Campaigners hoping to save Llancarfan Primary School from Vale Council plans to ‘move’ it to a new £4 million building in nearby Rhoose put their case forward in a meeting on Monday night (October 1).
They told the council’s Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee that the authority had pursued the plans with “single-minded determination” without properly consulting the community, that the rural ethos of the school would be lost and it would “rip the heart” out of the village.
But the council said the current Llancarfan Primary building is not fit for purpose, and moving it to a new 210-place building in Rhoose is needed to cater for hundreds of new homes being built in the area.
The committee voted to urge the council’s cabinet to pause the plans when it meets next on October 15, and to work with the community to come up with alternatives which could see Llancarfan Primary staying open.
Campaigner and parent Jim Barratt told the meeting: “The whole process from planning through to consultation has been too narrowly focussed on one favoured option from the very start. The council has pursued this option with single-minded determination.
“Why didn’t the council involve key stakeholders in the strategic planning behind this proposal?”
Stephen Parry, a parent of previous Llancarfan pupils, asked: “Where is the evidence, where is the research that this is going to benefit the children of the future?
“It’s not just about data or cost effectiveness. It’s about educating children. That was not in the consultation report – I couldn’t find the words ‘children’ or ‘learning’.
“I fear the children may be used as pawns in perhaps an economic argument, not an educational one.”
Dr Rebecca Farquharson told the committee retaining Llancarfan Primary represents a “fantastic opportunity” for the council – as it is the only primary designated as ‘rural’ in the area and eligible for ring-fenced Welsh Government funding.
She said: “The council are treading a very fine line in undermining the government’s vision on rural schools. It’s highly likely that the business case for funding will be challenged by the Welsh Government and may be lost altogether.
“Rhoose doesn’t want a divided community with only some pupils benefiting from a new school building. Llancarfan doesn’t want the heart of the community torn out. This uncertainty is already damaging the school’s future and must stop now.”
The consultation was first started in March this year but was re-launched in May as campaigners said there was not enough information provided.
During the summer an IT glitch meant people’s submissions were cut off after 9,999 characters – but respondents affected by this were informed.
Trevor Baker, the Vale Council’s head of strategy, community learning and resources, outlined the reasons for the proposal – and why extending the current Llancarfan and Rhoose primaries are not the council’s favoured option.
He told the meeting that there’s a predicted shortfall of 93 primary places in Rhoose by 2023 if the council does nothing.
Llancarfan has the fifth highest revenue cost per pupil for primary schools in the Vale, he said.
Mr Baker said: “We know there is no nursery provision at Llancarfan Primary. We know there are site constraints with planned investment opportunities (at the two current primary schools) going forward. We know the (Llancarfan) school has capacity to improve.
“There’s no proposal put forward to consult that’s going to make everybody happy. No consultation process is perfect. The best thing we can do when issues arise is deal with them.”
Mr Baker said later in the meeting a nursery could be provided in Llancarfan village.
Morwen Hudson, the Vale Council’s lead officer for school improvement, told the meeting there would be huge benefits for the school moving to the new building.
She said: “I don’t know of any other profession where people are expected to go to work in a 140-year-old building which is not fit for purpose.
“Why should teachers at Llancarfan school be expected to do so when they have a chance to go to a state of the art new facility?
“The opportunity for pupils to attend a nursery within their primary school would bring huge benefits.”
Estyn’s report said the school buildings “provide a stimulating and varied learning environment”.
Paula Ham, the Vale Council’s director of learning and skills, said Llancarfan Primary faces budget difficulties next year and will receive £96,000 less in funding.
“The lower the number of pupils the higher the unit costs are going to be,” she said.
Campaigners say pupil numbers – which affects the amount of funding the school gets – dropped after the consultation launched.
Ms Ham said the council hopes the proposal would improve education standards, but there was no guarantees.
She said: “Estyn concluded the proposals will at least maintain standards of provision in the area. We’re not here to say it’s going to be a better standard of education, we’re not required to do that.
“We think it would lead to improved outcomes and the school will be supported to achieve excellence. But we can’t guarantee that excellence would be achieved.”
Cllr Matthew Lloyd, a member of the committee, said he was not happy with the way the consultation was conducted.
He said: “It feels like we have tried to keep the community at arms length, and I don’t think that’s right. I apologise if that’s how they feel the process has been conducted.
I think we are rushing into making a decision which is premature. Premature decisions often come back to bite you in the bum.”
The meeting heard that the second half of the 787 homes set to be built in Rhoose are yet to be started and don’t yet have planning permission.
Cllr Lloyd said: “It’s too far away for us to be making that decision.”
A spokesman for the Action Committee to Save Llancarfan School welcomed the decision, and acknowledged that the meeting had been a long one, at over four hours, which had allowed time for discussion.
He added that the action committee hopes that the Cabinet will respect and follow the recommendation, and also that any decision it makes going forward is informed by the presumption against closure of rural schools—including Llancarfan—which comes into effect as part of the Welsh Government’s new School Code on November 1.
Local democracy reporter