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Bishop criticises threat to Welsh primary school

06 March 2015

the leader

"Save my school": pupils, parents, staff, and governors gathered at County Hall, Ruthin, last month to make their voices heard over Denbigh­shire County Council's plans to close Ysgol Llanbedr 

"Save my school": pupils, parents, staff, and governors gathered at County Hall, Ruthin, last month to make their voices heard over Denbigh­shire Co...

THE Bishop of St Asaph, the Rt Revd Gregory Cameron, has strongly criticised Denbighshire County Council for attempting to close a Church in Wales primary school at Llanbedr Dyffryn Ceiriog twice in 12 months. Last week, less than a month after the previous closure proposal was rejected by the Welsh Education Minister, Huw Lewis, councillors agreed to consult on a fresh plan to shut the school in August 2016.

A statement from the county council, announcing the new move, quoted, in support, a letter sent on behalf of the Minister, confirming that his decision had been based on a technical issue, "notwithstanding the merits of the proposal". It went on: "He is satisfied that the council has a coherent educational case for the closure of Ysgol Llanbedr."

Bishop Cameron said that the latest step had been taken before consultation with the diocese: "It seems the council has prejudged the issue, and, if such a dismissive approach is maintained, we cannot see how councillors mean to have any honest consultation on the future of this school and the interests of its pupils."

The director of education at the diocese of St Asaph, Roz Williams, said that the announcement was devastating. "We shall be seeking legal advice," she said.

In an unusual move this week, a spokesman for the diocese's legal advisers, Lee Bolton Monier-Williams, questioned the impartiality of the ministerial letter. "He has given such extensive guidance to the local authority as to how it might proceed that he has almost certainly compromised his impartiality, should he need to act in any future appeal," a spokesman said.

"In addition, he has rendered the proposed new consultation a farce. Consultations are about real alternatives. Both the Minister and the local authority have, in effect, pre-determined the outcome. There is no longer any real alternative being offered."

Ysgol Llanbedr, founded by the National Society in 1829, is one of the oldest schools in Wales, and has been on its present site since 1864. It was first earmarked for closure during a review three years ago, and pupil numbers fell. The council says that, with 22 full-time and 11 part-time pupils, the school now has surplus places, but, according to the diocese, numbers are growing. Both the nursery and reception classes are over-subscribed, and after-school activities are well supported. Parents who took part in the previous consultation were unanimously opposed to the closure plan.

The Rector of Llanbedr and chair of the school governors, the Revd Philip Chew, said that, after last month's rejection of the previous closure proposal, the community had hoped for a period of stability to allow the school to return to full capacity. "But", he said, "such an outcome would obviously undermine the council's longstanding agenda to close the school."

School may become voluntary aided. Ysgol Dewi Sant, the only secondary school in St Davids, could become a voluntary aided Church in Wales school after being saved from threatened closure in a review of education provision in Pembrokeshire.

Efforts to save the 500-pupil local-authority comprehensive were strongly backed by the community at St Davids Cathedral, Canon Dorrien Davies said. "When the school was under threat, churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike looked to the cathedral for support," he said. St Davids, which has a population of only 1600, is the smallest city in the UK.

The diocesan director of education for St Davids, Canon Bryan Witt, said that many cathedral choristers were pupils at the school, and, with strong support, he hoped that the change of status would be favourably considered. The move also has Roman Catholic backing.

The Church in Wales currently has three secondary schools in south Wales, and a joint Church in Wales-Roman Catholic comprehensive in Wrexham.

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