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Language fear at 'mass cull'

Campaigners say modernisation plan will take Welsh-medium schooling choice away from parents. Mike Lewis reports

More than 1,000 pupils could lose automatic access to Welsh-medium primary education under a council's controversial modernisation scheme, campaigners have claimed.

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) said this week that half of Carmarthenshire's Welsh-medium primary schools were facing the axe.

Cymdeithas protesters fear a "mass cull" of small schools across Carmarthenshire would leave parents with the choice of Welsh or English-medium schools or streams.

"Given that option, the most natural thing for most parents, incomers and other people who are less than confident with their Welsh would be to put their children into the medium they are most familiar with," said Aled Davies, a member of Cymdeithas's education support group.

"Hundreds of children now being taught in Welsh would end up in an English-medium school and would therefore be lost to the language.

"A policy that was fought so hard for is now being thrown out of the window with no discussions on the implications."

But a Carmarthenshire spokesman said the pound;110 million modernisation programme was about investment in schools and education, and included the continued fostering of the Welsh language.

"Certainly, no one is in danger of losing access to Welsh-medium primary education. The draft plans for each individual school will be subject to full consultation and we are committed to providing the best all-round education for every child in the county.

"What we are not prepared to do is just sit back and leave many pupils in schools that are just not fit for the modern age."

Cymdeithas members, angered at education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson's refusal to meet them, are planning a public meeting at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Cardiff on May 30.

Veteran Cymdeithas education spokesman Ffred Ffrancis said: "She may find it easy to snub us, but she will need a good excuse on a Bank Holiday Monday to snub some of the parents and governors who are so anxious to learn the fate of their small schools."

He added: "You cannot measure the commitment of a community to its local school. Other local education authorities are looking at what happens in Carmarthenshire with bated breath. If we cannot hold the line here there will be a mass cull of village schools throughout Wales."

Cymdeithas says such moves would break up Welsh-speaking communities and cause difficulties in integrating the children of English-speaking families who have moved into the county.

In a letter to Cymdeithas, Ms Davidson said she felt Carmarthenshire council's handling of the issue had been "wholly appropriate".

She added that, having looked into Carmarthenshire's procedures, she had found no evidence that the authority had taken the necessary steps towards modernisation "in the wrong order".

Meanwhile, the newly-formed Association of Small Schools in Wales is planning to circulate a national petition in support of rural schools.

Cris Tomos, organiser of the Small Welsh School Fund, who chaired the unsuccessful campaign to keep Hermon school in Pembrokeshire open, said:

"There is a clear need for an organisation like this that would have helped Hermon school's battle through the High Court.

"With so many people now prepared to demand a halt to the closing of village schools across Wales, I hope that the policy-makers in the Welsh Assembly will review the situation urgently."

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