PLANS to start Welsh-medium education in Monmouth this September have been pushed back 12 months after a struggle to recruit a teacher.
It comes after a Senedd report warned that the Welsh Government's target of a million Welsh speakers by 2050 will fail without a substantial increase in teachers speaking the language.
Monmouthshire County Council intended to kickstart education through Welsh in the town by opening a satellite class of Caldicot’s Ysgol Gymraeg Y Ffin at Overmonnow Primary School this year.
It was then intended to open a Welsh medium primary, through a seedling class, from September 2024.
In January the council’s Labour cabinet said it would push ahead with the plan even though just three pupils had registered, by that month’s deadline, to start this September at the satellite class that would have catered for nursery, reception and year one pupils.
But Cllr Martyn Groucutt (Lansdown ward, Abergavenny/Welsh Labour), the cabinet member for education, has confirmed the satellite class plan has now been scrapped.
But the cabinet has agreed to publish its plan to open a new school, through a seedling class at Overmonnow, from September 2024 after the proposal was backed in a public consultation.
It comes against a backdrop of the 2021 Census showing that the number of Welsh speakers had dropped from 562,000 to 538,000 since 2011.
Establishing the new school is expected to cost £3.6 million, which will include refurbishment of three classrooms and tackling a maintenance backlog, which will be funded by a Welsh Government grant.
Cllr Groucutt told the cabinet’s June 7 meeting, as well as the small number of registrations, Ysgol y Ffin’s efforts to appoint a teacher hadn’t attracted a single “suitable” applicant.
He told councillors: “It was too late, in hindsight, to establish a seedling school (this September). It was very close to the close of the registration period and most parents had already decided (on a school).
“Despite the best efforts of Ysgol y Ffin to get a teacher, and having advertised twice, not one single suitable applicant was attracted and our children really do deserve the best possible education.”
Cllr Groucutt said the decision to pull the plan to start this September had been discussed with the Welsh education forum and “local Welsh groups”, which agreed with the 12 month postponement.
He said: “We still have very high hopes there will be primary provision established in 2024.”
The consultation on establishing a three-11 Welsh medium primary school on the Overmonnow Primary School site showed 106 of 145 respondents, which is 73 per cent, backed having Welsh medium provision in the town.
At present parents in Monmouth, and surrounding area, who want their children educated through Welsh have to send them on a 37 mile round trip to Ysgol Y Fenni, in Abergavenny.
The council’s plan is to establish a single-class school at Overmonnow, where the English medium school would remain open, and grow the school each subsequent year.
The consultation also showed 39 of the 145 respondents (27 per cent) did not support the proposal, with many saying investment is needed in local English medium schools and claimed demand for Welsh medium education couldn’t justify the amount of money being spent during the “current financial crisis”.
Cllr Groucutt said: “By a very high weighting the balance was in favour of our proposals.”
He also said as a result of the consultation the council had given consideration to alternative sites for the new school, including its own single site, backed by some in the consultation, for “reasons of language emersion”.
Cllr Groucutt said finding a site for a new build in Monmouth would be “almost impossible” and alternative sites including the former Raglan Junior School were not suitable due its poor condition, while Osbaston Church in Wales Primary isn’t considered to have sufficient space for two schools to operate.
Pupils who currently receive free home to school transport to Ysgol y Fenni will continue to be entitled to a free bus pass when the new school opens, but the council has said it will have to consider if younger siblings will also be entitled, with parents having raised concerns about having children in two different schools.
Deputy leader Paul Griffiths, who said he had been a chair of a Welsh language nursery, Ysgol Meithrin, and Welsh medium primary when he lived in Rhondda Cynon Taf, said recruitment needed to start early to “build parents’ confidence” and asked what was being done to attract pupils.
Cllr Groucutt said he will be attending a fun day at Monmouth Leisure Centre aimed at raising awareness and the council is working with Welsh groups in the area.
He said it was “unfortunate” the Meithrin provision in Monmouth “collapsed” last year, understood to be due to staffing issues and ill-health.
The Abergavenny councillor added that when Ysgol y Fenni opened, in 1994, it had just 12 pupils and the council is now making plans for a new 490 place school.
Cabinet agreed to publish a statutory notice, stating its intention to open the school in September 2024, on June 19. There will then be a 28 day period for people to comment on the proposal by the deadline of July 17.