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Possible Conwy school closures discussed due to falling pupil numbers

SCHOOL closures were openly discussed by Conwy councillors who voted in favour of rewriting a report on the risk of falling pupil numbers.

One outspoken Abergele councillor even predicted a ‘rationalisation’ of schools would eventually ‘involve some closures’.

The talks took place at Conwy’s finance and resources scrutiny committee when members discussed a risk status report identifying various corporate risks.

These included numerous risks to the council, from violence against Conwy staff and councillors to various financial pressures.

The report stated, ‘insufficient pupil places in some schools impacts on access to education provision’.

The report was passed with several amendments, which would include a suggestion from Cllr Paul Luckock regarding the county’s falling birth rate as a financial risk to schools, together with a reduced financial package from Welsh Government.

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Speaking at the meeting, Pen-sarn Pentre Mawr councillor Paul Luckock made the proposal after saying school closures were needed.

Referring to the issue, Cllr Luckock said: “My view is that is the risk issue, the big capacity in our schools, this determined resistance that I see to rationalise our schools, to maximise the schools that we have. It will involve some closures of schools in my judgement and closure of buildings.”

Cllr Luckock later added: “I want to add a new corporate risk, which is in relation to the reduced birth rate, the reduced government funding that has occurred this year, the cost of adding too much capacity in some of our schools.

“And we obviously need to word this, but address that issue as a corporate risk because, in my view, we will be in the same situation next budget of making cuts in the education department, making cuts to schools because we haven’t started even doing the detailed work that needs 12 months’ consultation.

“But we need to put this much further up the agenda than it is, and I know people will say there is no Welsh Government funding, but we ourselves have got to reduce this capacity, this spare capacity in our schools and rationalise things.

“We are not going to get any big sums of money over the next three or four years. We all know that, and if we don’t do that, we will be making cuts to education’s budget and schools, and I don’t want to do either of those. I want to get a grip of this.”

This proposal was seconded by Rhos-on-Sea councillor Gareth Jones and voted through without opposition with 12 councillors voting in favour.

Cabinet member for education Cllr Julie Fallon explained Conwy had seven schools with 50 pupils or less and three of those shared a headteacher and two shared leadership.

Cllr Fallon then said two of the seven schools were rural schools.

But Cllr Fallon said projections over future pupil numbers could be misleading.

“I’ve found it difficult over the years to truly understand and appreciate where we are in terms of numbers,” she said.

“So we see projections, and often when we actually have the numbers of pupils that come through, it is considerably more than the projections have shown.

“I know that the year before last, we had 200 more pupils than the projections originally indicated. We’ve seen a higher number of nursey placements this year than we did in January 2022.

“There were eleven more than what we thought was going to be a reduction. There have been a number of variables that have changed things: the pandemic, Ukraine, inflation costs. But we have to be agile enough to respond to these changes.”

Cllr Fallon said the number of secondary school pupils in Conwy would rise by 400 in the next five years.

She added: “It is really important that we look at not just the closure of schools as being  the answer to this but addressing it in different ways.”

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