Ysgol i Ogledd Gwyr - A School for North Gower

In April this year, Leighton Andrews confirmed that three primary schools in Swansea could be closed because they had large numbers of surplus spaces, and alternative schools which also had spare space were available within easy travelling distance.

At the time, I wrote posts showing how two of them, Arfryn and Cwm, would be ideal locations for Welsh-medium schools. I still think that. And I have to admit that I didn't think that the third school, Llanmorlais, would be as suitable as the other two. But that only shows my lack of detailed local knowledge, or at least my knowledge of how determined local people would be, because they definitely have other ideas about it.


The map above shows the location of the primary schools on the Gower. Click it for a larger version. It is by no means a densely populated area, as can be seen from the relatively low number of red triangles for English-medium schools on the Gower compared with the western outskirts of Swansea. It should also be noted that north and south Gower are quite distinct, each with its main east-west links, but with comparatively few north-south links.

For south Gower, getting to a Welsh-medium school means travelling to Llwynderw. For north Gower, the school is Pontybrenin, since Y Login Fach has to take children from Swansea due to the lack of more WM schools in the centre of Swansea. That results in a one way journey of over 20km for children living in Llanmadoc. Even for a rural area, this is a ridiculous distance to have to travel, even if transport is provided. The equivalent journey for children going to an EM school is only a third of that, just over 6km, to Llanrhidian.


When it was clear that Llanmorlais was to close, Heini Gruffudd of RhAG put together a proposal to use the Llanmorlais building as a new WM primary school. Rather than repeat what he said, the proposal itself can be downloaded directly in either English or Welsh:

The case for a Welsh-medium Primary School for Llanmorlais

English  •  Cymraeg

The school building isn't big, but it has capacity for 106 children, plus a nursery of 15. Although that may be small by urban standards, a school of that size is perfectly viable in a more rural setting. In fact only this year Swansea have invested in work to Llanrhidian School, which is only fractionally larger with 111 pupils, plus a nursery of 20. We can read about it here. So there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a school of this size in north Gower. The only reason Llanmorlais was closed is because there weren't enough children wanting go to Llanmorlais and Penclawdd to justify keeping both open, so the smaller one was closed.

But RhAG's proposal didn't seem to cut any ice with Swansea's education department.

So what then happened is that a local parent, Menna Jenkins, actually went out to other parents of pre-school age children in north Gower, and collected signatures from the parents of 45 children who wanted them to have a Welsh-medium education. This was reported in the local press on Tuesday.

Parents take Welsh school call to council

Parents and children calling for a Welsh-medium school in North Gower took their plea to Swansea Council today. This morning, campaigners handed a petition to cabinet member for education Mike Day and head of education Richard Parry at the Civic Centre.

Welsh speaker Menna Jenkins is part of campaign group Ysgol y Ogledd Gwyr/Welsh Primary for North Gower (YOG). The mum of two from Llanmadoc said:

"Despite now having a list of 45 names of children aged up to 4 years old, who would attend a Welsh- medium primary in North Gower, the director of education is refusing to open a school in the area. We actually have more names for one school year than most of the existing Gower English-medium schools. We feel this is grossly unfair."

Swansea Evening Post, 24 August 2010

To me, the case is quite clear. But let's consider Swansea's response:

Swansea Council plans to increase capacity at Welsh primaries at Gellionen, Pontybrenin and Tirdeunaw. There are also plans to use Graig infants in Morriston as a Welsh school, if the Assembly approves council proposals to close the school and merge with the nearby Pentrepoeth.

I commented on the Morriston proposal in the second half of this post. And yes, it is true that Swansea Council have plans to increase capacity at Pontybrenin, as well as two other WM schools. But what they say is misleading. Each school in Wales has a defined capacity, and there is a certain amount of leeway for schools to take in more pupils. But there is a limit to how much this can happen. If a local authority wants to increase capacity by more than 25%, it needs statutory approval. This is what Swansea is in the process of trying to get, as we can read in this document:

     Consultation on proposal to increase capacity of three Welsh-medium schools

But this is just a paperwork exercise. They are going through the legal process of formally increasing the capacity of the school, but they are not planning on increasing the physical space available for children in these schools. As the consultation document makes clear, there is going to be no capital expenditure on the school accommodation in order to increase space. The situation is that they have been squeezing more and more children into the original school premises, and things have finally reached the point where they cannot continue to do that because it takes them over that 25% limit.

What is happening at YGG Pontybrenin is quite clear from the StatsWales figures:

Nursery 1 ... 7
Nursery 2 ... 72
Reception ... 47
Year 1 ... 52
Year 2 ... 50
Year 3 ... 37
Year 4 ... 28
Year 5 ... 32
Year 6 ... 22

Total statutory ... 268
Total ... 347

Years 4 to 6 reflect the fact that this was a one form entry school with a capacity of 230 in 2006. Because of the increase in demand, they increased the admission number because, at that time, the older year groups were smaller and there was therefore room to do so. So Swansea currently present the capacity of the school at 331 (i.e. 47 x 7). They now want to increase the admission number to 60, which would equate to a standard two form entry school with a capacity of 420.

But look at the way they've worded the statutory proposal:

YGG Pontybrenin, Loughor Road, Gorseinon, Swansea

The number of full-time pupils at the school in January 2010 was 268. The present capacity at the school is 331. After the enlargement the proposed capacity at the school will be 420. The number of pupils to be admitted to the school at age 4/5 in the first school year in which the proposals have been implemented is 60.

Statutory Notice, 21 May 2010

I venture to suggest that any person reading this without being aware of the situation on the ground would conclude that the proposal is to physically enlarge the school. It isn't. For that reason I would urge the Education Minister, for I'm sure this will be referred to him, to set a condition that the admission numbers cannot be increased unless enough additional physical space is provided so as to prevent further overcrowding. I only wish that Swansea Council would do this at their own initiative. But they haven't, and they show no sign of doing so.

But even an admission number of 60 will not be enough. The figures show that the nursery currently has well in excess of even that admission number. In physical terms, this school is going to be so jam-packed that even the parents of children at Treganna will think that their accommodation is spacious ... and in comparison with what Swansea are proposing to get away with, it will be!


If Swansea were thinking of building a new extension block at Pontybrenin, I might have some sympathy with their intransigence to RhAG's proposal. But they're not. Or they might claim—as other local authorities have done—that it is not a good idea to have small schools, and that it is better for children to attend a larger school because of the greater range of educational opportunities it might offer. But Swansea obviously don't think that ... otherwise they would not have spent money improving English-medium Llanrhidian only this year. The whole thing smacks of double standards.

And what if Swansea did decide to build more WM space? Why would anyone in their right mind spend money on a new building or extension block, especially in times like these, when they already have a suitable building that is now going to stand idle? Yes, I'm sure that if the intention were to build a brand new school, people probably wouldn't build it where Llanmorlais Primary is. It is rather isolated from the village, a couple of hundred metres off the main road, with the road to it not being particularly wide. But it has been quite good enough up to now. At the very least it could be used for the next few years, until a better site for a new school closer to Llanmorlais and Crofty is found. It's done that job for over a hundred years, so why can't it do the same for another ten?

I would urge Swansea Council to carefully reconsider RhAG's proposal. They have got nothing to lose by setting up a new WM school in this building, even if only on a short-term basis to begin with. Local people have worked hard to prove that a Welsh-medium school for north Gower is both wanted and needed. Does their hard work count for so little?

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Hogyn o Rachub said...

If the are successful hopefully the school won't be called 'Ysgol y Ogledd Gwyr' ... !

Anonymous said...

I guess the campaign is 'Ysgol i Ogledd Gŵyr'.

If they're looking for names for the school - or any other 'new' school in Wales, this map is a fascinating guide. It outlines the old pre Act of Union boundries imposed on Wales by Edward I conquest and the Tudors. In the rural areas many of the old cymydau (commotes) and cantrefi correspond nicely to present day travel to work and school catchment area.



MH said...

Yes, I just copied it from the Evening Post article without thinking. But I just checked what Menna had said in one of the previous comments, and the campaign is 'Ysgol i Ogledd Gŵyr'.

I didn't use the ŵ because it doesn't work on all computers.

Anonymous said...

"They have got nothing to lose by setting up a new WM school in this building" Unless, of course, they just think it's a bad thing to promote the Welsh language.
I wonder what Edwina Hart's views are on this? she had enough to say on WM during her bid to be Labour assembly group leader.

glynbeddau said...

Just thought People might find this useful
For â I use Alt 131
For ŵ I Use Alt 373
For ŷ I use Alt 375
Only â works in the comments section but if you use Word to write your comments and Paste on the comments which is handy for spellchecking anyway, then it’s not to difficult.

Unknown said...

I use To Bach - http://www.draig.co.uk/draig/English/multilingual/tobach/Pages/default.aspx

Which I can thoroughly recommend.

Anonymous said...

I think you all want something from the following link. Not being able to print ŵ etc shouldn't have been a problem for years - as long as you've installed a language interface pack.

Anonymous said...

As Siônyn says, go to to bach - it's free.

Once it's downloaded (takes about 4 minutes to do the whole thing) then you press AltGr and keep it down as you press your Welsh vowel - it works for all Welsh vowels - look: â ê î ô û ŵ ŷ - simples!

Couldn't live without it.


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