New Welsh-medium school in Risca "a priority"

I'm not entirely sure how the story could break on Boxing Day, but it was very encouraging to read this in the South Wales Argus:

Mixed welcome for new Risca Welsh school

Councillors in Risca have mixed views regarding a Welsh medium primary school being built in the area. The idea put forward by council officers will be explored further in the new year, with it listed as a priority to be built between 2012 and 2015. It features in Caerphilly Council's 21st century schools programme and would cost £6 million.

The local authority’s leader Cllr Lindsay Whittle said a major challenge is satisfying an increasing demand for Welsh medium education. Risca was highlighted as an area with no Welsh medium provision.

Risca East councillor Stan Jenkins said: "Do we really need it? I can't see the demand. A few people speak Welsh here, but it’s not a really big Welsh-speaking area. It shouldn't be forced on people."

If plans go ahead, he is concerned one of Risca's three primaries – Ty Isaf (with around 110 pupils), Risca (350) and Ty Sign (500) – could make way for it. He added: "Even if they do learn it at primary, the comprehensive doesn’t teach it, so where would they go from there?"

A possibility is that Risca Comprehensive could provide English and Welsh-medium secondary education.

The local authority’s plans propose a Welsh-medium facility for ages seven to 14 in Islwyn, with Risca Comprehensive governor and Risca East councillor Betty Toomer suggesting it could be a suitable site. She said: "Governors thought it could be used for English and Welsh education, it's big enough and this idea has been put forward."

Risca East councillor Rhiannon Passmore said she will wait until plans are more advanced before forming a view.

Rhian Williams of the Cylch Meithrin Welsh-medium playgroup in Caerphilly said partly because of Assembly Government legislation, more parents are learning Welsh and sending their children to Welsh-medium schools. She said: "Most primary schools teach England and Welsh, which they probably do in Risca's primaries. So, parents are thinking, why not send their children to a school that teaches Welsh all the time? We live in Wales, so Welsh should be our first language."

South Wales Argus, 26th December 2010

As people might guess, I'm delighted to see any proposals to increase Welsh-medium education. But this one is particularly satisfying for me because I set out the case for a new Welsh-medium school in Ricsa in this post in Sepetember last year.

What I said back then should go some way to giving Councillor Jenkins an answer to his question about the level of demand. For Cylch Meithrin Dewi Sant in Ty Sign already provides WM nursery provision in the area, but there is then no primary school for the children to go to.


I don't have any details of Caerffili's proposal as yet, but it is clear that this proposal for a new school was part of the 21st Century Schools capital funding bid that each local authority submitted to the Welsh Government earlier this month. Obviously there are some question marks over the extent to which these projects will now be funded. There is money allocated in the draft budget, but it still is not clear whether Leighton Andrews intends to defer some or all of the final tranche of the School Building Improvement Grant and whether this will have a knock-on effect. The statement promised two weeks before Christmas has yet to appear.

But the important thing is that Caerffili has put the Risca proposal into Band A, at the top of its list of priorities, so it does have a very reasonable hope of being built, even if delayed by a year or two. The contrast between Caerffili with 11 WM primaries (although none in this corner of the county) and neighbouring Blaenau Gwent, which only has one WM primary and has put a second right at the bottom of its list of new school priorities, could not be more stark.


As a note of caution, I would only say what I've said a number of times before in similar situations. It is all well and good to increase WM provision by building brand new schools, especially because it avoids the sensitive issue of closing English-medium schools even though they have large numbers of empty spaces. But if the bid isn't successful, or is deferred, what is Caerffili's Plan B? The point I made in the previous post was that Ty Isaf Infants was an underused building with a large number of surplus places ... and, as an infants-only school, would probably not sit well with the current education policies in any case. So my Plan B would be to consider using its surplus space in the short term to set up a new Welsh-medium starter school, this would then give a year or two of breathing space if the proposed new build WM school is delayed for any reason.

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