Friday, 29 October 2010

Village plans legal challenge to primary school closure - Education News - News - WalesOnline

Village plans legal challenge to primary school closure

Oct 29 2010 by Gareth Evans, Western Mail

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A COMMUNITY in rural Wales has clubbed together to mount a legal challenge against the closure of its school.

Together with their legal team, the Friends of the Children of Llwyngwril (Fotcol) have threatened to “wipe the floor” with Gwynedd Council if reorganisation plans are approved.

Ysgol Llwyngwril has been earmarked for closure as part of the Assembly Government’s 21st Century Schools programme.

Under Tywyn catchment proposals, pupils from Llanegryn, Bryncrug and Llwyngwril primary schools would transfer to a new site in Bro Dysynni.

The transfer from Ysgol Aberygynolwyn has already taken place, after all 12 of its pupils moved to nearby Ysgol Bryncrug a year before its designated closing date.

But the wider plans have been strongly opposed by parents who are accusing education officers of wasting taxpayers’ money.

Gwynedd Council has secured £5.5m funding from the Assembly Government and the results of a statutory consultation will be scrutinised later next month.

Fotcol have commissioned a feasibility study into the possibility of introducing green technologies at the school.

According to the report, a series of renewable energy measures would cost in the region of £38,000 and an investment of £100,000 would see Ysgol Llwyngwril running to profit.

Group spokeswoman Fran- cesca Pridding, 35, said the school was integral to a vibrant community and should not be sacrificed.

“The proposal is not the most cost effective, sustainable or desirable,” she said.

“Wales simply cannot afford to waste the money that it is going to cost Gwynedd to build this new area school. They talk about regenerating rural villages but all they are doing is killing them.

“We are succeeding academically and they’ve got no reason to close us. The council have another option and they should give our feasibility study the serious consideration it deserves.”

Ysgol Llwyngwril has 25 pupils and has been a beacon of the 500-strong community since the 1960s.

If reorganisation plans are approved, youngsters would face a six-mile bus journey to school along what parents consider a “dangerous” coastal road.

Gerald Pearson, chairman of Fotcol, said the group were prepared to take Gwynedd Council to court and have raised £3,000 for legal aid.

Members have met London barrister David Wolfe and high-profile solicitor Richard Stein.

“Our legal team is optimistic that we can be successful in our attempt to prevent the closure of Ysgol Llwyngwril,” said Mr Pearson.

“If the council insist on proceeding we are left with no alternative but to take them to court. We have set this operation in process so we are prepared to act speedily if needs be.”

Liz Saville Roberts, the authority’s education leader, said dwindling school numbers were a major concern.

“If we don’t do this now, you wonder if parents will have voted with their feet and moved their children to another area.

“When the numbers are getting as small as they are something is going to happen sooner or later. We’ve got to be realistic about what we’re trying to achieve.”

Ms Saville Roberts said the authority would consider Fotcol’s feasibility study and look at ways to ease concerns about school transport.

“We’ve got to consider the experiences and education of children, not in the next two or three years, but looking forward to the next 20-plus years.

“We have got to try and make decisions on these grounds, but if we do nothing I wonder how many of these schools would have closed in 10 years from now on their own accord.”

If councillors vote in favour of the reorganisation, a statutory notice to close the schools will be published and any objections sent direct to Education Minister Leighton Andrews.

The Tywyn catchment is the first of 13 areas which are under review.