Anger at 'biased' closures

6th July 2007 at 01:00
New Welsh-language schools are being built while English ones crumble and close, say unions

THE BUILDING of new Welsh-medium schools as English equivalents crumble and close is unjust and extravagant, it was claimed this week.

The accusations, made by a union leader and Swansea councillor, come as the biggest school closure plans yet to be announced in Wales are unveiled in Cardiff.

Under the plans, the axe will fall on three high schools, leading to the possible loss of teaching jobs. The future of two other secondaries in the city is also in the balance. But the decision to construct another Welsh medium high school in their place has led to a backlash.

Cardiff council says parental demand for Welsh-medium education means more schools are needed as pupil numbers balloon. But they say they are falling elsewhere and, in 10 years, half the city's secondary schools will have lost 30 per cent of their funding.

Philip Dixon, director of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Wales, says new spending on Welsh-medium establishments is a "Pandora's box" especially when so many schools remain in a dilapidated state.

"Rather than put up new buildings, the present stock could be used more imaginatively," said Mr Dixon. "And if a new school is built, it should have a duty to be socially diverse.

"There's a great expansion of Welsh-medium education in South Wales, but among parents who aren't Welsh speakers."

The row over the cost of Welsh-medium schools is also raging in Swansea after a councillor spoke out against a new primary, Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Llwynderw, that is due to open in September 2008 at a cost of pound;6 million.

Councillor Des Thomas faces a month-long suspension after the council claimed he breached codes of conduct by making his mind up before the planning application was made. He is set to appeal but maintains the building of the new school is both expensive and extravagant, especially as many others are in need of urgent repair.

Labour councillor Mark Child is also opposed to the new school.

He said: "The money would be better spent on repairing and improving the fabric of other schools across Swansea."

Swansea council has a target to provide 300 extra Welsh-medium places by 2011. A spokesperson said: "The new school will help ensure we meet that commitment.

"Pupils are currently in a temporary home near Sketty's Bishop Gore comprehensive which can no longer cater for the numbers attending," he added.

There are also plans to spend more than pound;18m on three other new Welsh medium schools, apart from Cardiff, across Wales. The others are Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Santes Tudful, Merthyr Tydfil, costing pound;3.85m; Ysgol Ifor Bach, Caerphilly, pound;3.3m; and Ysgol Hooson, Wrexham, around pound;3.9m.

Most of the funds will come from the school buildings improvement grant (SBIG). Meanwhile, teaching staff in Anglesey, Powys, Gwynedd and Denbighshire are also bracing themselves for widespread school closures as the councils consider their reorganisations plans.

In Powys 4,000 surplus places have been identified. In Wales overall, local authorities estimate there are currently 76,000 unfilled places.

But at a recent conference held by Governors Wales delegates heard how LAs should not see the closure of schools with failling pupil rolls as a "fait accompli" (TES Cymru, May 11).

Instead, the body recommended that more "creative ways" to capitalise on school facilties with the wider community should be sought first, with closure as a last resort.

An Assembly government spokesperson said: "We expect authorities to have robust capital investment programmes based on their asset management plans and assessment of demand for school places, so they can invest in schools which are viable and can deliver high-quality facilities suitable for the modern curriculum.

"That may mean new schools, or investment in refurbishing schools whether they are Welsh or English medium.

"Decisions on investment are for local authorities to take. No new build, Welsh-medium schools have opened in the past two years."

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