THE “value” of opening a Welsh medium school in a Gwent border town has been questioned by local councillors in the Wye Valley.
However Monmouthshire County Council’s cabinet has said it is committed to establishing the county’s third primary teaching through the medium of Welsh and is set to press ahead with opening a school in Monmouth in September 2024.
But the Labour-led cabinet is also being recommended to agree that it apply its home to school transport policy for all new pupils at the school meaning youngsters from the area will no longer be entitled to free transport to Abergavenny’s Ysgol Y Fenni even if their older siblings are already enrolled at the school.
A report for the cabinet, which is due to consider the objection from the community council and the next steps in establishing the seedling school at the existing Overmonnow English medium primary when it meets on September 6, states: “From September 2024 the catchment area for Ysgol Gymraeg Y Fenni will change and for pupils residing in Monmouth and the surrounding area the catchment school will be the new school in Monmouth town.”
Pupils already attending Ysgol y Fenni, which is a 37 mile round trip, will continue to be entitled to free home to school transport and the council has acknowledged feedback on establishing the Monmouth school has highlighted concerned at the prospect of their children attending different primary schools from their siblings.
Chief officer for children and young people Will McLean’s report states: “Although the local authority understand parent’s (sic) concerns it is recommended that transport will be provided in line with the current policy to ensure that the new school establishes itself in its local community.”
The seedling model will see the Welsh medium school, which will have its own governing body, established in existing accommodation at Overmonnow Primary and it is anticipated it will grow by a year group each academic year.
The report also details the singe statutory objection received in the objection period after the cabinet agreed, in June, its intention to establish the school in line with support following a public consultation during the spring.
The Wye Valley Community Council said it is conscious of “the elderly nature of the population in Monmouthshire and the very low numbers of new entrants to the existing schools at Llandogo and Kymin View”.
They fear a new school would further reduce numbers entering those schools whose budgets and staffing are already under pressure due to falling roles.
The council also said it was unconvinced about the benefits of a Welsh medium school: “Councillors also question what value the new school would have given that Welsh is already being taught as part of the curriculum in both existing schools and there is unlikely to be any interest from surrounding English families. Councillors therefore oppose the planned school.”
Mr McLean’s report stated the council is committed to supporting the Welsh Government’s target of one million Welsh speakers by 2050 and a third Welsh medium primary is a “central element” of its strategic plan and reaching its own goal of 120 reception learners by the end of plan period in 2031.
Establishing the school in Monmouth is intended to boost the numbers learning through Welsh as lengthy journeys to school are “one of the main reasons parents give for not choosing a Welsh medium education for their children”.
It is also explained that in Welsh medium schools foundation phase pupils are taught through the language and at least 70 per cent of the teaching in key stage 2 is in Welsh while in English medium schools foundation pupils are taught in English with Welsh taught as a second language at key stage 2.
The report also states a new budget will be identified to support the school’s running costs “and this will not impact on the budgets of existing schools”.
A Welsh Government grant will meet the £3.6 million capital costs of establishing the school, which includes meeting a maintenance backlog and refurbishing three classrooms, while running cost in the first year are budgeted at £114,982.
That includes a salary for a headteacher, who will spend 50 per cent of their time teaching, but in the first year of opening the salary costs will be reduced to seven months to reflect the financial year.