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No plans to close any primary schools, Wrexham Council chiefs say

Construction work at Borras Park CP (source: Google Street View)

THERE are no plans to close any Wrexham primary schools with low pupil numbers, council chiefs have said.

Reassurance was sought about the long-term viability of smaller primary schools in rural parts of the county at a meeting of the council’s lifelong learning scrutiny committee.

Questions came after an update about investment in new school buildings and refurbishments from lead member for education Brynffynnon Cllr Phil Wynn (Ind).

He said that after the build of the new primary school in Rhosnesni, and continuing improvement work at Ysgol Yr Hafod in Johnstown, the next big project will be the replacement special education provision at the St Christopher’s site in Hightown.

Planning issues are holding up the progress of a new St Mary’s School in Brymbo, and cost of inflation is a big challenge across the board, Cllr Wynn added.

Bangor-is-y-Coed Cllr Robert Ian Williams (Con) asked about the prospect of potential school closures due to low pupil numbers.

“A school in my ward has a very low number of pupils”, he said.

“Is there any immediate threat to closure of any schools in the Wrexham authority?”

Cllr Robert Ian Williams

The council’s education officer Dafydd Ifans moved to rule out closures, and said small schools joining together in federations – an alternative way of running them in which they could share a headteacher, resources and facilities – was a preferred option.

He said: “No, we’re not sitting on any plans to bring a consultation to close any particular primary schools at the moment. There are some schools that have very low numbers.

“We have assumed with those governing bodies the option of federating them.

“That allows small schools to come together and share leadership, other support services and makes them more efficient to operate within their budget.”

He added: “The difficulty in Wrexham is that you look at the schools that are small, rural, and when you start looking at closures – the distances children would have to travel gets a little bit concerning.

“On top of that, some of our small rural schools are also historic buildings which makes that difficult.

“We’re always watching to make sure schools are viable, are sustainable, and if we’re concerned we look with governing bodies at alternative ways to run them.”

Rossett Cllr Ross Shepherd (Con) raised the issue of changing population demographics in Wrexham amid concern children in smaller schools with lower budgets could receive lesser opportunities.

He said: “How do we provide as many opportunities as possible for children in those schools given the budgets are set by the numbers on roll, and ensure they’re not missing out on the opportunities of some of the children in larger schools?”

Mr Ifans said that smaller schools are encouraged to collaborate whether federated or not to give pupils the best experiences.

This led to a wider discussion about population and potential increases in the number of school age children in areas where large housing estates have been, or are being, built in areas such as Llay and Acrefair.

With schools in these areas either at capacity or close to it, officers were asked how they were planning for this, and what sort of financial contributions builders and developers made to education.

Mr Ifans said: “When (planning) applications are proposed for major housing developments, the planning department consults with the education department and we look at what our infrastructure needs are.

“If there is a capacity issue in local schools we ask for a sum of money to be provided by the developer to the education department to go towards increasing capacity in that area.”

He added that sometimes developer contributions are not sufficient to build extra capacity, and by the time the development has reached a stage to activate the funding more money is needed.

But he said that not all families on new estates choose to send their children to the local community school, and often families have moved from another part of Wrexham, keeping their children at their original school.

Mr Ifans added: “It takes a long amount of time for a large development to actually have a big impact on local schools. That is the reality we actually see.”

Cllr Wynn added that at the moment, the majority of parents in Wrexham are able to send their children to their preferred schools.