everyone living nearby, have an important role to play in the future of education provision in the area and their input will be vital when any decision is made. This is the sort of far-reaching decision which needs proper community consultation, and a realistic appraisal of the needs in years to come. There has been a very large number of new houses built relatively recently on the Mynyddygarrreg side of the by-pass, and full account needs to be taken of the impact of these new developments on future school numbers. Even in a couple of years the situation could have changed significantly. Every child deserves the best education and the best start in life that can be provided. This proposal will impact on many future generations as well and needs to be considered very carefully by everyone involved. This consultation needs to be the start of a conversation about what’s best for children in the area and I hope that the Council will listen to what local people have to say about it.”
Lee Waters MS added: “I know this is an issue which the school Governors have wrestled with for some time and there is clearly a delicate balance to be struck between maintaining a strong sense of community with a school at its heart, and allowing children access to the best facilities and a teaching body with enough capacity to give them the best education. “It’s important the Council don’t rush into making any decisions here. I’m particularly concerned about the impact closing Mynyddygarreg will have on travel patterns. Just at the moment when we’re trying to help people leave their cars at home more often, the relocation of educational facilities could have the opposite effect. The issue of small rural schools and their future viability is a really difficult one. I think the case of Mynyddygarreg is far from settled, so I hope the Council do their upmost to listen to residents.”
Mynyddygarreg was home to the late great Ray Gravell, who also lent his support to keeping small schools open when he was alive. The actor Ioan Hefin is also a supporter of keeping small schools open and campaigned against closures when the council was led by a Labour administration. Plaid Cymru were exceptionally vocal against the closures at the time. In 2004 Helen Mary Jones joined campaigners and protesters on the steps of County Hall. Around 200 people took part in that protest over a £110m education shake-up that threatened up to 32 schools.
The rally was organised by Cymdeithas yr Iaith (Welsh Language Society). The organisation’s then education spokesman Ffred Ffransis said communities were not being consulted on the policy.
“This place is being run like a private corporation with no consultation for the members let alone the public,” he told the crowd.
“This is no way to run a democratic county council.”
The council’s director of lifelong learning at the time, Alun Davies, said: “The modernisation strategy was approved in 2001 by an executive board, then made up of Independent and Plaid Cymru members, and was subsequently approved by full county council.
“The current executive board has recently approved a draft implementation plan. That plan includes a number of proposed organisational changes.
“This programme is about huge investment in our schools to provide a better all round education for every child in Carmarthenshire.
“It will ensure that all pupils, staff and communities have access to the right schools in the right locations, which are fit for purpose in the 21st century.”
Both schools are in areas of depravation and have suffered the loss of major industries and community facilities.
Mynyddygarreg is a village located in a rural area of Carmarthenshire. There is one council estate close to the school with a mixture of private homes and farms making up the rest of the dwellings. There are no services within the village. The public house closed in 2017 and there is no shop, garage, post office or library. In effect the village has lost every facility, which would otherwise bind a community together apart from the local school and neighbouring village hall.
A new housing estate is set to be built on the edge of the village comprising of 25 contemporary 2, 3 and 4 bedroom homes.
Closure of the school would force all of the families to travel to the nearest town of Kidwelly by car as there is no bus service. Pupils would have to travel by car in what appears to be direct opposition to the mantra from Lee Waters MS and Welsh Government on reducing CO2 emissions and encouraging walking and cycling.