Council chief apologises as schools win reprieve

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The chief executive of Anglesey Council has apologised after a shake-up of primary schools was put on hold.

Dr Gwynne Jones said officials had failed to meet Welsh Government guidelines when they recommended the closures of Ysgol Bodffordd, Ysgol Beaumaris and Ysgol Talwrn.

All three primary schools have now been given a reprieve after the council’s executive voted on Monday to overturn their decisions on a reorganisation of primary education in the Llangefni and Seiriol areas.

Campaigners against the closures, including Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, have welcomed the decision.

But the council said it would now reconsider the future of eight schools on the island, including Ysgol y Graig, Corn Hir, Henblas Llandegfan and Llangoed.

Any fresh consultation on future proposals would have to comply with the Welsh Government’s School Organisation Code introduced last Autumn.

Dr Jones told the Executive meeting in Llangefni that the ‘slippage’ was ”not the fault of the executive nor elected members – they have acted on advice given by myself and other officers.”

He added: ”As a team, we did not pick up these factors and I’m very disappointed, as the modernisation process is a challenging task and you’ve been forced to make difficult decisions.”

In March, Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, announced she was considering whether to investigate a formal complaint against the council’s plans to shut Ysgol Boddfordd.

Both Bodffordd and Ysgol Corn Hir were due to be replaced with a multi-million superschool in nearby Llangefni. It was alleged the local authority had ignored guidelines introduced last November aimed at offering more protection to rural schools.

But following an internal review, council officials recommended that plans should be abandoned because parts of the consultation process went against the Welsh Government guidelines, designed to offer more protection to rural schools.

The decision also affects plans to refurbish Ysgol Llandegfan and Ysgol Llangoed – and moving pupils from Ysgol Talwrn to a newly expanded Ysgol y Graig.

Ysgol Henblas was also threatened with closure – with pupils earmarked to move to the new Llangefni superschool. But in March, the council decided to keep the school open after standards improved along with an increase in pupil numbers.

After Monday’s meeting, Anglesey Council CEO, Dr Gwynne Jones, said: ”We will ensure that the lessons learnt from our internal reviews will strengthen our schools modernisation process as we now look to move forward.”

”We still firmly believe that our schools modernisation programme represents a vital driver for positive change in education across the whole county.”

”By investing in the future of our children, we will ensure that they are taught in schools which are fit for the 21stcentury, in the right place, and meet both the needs of pupils and staff. This will, ultimately, help raise standards and protect the Welsh language.”

The Executive meeting asked officials to provide a fresh report on the council’s school modernisation programme, including the requirements under the organisation code as they affect the Llangefni and Seiriol areas.

Last week, Cymdeithas yr Iaith (the Welsh Language Society) called on the executive to provide assurances to the schools and to work with governors and communities on developing them.

After Monday’s meeting, Cymdeithas education spokesperson Ffred Fransis said: ”The Executive could have decided only to delay or re-submit their proposals, but we thank them that they have done the right thing to remove the decisions and reassure the communities that every future consideration under the new Organisation Code principle which presumes in favor of rural schools.”

A council spokesman defended the schools modernisation programme, which began in 2012, as aimed at creating ”the best possible educational environment for head teachers, teachers and children to succeed and thereby promote high standards.”

He added: ”The process has been a very challenging one thus far with three new 21st century primary schools having been built and opened in Holyhead, Llanfaethlu and Newborough – an investment of £22m in education on the island. It has also meant difficult decisions with regard to the rationalisation of schools in order to build new schools for future generations.”

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