COUNCIL chiefs should say how many primary schools could close in Carmarthenshire, according to the leader of the opposition.
Cllr Rob James alleged there was “ongoing secrecy” about “a school closure plan”, but these claims were rejected by the Plaid Cymru-Independent administration as “fantasy”.
Carmarthenshire has a large number of small primary schools, several of which are in debt, a poor physical condition, and have low pupil occupancy.
The financial outlook was described in a council education report this month as unsustainable without a significant remodelling” or injection of cash.
The administration is currently consulting the public on a series of budget proposals, including a review of the county’s primary school footprint to save £250,000 in 2022-23 and £500,000 in 2023-24. There would be additional savings due to a reduction in school kitchens.
The council has also been asking for people’s views on a review of primary school education in two areas near Ammanford and Kidwelly, which could result in four schools merging into two new ones.
Cllr James said two other primaries had closed in recent years, and that his Carmarthenshire Labour group wanted to know which ones would be next.
“Plaid Cymru’s continuing secrecy around their school closure plan, or as they like to call it rationalisation programme, is causing significant concern for residents.
“Frankly, parents, pupils and teaching staff all have a right to know whether their school will be there in five years’ time.”
Cllr James claimed the administration was delaying the issue until after the 2022 local Government elections, leaving school communities in the dark.
In response, executive board member for education and children, Cllr Glynog Davies, said:
“Let me make it clear. Plaid Cymru has no ‘secret’ strategy to close rural schools in Carmarthenshire.
“Cllr Rob James’s allegation that such a strategy exists is fantasy.
“He should know the Labour Welsh Government’s definition of a small school is one with less than 91 pupils. In Carmarthenshire, of course, that would be considered to be quite a large and thriving primary school.”
Cllr Davies said the authority had to consider all options when a school’s position appeared to be untenable, including federalisation – sharing of resources – closure, or a new area school.
He added that small schools were closing in many council areas, including Labour-controlled ones.
It’s not the first time Cllr James has asked about this subject.
At an education scrutiny meeting on January 6 he asked Cllr Davies when the executive board would be discussing a school rationalisation programme. Cllr Davies said there wasn’t such a programme and that he didn’t envisage there being one soon.
Cllr James asked for details again at an executive board meeting on January 25. On this occasion director of education, Gareth Morgans replied, saying that education officers were working with headteachers and governing bodies to reduce school deficits.
Mr Morgans said he was confident that headteachers were responding to the challenge, but added that the current budget proposals did include looking at “our primary school footprint and investing in delivering a system that’s probably more sustainable for the future”.