There is confusion in Pontardawe regarding the proposed closure of three primary schools.
The Neath Port Talbot council website currently states:-
“A new build English-medium school in the Pontardawe area to accommodate primary age pupils as part of an ‘all-through’, 3-16 development involving Cwmtawe Comprehensive School and four existing primary schools.”
It appears that the proposal is now for a 3-11 year old school and to close 3 primaries. However details have been incredibly vague as the council sit for key meetings today about the plans.
What we do know from local councillors Linet and Anthony is that:-
“The County Council proposes to :
CLOSE LLANGIWG PRIMARY
CLOSE ALLTWEN PRIMARY
CLOSE GODRE’RGRAIG PRIMARY
• BUILD A NEW PRIMARY SCHOOL On land next to Cwmtawe school
• BUILD A NEW SWIMMING POOL on the same site
THE CONSULATION BEGINS ON NOVEMBER 3RD
YOU CAN TELL THE COUNCIL YOUR THOUGHTS EITHER FOR OR AGAINST THIS BY TAKING PART IN THE CONSULTATION WHEN IT BEGINS.
To read the report BEFORE the consultation begins click here
Npt.gov.uk ->your council -> councillors and committees->agenda Reports ->committees->Cabinet-> browse meetings -> October 21 We will keep you updated”
LABOUR VICE-CHAIR RESIGNS
The announcement led to the immediate resignation of Alun Krem-szczesniak from his position as Vice Chair of the Pontardawe Labour Ward. He told me “The school closures are clearly driven by money and not what is best for the kids or the community. These large primary schools have failed. Within Neath Port Talbot, they closed down Glanymor and Tirmorfa primary, both of which were deemed as ‘good’ schools by Estyn (school inspection body) and with ‘good’ prospects for the future. They replaced it with Sandfields Primary School which failed its inspection and is currently rated as ‘adequate’.”
“Replacing two good schools, with a potentially good future with one ‘adequate’ school. The three schools the council are looking to close here are all deemed as good schools by Estyn and why would we want to replace these with an ‘adequate’ one? This is the most like-for-like case within the borough and the council completely messed it up. This isn’t about improving education but about saving money.”
“The Pontardawe Labour ward sat down with (council leader) Rob Jones last year to talk about the proposal. The huge majority of the room were completely against it, he is aware of that but seems to have no regard for our opinion on it. I see no point in being a part of a party which appears to be more like a dictatorship. We cannot currently sit to discuss our position because of Covid, the timing of the consultation appears to deliberately be at the most difficult time to oppose. During a pandemic over Christmas. I have lost complete faith with the Neath Port Talbot Labour party because of this and have resigned from my position as vice-chair and left the party. I expect more members will follow.”
FORMER MAYOR OPPOSED
The opposition to the proposal appears cross-party as former mayor and Plaid Cymru councillor Bob Williams states, “I’m concerned. The junior schools are designed for the individual child. A large school is designed for a herd. I think it is essential that the teachers know the children and are able to guide them down the road individually. I’m also concerned about children bussed in from all over the borough; talking 3 year olds on a bus. More essentially, there is no way of getting them home if parents don’t have a car. This is a scenario that my granddaughter was in at Pontrhydyfen. The school was closed, they opened up a large school at Cwmavon and from 4 years old she needed to catch the bus to school.”
“I worry about the whole impact of the community. Children will make friends in school but they wont be their neighbours, on the weekends and after school, they won’t be seeing their school mates in their local park as they do now.”
“AS A COMMUNITY WE HAVE BEEN AT BEST MISLED & AT WORST LIED TO”
Ben Holdsworth is a parent at Godre’r Graig school and has long had suspicions of the councils plans.
“We can take no pleasure in being absolutely correct and right. As a group of parents from the school and community, we said that when the school closed, we would never set foot in it again and we have been proved right. It has been perfectly obvious that this has been the plan all along, the school was closed without due process and done via the back door. There was no consultancy period about closing the school. It has been proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the council had this in mind all along. Not only that but a year and a half has passed, we have had unprecedented levels of rainfall, local flooding in almost every party of Swansea valley and yet not a pebble is out of place in the school yard. All the houses remain lived in.”
“I have no doubt that the plan from late 2012 was to close the school to force the objectives of the 21st century schools program through. As a community we have been at best misled and at worst lied to. When the school was closed ceremoniously, it was done because of a basic risk assessment, the council did an in depth report in which it says that the quarry spoil has not moved, is not moving and is only likely to move if there is a failure of the drainage system in place. Yet in the executive summery it says that the only option to keep the school safe is to close the school and that was written by the company the council employed to do the report. How it can say one thing within the report and then summarised differently I do not know. “
“I feel as a community, we have been completely and utterly let down by the council. There has been a mandate from Welsh Assembly Government to ‘improve’ the stock of schools in Wales. Neath Port Talbot have taken that and used it to see an opportunity to close the schools without due process. To build one for 720 pupils which isn’t warranted or wanted. It seems especially crazy during this pandemic where the more people you put together; the worst the outcome is. What we see here at the new site is that those children don’t have a canteen or school hall as both are shared with Cwmtawe.”
“Every part of this has been premeditated by the council, the report, the closure, the BBC television cameras there, placing the new school in the Cwmtawe where they wish to build the new school. There must have been other places that they could have put the school but they will try and use the existing school being there as a way of saying that the infrastructure of the roadway can take the extra cars. It cost £750,000 to put it there. We are talking a 1 in 1,000 chance that pebbles could land in the school yard if the drains get blocked and if we had more rain than we have ever had before. It has been shameful behaviour from the council.”
“On a positive note, the staff have been magnificent. The last 2 years and the pandemic, the level of support the staff have provided has been unparalleled. It would be a real shame to see this level of support diluted in a factory school.”
Ben hasn’t given up hope. “Write to your local councillors. Discuss it with them and your MP. No matter which area that you are from. This will affect your community via the closure of the schools or by the huge influx of traffic and strain on the amenities in Pontardawe itself.”
This will have a monumental impact on our children, their education and the whole wider community. This will be the biggest decision Pontardawe faces for a generation.
Where possible, lets ensure that it is the people of Pontardawe and neighbouring villages which make this decision and not a select few councillors. Let your voice be heard! Whatever it may be.
This is going to be a decision which the community will live with forever. There will be no going back.
I emailed Neath Port Talbot council to comment but have had no response.