Jane Davidson should stop closures, say protesters. Karen Thornton reports
Education and lifelong learning minister Jane Davidson was this week accused of bringing the Welsh Assembly into disrepute by refusing to intervene in the closure of small schools.
The claims were made as Carmarthenshire published the latest stage of its school reorganisation programme, involving redevelopments, mergers and closures affecting 16 schools.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (the Welsh Language Society) protested against small and Welsh-medium school closures outside the Assembly's pavilion at this week's Urdd Eisteddfod in Cardiff.
More than 100 demonstrators heard chairman Steffan Cravos call for new guidelines on developing small, rural and village schools. He claimed that Ms Davidson refused to meet with Cymdeithas while continuing to meet with local education authority officials involved with school closures. And he accused her of "bringing the Assembly into disrepute by refusing to intervene in school closures".
Cymdeithas advertised the Urdd Eisteddfod protest as "a meeting with Jane Davidson". But the minister said she was not invited and had previously written to the organisers to say she could not attend in case she is asked to adjudicate on specific proposals.
"I cannot meet with either the proposers of, or protesters against, any potential statutory proposal so as not to prejudice any decision which I may later have a duty to make," she wrote.
"You will also be aware that I would not be prepared to approve the closure of a Welsh-medium school unless the alternative proposed also offered Welsh-medium education - and of at least equivalent quality and diversity."
A spokesperson said she had on-going meetings with LEAs but not about specific school closures.
Sioned Elin, chair of Cymdeithas in Carmarthenshire, where the county council has embarked on a programme of school closures coupled with rebuilding and improvements, said education director Vernon Morgan had agreed to a meeting.
"We want to know what vision they have for the future of village schools in the county. The only option they seem willing to consider is closure."
But announcing the latest stage of Carmarthenshire's modernising education programme, Mr Morgan said: "This programme is not an attack on the Welsh language or small schools. It is about improving the range of learning opportunities for children and young people throughout Carmarthenshire. It is shaped to invest pound;42 million in the next two years or so and a further pound;68m between now and 2012."
The latest proposals, mostly affecting schools in Llanelli, envisage five primaries replacing 10 primary, infant and junior schools, and a new Pounds 3.25m school to replace Bryn primary, Llanelli. The council says many of the schools' current buildings are in poor condition.
Maridunum and Queen Elizabeth Cambria secondary schools are to form a new pound;25m comprehensive in Carmarthen. Ammanford junior and infant schools could merge, and two other primaries are under threat of closure.
Individual projects will be subject to full consultation with interested parties in line with policy.