Ysgol Abersoch has been given a last-minute glimmer of hope after a committee considering the decision to close the seven-pupil school sent the decision back to cabinet.
A meeting today of the education and economy scrutiny committee flagged up concerns about last month’s decision to close the school after the local member pointed to proposed new housing and employment opportunities in the village.
The decision was made despite a long-running and highly publicised local campaign.
Language campaigners have also campaigned on the impact on Welsh culture in the popular resort village and holiday home hotspot.
With the school educating children only up to the end of school Year Three before moving on to Ysgol Sarn Bach for the remainder of their primary education, its future has been described as “vulnerable for some time”, costing the authority £17,404 per pupil compared to the county average of £4,198.
But despite the cabinet’s decision last month, the item was “called-in” by opposition councillors who were concerned over aspects of the report presented to decision makers.
Having been referred to the committee by chairman Cllr Beth Lawton, as well as councillors Alwyn Gruffydd and Elwyn Jones, among their claims was the report was “inaccurate and misleading in terms of the impact on the community”, as well as the Welsh language.
Pointing to the construction of a new hotel creating 40 jobs and land earmarked for up to 15 new homes at Bryn Garmon, they claimed such aspects had not been given proper consideration, while also questioning the decision to close the school in December in the middle of the academic year.
Officers attempted to alleviate concerns, stressing the education department had adhered to Welsh Government’s Schools Organisation Code.
Cllr Cemlyn Williams said the process had been “fair”, with some councillors in agreement that a seven-pupil school was not sustainable.
But Cllr Alwyn Gruffydd said “he could not believe” cabinet “went down the road of no return” closing the school, criticising the decision to consult during a pandemic adding that the long-standing threat of closure had contributed to dwindling numbers.
Cllr Gruffydd said closure would hamper efforts to protect the Welsh language in Abersoch.
Cllr Gareth Jones accepted seven pupils was not sustainable, but raised concerns over the lack of public meetings due to the pandemic.
Abersoch councillor Dewi Wyn Roberts pointed to income generated in Abersoch by way of the second home premium, and also questioned “the rush to close by Christmas”.
But his proposal that full council should debate the item before referring back to cabinet fell by seven votes to six.
However, a subsequent proposal by Cllr Judith Humphreys, allowing cabinet more time to discuss objections raised as well as the latest developments in terms of affordable housing and the new hotel, passed by eight votes to six.
It’s expected that a meeting of the cabinet to discuss the concerns raised will be held over the coming weeks.
Ffred Ffransis of Cymdeithas yr Iaith welcomed the decision.
“It’s clear now that the process cannot be rushed and the school closed by Christmas,” he said.
“Cymdeithas is calling on the cabinet to delay a final decision until Easter and use the next six months to properly consider the options put forward by governors.
“It can either be rushed through or this can be the start of the process of reclaiming coastal Welsh-speaking communities.”