An under-threat primary school could be given at least a short term reprieve after a key council committee flagged up concerns over the consultation arrangements during a pandemic.
Having only last month voted to forge ahead with a statutory consultation on closing Ysgol Abersoch, Cabinet members will now be forced to reconsider after the matter was referred back to them by the Education and Economy Scrutiny Committee on Thursday last week.
Ahead of last month’s decision to press on and consult on plans to shut the 10-pupil school by the summer of 2021, Cabinet members had been urged to allow recently installed programmes “to flourish,” including a new on-site Cylch Meithrin.
But concerns over the viability of the school – with its future having been described as “vulnerable for some time” – saw the Cabinet unanimously vote to launch the statutory process on instead sending the pupils 1.4 miles away to Ysgol Sarn Bach.
The eight full-time and two nursery pupils currently cost the authority £17,404 per head, over four times the county average of £4,198.
But Thursday saw both the local member and school governors urge members of the Education and Economy Committee to slam the brakes on the plans, claiming that the ongoing pandemic would hamper efforts to hold a “fair and proper” consultation.
Concerns were also raised that Ysgol Abersoch is not designated by the Welsh Government as a “rural school,” meaning a presumption against closure, despite those in nearby Sarn Bach and Llanbedrog being classed as such.
But despite council officers stating that the school having so few pupils meant that the authority did not have to facilitate all the public engagement measures carried out thus far – with Welsh Government guidelines allowing a “streamlined process” in such cases – Cllr Dewi Wyn Roberts argued that the authority had a duty to treat Ysgol Abersoch like any other.
“It’s very sad that we’re having this discussion today at all, discussing the closure of what is essentially the cornerstone of the Welsh language in the village and the front line in the defence of our culture,” he said. “Closing the school would have a horrendous effect on the Welshness of Abersoch and mean children losing that vital link with their own community.”
Cllr Roberts added his expectation that while pupil numbers would grow over the coming years, he feared that not being able to hold regular public gatherings would hamper local people from making their views known, with the headteacher’s ongoing absence also noted as a factor.
Eifiona Wood, of the board of governors, went as far as to say that campaigners had “not been treated with respect” – a claim denied by education officers – and that the advent of the Cylch Meithrin should be allowed to bed in before any decision is made.
Cllr Alwyn Gruffydd argued that there should always be a presumption in favour of keeping schools open, “rather than finding reasons to close them”,
Members voted by five votes to one, with abstention, for a proposal by Cllr Beth Lawton to send the item back to the Cabinet for reconsideration – with a motion by Cllr Gruffydd to send the matter to full council failing as a result. It’s expected that the Cabinet will convene to once again discuss options regarding the school’s future.