TWO primary schools with low pupil numbers, mixed age classes and stubborn budget deficits could close for good in Carmarthenshire.
Council chiefs are proposing to shut Ysgol Gynradd Blaenau, between Llandybie and Ammanford, and Ysgol Gynradd Mynyddygarreg, near Kidwelly.
They want Blaenau pupils to transfer to a new Ysgol Gynradd Llandybie, and Mynyddygarreg pupils to transfer to a new Ysgol Gymraeg Gwenllian.
The proposals were put before the council’s education and children’s scrutiny committee, which heard that Blaenau primary had 99 places as of January this year but only 33 pupils.
The committee report said there were 44 pupils living within its catchment area but only only eight of them attended the school, whose building condition was described as poor.
“The culmination of these unavoidable facts presents a school model which does not represent a sound, stable educational model or best use of resources,” said the report.
It described the current Llandybie primary – around a mile-and-a-half away – as a successful school which reached its 238-pupil capacity last year, albeit with a slight decrease this year.
Demand for places, said the report, was likely to rise but the facilities were considered inadequate.
The proposal is to:
– Discontinue Blaenau primary at the end of August 2021
– From September all pupils to be registered at Llandybie primary, but it would operate on both sites and increase its capacity
– Alter Llandybie’s catchment area to include that of the Blaenua primary area
– Change the nature of provision at Llandybie primary to Welsh medium as of September 2021
– Relocate Llandybie primary to a new site, roughly halfway between the two current schools, and increase its capacity to 315 pupil and 45 nursery places, with the new school ready in 2024.
The council considered other options before settling on a preferred option which, if approved by the executive board, will go out for consultation on January 11 for six weeks.
If the council then decides to progress the plans further will be another opportunity to express views, before a final decision is made next June.
The draft consultation report said: “Standards are decreasing rapidly at Blaenau therefore this proposal will have a positive impact on the standard of teaching and learning pupils receive.”
Meanwhile, Mynyddygarreg primary only had 36 pupils as of January this year but 55 places.
Of the 113 pupils living within its catchment area, only 22 attended the school.
The report said pupil numbers at Gwenllian primary, Kidwelly, have remained constant but are expected to rise. This will be a challenge, it said, due to the school’s poor condition and lack of adequate space.
The proposal is to:
– Discontinue Mynyddygarreg primary at the end of August 2021
– From September, all pupils to be registered at Gwenllian primary, which would operate on both sites and increase its capacity
– Alter Gwenllian primary’s catchment area to include that of the Mynyddygarreg area
– Relocate Gwenllian primary to a new site and increase its capacity to 210 pupil and 30 nursery places, with the new school ready in 2023.
The process of taking forward the proposals is the same as for Llandybie primary.
Cllr Glynog Davies, who has the education portfolio, said the council was finding it hard to recruit head teachers to rural primary schools.
These school leaders, he said, often had to teach full-time as well as run the school.
He said he still bore the scars from the job when he was a head teacher with just two teacher colleagues in the 1990s.
“It was very, very challenging,” he said.
Cllr Davies said the higher cost per pupil for small rural primaries could not be avoided in this debate, and added that Carmarthenshire – with 95 – had the highest number of primaries anywhere in Wales.
The scrutiny committee approved the recommendations to close Blaenau and Mynyddygarreg primaries and initiate a consultation, which will now go before the executive board on December 21.