A one-sided Blue Print

I noticed yesterday that Jonathan Morgan had tweeted about the decision to phase out Cefn Onn School, calling it "a sad day for families in Cardiff North". Fair enough, I thought. Every school is more than just a building. Each school has its own ethos—spirit even—which is built particularly by the teaching staff, but also by parents and governors, not to mention the children themselves. So it is always sad when a school closes.

I would not have commented on that, but he has gone very much further than that in his blog today.

     Anger as Minister says yes to Cefn Onn School closure

In it he talks about "closing a school which serves an area with few community facilities" and the closure having "the potential to fragment the community" ... all prefixed by the highly emotive word "anger".

Well let's look at the issue in more detail. Cefn Onn is closing because of the number of surplus spaces in Cardiff schools. There is more than enough space in the other nearby schools for those parents who might have intended to send their children to Cefn Onn. Jonathan himself describes the four surrounding schools as "excellent". There will also be transitional arrangements for children already at Cefn Onn. Only new admissions will stop, and it will be a few more years yet before the school closes altogether.

So, all in all, Cardiff appear to have gone out of their way to make the closure as seamless as possible. And Jane Hutt, as Minister for Education in the Welsh Government, agrees.


So much for the story as presented by Jonathan. Now let's include what he hasn't said.


This is a picture of the Cefn Onn site (click it for a larger version). What the picture doesn't tell us is that the buildings are shared between Cefn Onn School and Ysgol Y Wern. As is the case nearly everywhere else in Cardiff, the large numbers of surplus spaces are in English-medium schools, while at the same time there is immense pressure on space in Welsh-medium schools.

The demand for WM education has increased year on year, and the way this was handled here was for more and more temporary classrooms to be put up in the grounds. (Though as we can see from the picture, the permanent buildings on the site are in a pretty sad state, so the standard of accommodation might in fact be better ... but that's another issue.) The reason admissions to Cefn Onn are being phased out is to enable Ysgol Y Wern to expand to help meet the growing demand for WM places in the area.

So how on earth does that equate with Jonathan's claim that this decision will, "close a school which serves an area with few community facilities"? It doesn't. The building isn't being closed. There will still be a school on the site, and its facilities will be every bit as available to the local community as they were before.

That's one ridiculous claim easily dealt with. But in what light does this put his claims about "fragmenting the community"? Where does he think the growing number of parents who want their children to have a WM education come from? They are, of course, gernerally parents from that very same local community. This decision makes it easier for parents in the area to exercise a choice about what sort of education they want their children to have. It simply evens up the playing field so that four school sites are not embarrassed by having so much surplus space while another is being squeezed for space.

And, should anyone think this is a unique case, the overcrowding situation is almost exactly the same just a couple of miles south. Here is a picture of the site currently shared by Ysgol Melin Gruffudd and Eglwys Wen Primary. Count the number of temporary classrooms.


I imagine Jonathan will reply by saying, "How can you question my attitude on this? I speak Welsh myself." True. But people who speak Welsh can be just as unfair, provocative, one-sided and selective with the truth as people who speak any other language.

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Anonymous said...

On the "fragmenting the community" point, he clearly sees said "community" as an English language only community, with the welsh speaking pupils presumably commuting in from......Caernarfon or perhaps Carmarthen?

Back again to the old, but still prevalent Labour viewpoint of the so called English speakers being the "normal" pupils

Jack said...

Did you notice the bit where he called this "a nail in the coffin for the community"? He's actually claiming that his precious community is going to DIE ... just because some more parents want their kids to be able to speak Welsh.

This is inflammatory! What the hell does he think he's playing at?

Anonymous said...

If Labour and Tory had just put some thought into WM education 20 years ago instead of sticking their heads in the sand and hoping it would go away, then, much of this problem wouldn't arrise.

The fact with Eglwys Wen, the EM school, which shares a site with Melin Gruffydd (WM), is that most of the kids come outside of catchment area so it's no more of a 'community' school as Melin Gruffydd.

Some of the kids are there because the parents in nearby Whitchurch Rd area are concerned that there are too many kids from non-English-speaking backgrounds (Asians mostly) in the schools in their real 'community' and so chose to drive their kids to Eglwys Wen. I'm not saying parents who move their kids from Whitchurch Road area to the more white Eglwys Wen school are racists because there are issues raised when teachers have to teach English to kids before they can actually start teaching. But when parents are thinking of schools for their kids they do think of issues such as these.

Basically, it's a complicated and sensitive area. Parents on both 'sides' have to be happy. But there are still plenty of EM schools in Cardiff which are within easy walking or driving distance to parents and children. Closing some EM schools to accomodate WM schools makes economic and educational sense.

As I said, had the Labour and Tory rulers in Cardiff City Council taken WM education seriously 20 years ago, much of these problems would have been resolved.

I think the Lib Dems are to commended for talking the issue head on instead of punting it into the long grass as Labour have done for years. They've been brave as well as there's a well-known whispering 'are you thinking what where thinking' strategy by some Labour councillors and members against WM education.

Cardiff Girl

Lyndon said...

Aha, a topic close to my heart!

The situation with Cefn Onn/Y Wern is that Cefn Onn has 120 pupils, a number that is falling rapidly with just five pupils in year one, educated in a fairly substantial two storey building, the top floor of which is reputed to be completely empty and mothballed.

Y Wern by contrast has 460 pupils, the vast majority of whom are being educated in Portakabins in Cefn Onn's yard.

The Llanishen estate is not particularly poor, or indeed "cohesive". A large percentage of children there already attend other primaries, mainly Llanishen Fach or Coed Glas, with a significant number going to Y Wern.

This decision is, if nothing else, simply a rational use of public resources. The EM school is poorly used and much of its space is going to waste. There are at least two other EM primaries within half a mile. My only problem with the suggestion to close Cefn Onn is that I can't see why it is taking another three years.

Anonymous said...

Aha - a topic close to my heart too, as it is to the many English speaking families on the Cefn Onn estate who wish to send their children to a local EM school!
I do think it is significant that Cefn Onn has one of the highest free school meal percentages compared with the other surrounding schools.(18%- Estyn Inspection Report 2005). I am no fan of Jonathan Morgan, but his assertion that it will fragment the community is bang on. As for the low pupil numbers at Cefn Onn- this is the result of a campaign of misinformation and rumour mongering for about ten years, leaving many parents under the false impression that the school closure would be inevitable and quite understandably wanting their children to be settled in schools not under threat of closure.
I hope those who supported this closure feel comfortable about the fact that primary age children will be forced to make long walks, sometimes across main roads to get to school each day. Oh well - perhaps the council thinks that these children will be whisked to school in gas guzzling 4 wheel drives, as seen in many other North Cardiff schools... not a such a good investment in our childrens' future after all. These children deserve a local school!

P.Writer said...

I happen to have several Welsh friends, all of who feel the same. If you fancy getting some more publicity, I offer you a guest post on The Prometheus Learnings, a blog designed specifically as a place for guest posts, for writers to gain more publicity. If you fancy it, e-mail me at prometheuslearnings@gmail.com

Lyndon said...

How local does a "local" school have to be? Do you require one at the bottom of every street? Any child should be capable of walking half a mile to Coed Glas or LLanishen Fach, after all plenty of them do it already. My children manage to cross Caerphilly Road every morning too, and I don't believe they have any special inborn genius.

I have heard of no "ten year campaign" of rumour mongering against Cefn Onn, and my children have attended Y Wern for exactly that long. Cefn Onn was first proposed for closure only in 2007, due to its steeply falling school rolls.

If you really wanted to save the school you should have tried harder to persuade your neighbours to send their children there. When I drive around the estate after school (not in a 4x4) I see children in a rainbow of different coloured school uniforms, Cefn Onn seem to be almost a minority.

MH said...

Thanks for highlighting just how much space in main Cefn Onn building is going to waste, Lyndon. I looked again at the official figures (which only include statutory age children, not nursery) and they showed that Cefn Onn had a capacity of 214, but only had 99 pupils. 115 surplus places going to waste ... and with children in Ysgol Y Wern being taught in portacabins.

My concern is that this change is not going to increase WM capacity by very much. Ysgol Y Wern has an official capacity of 372, but Cardiff don't make any distinction between capacity in permanent buildings and temporary capacity. Long term, I don't think Cardiff would want any school to be over 420 (an intake of 60 per year) so the net increase in WM provision is only going to be about 50 places.


So the big question is where the NEXT WM school in North Cardiff should be. One way or the other (either by having full possession of its current site, or by moving to Heol Don) Melin Gruffydd will reach its 420. There is also the new starter at Gabalfa, another very under-used EM school on a site which is big enough for the starter to expand into a full school. But there is a large area (Rhiwbeina, Birchgrove, Heath) with no WM school within walking distance. 65 children from Rhiwbeina, 38 from Birchgrove and 58 from Ton Yr Ywen already have to travel a long way to get to WM schools. That's certainly enough to justify setting up a one form entry WM school there. I think the Ton Yr Ywen site would be good. It is a large site with two separate buildings for infants and juniors. The infants building could become a 1FE WM school, with the junior kept as a 1FE EM school. All that would be required is a little juggling of the EM catchment areas and a new nursery block for the EM school.

Anonymous said...

Lyndon, I have been involved with Cefn Onn for the past fifteen years and I am certainly aware that rumours have been circulating for many years about the closure of the school to make way for the expansion of Y Wern.
I, as a parent of a young child, am extremely uncomfortable about the fact that they will have to cross main roads to get to school, but then I would also find moving a child from their school mid way through a key stage quite unacceptable, so I guess we'll have to agree to disagree about parenting styles.

Lyndon said...

MH, I don't think the intention was ever to increase capacity at Y Wern, even with Cefn Onn's classrooms the Hall and dining facilities preclude further expansion. The parents would resist it in any case. Further growth in demand will be met by what's been done several times since my kids started there ten years ago, shrink the catchment area. Ysgol Penygroes opened in Pentwyn last month and is now taking pupils from the north east of the Wern's old catchment.

I think you can forget about Ton yr Ywen, the school is over-subscribed and the parents are by and large wealthy, politically well connected and very assertive.

Anonymous, any rumours circulating in Cefn Onn were probably self-generating and ironically self-fulfilling. Cefn Onn has the misfortune of being a small, relatively poor school surrounded by larger, richer and more popular neighbours. Unfortunately they have poached awat Cefn's pupils until the school became unviable.

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