THERE are concerns about the ability for parents to access Welsh-medium education in the north of Pontypridd.
With a new English-medium school coming to Glyncoch to replace the current Cefn Primary School and Craig yr Hesg Primary School buildings, parents and campaigners are concerned about the impact this, as well as the decision to close Ysgol Pont Sion Norton, will have on local access to Welsh-medium education in Glyncoch, Ynysybwl, Coedycwm and Cilfynydd with children facing the prospect of having to travel to a new Welsh-medium school in Rhydyfelin.
Campaigners and parents said that the site chosen for the new English-medium school in Glyncoch was the one they had suggested for a new Welsh-medium school but they said that they were ignored by the council.
But the council said the location of the Welsh-medium school and the consultation were reviewed in a judicial review in 2020 which found in the council’s favour adding that the investment will benefit learners and families for generations to come as well as stressing the importance of the Cymraeg 2050 strategy and its investment in Welsh-medium education saying there will be “no removal of Welsh-medium capacity or choice.”
But father-of-four Robert Davies from Ynysybwl said he is deeply concerned that his children will be directly impacted by the move when Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton closes in 2024 and that it is also already leading to a decline in local parents choosing Welsh-medium education.
He said: “During the 1980s, especially in the Valleys, maybe there was an expectation for children to have to travel to access Welsh-medium education.
“Today, in 2023, I did not expect that my own children will have to travel over an hour a day to access what will be defined as their ‘local’ Welsh-medium school.
“RCT Council are removing the language from the very communities which were instrumental in establishing Welsh-medium education for the area over 70 years ago when Ysgol Gynradd Pont Sion Norton was founded in 1951.
“In the communities in the north of Pontypridd we appear to be taking significant steps back in creating accessible Welsh-medium education for all, whilst other local authorities are making progress.
“The current plans have already seen a decline in those able to choose Welsh-medium education for their children in the Ynysybwl, Glyncoch and the Coedycwm areas.
“The council refused to even consider the use of the Ty Gwyn site for the new Welsh-language school where we now know the new English school will be built.
“This means the nearest Welsh school will now be located outside of our communities, and not accessible for those with no cars and have to
depend on public transport.”
Another parent, Maria Riley, added: “As a mother of small children living in Ynysybwl, our only option for Welsh education is miles away.
“It makes the decision really difficult, but my husband and I both attended Welsh schools so we’re committed to providing that for our children.
“If there was a Welsh school built locally there would be so many more families choosing Welsh education.”
Four years ago, campaigners calling for accessible Welsh-medium education in the communities of north Pontypridd staged a protest march from Ynysybwl to Rhydyfelin on Saturday, April 13, 2019.
The Walk For Welsh (Taith yr Iaith) march highlighted the distance that children as young as three years old will be expected to travel on a bus to arrive at the new school– a commute of up to six miles from the areas of Ynysybwl, Glyncoch and Coedycwm which campaigners said can take more than 30 minutes during normal traffic times.
The march stopped by the exact site proposed by the campaigners in 2019 for a new Welsh school which has now been ear-marked for the new Welsh Government’s net zero English-medium school.
Katie Hadley, whose children attended Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton and who helped organise the march, said local families wanting access to Welsh-medium education feel “betrayed.”
She said: “Back in 2019 it was a fundamental part of our campaign that this site was perfect for a new Welsh school within the catchment of the traditional Pont Sion Norton area.
“But we were consistently ignored by the council when we asked them to consider this site.
“Welsh-medium education should be accessible to all but that is simply not the case for the communities of Ynysybwl, Glyn-coch, Coed y Cwm and Cilfynydd.”
Concern that there is no Welsh language early years provision available in Ynysybwl
Campaigners have also highlighted that following the recent closures of the Cylch Ti a Fi parent and toddler group and Cylch Meithrin in Ynysybwl there is no longer any Welsh-language provision for the early years in the village.
Mary Chinnock, who used to lead the local Cylch Ti a Fi and Cylch Meithrin in Ynysybywl and whose grandchildren attended the groups and will be impacted by the moving of the new school to Rhydyfelin said: “Since my Ti a Fi group was forced to close due to the building where it was held not being suitable, there is no longer a Welsh language mother and toddler group in the village of Ynysybwl.
“The Cylch Meithrin which moved to Glyn Street was also recently closed down this Easter after a huge drop in numbers and the inability to find money to improve the building.
“It’s really concerning that there is no local Welsh-language provision for the early years within the village that could entice parents to go on to choose Welsh medium education.”
Addressing concerns in Cilfynydd through the opening of a new Cylch Meithrin
In order to address concerns that fewer families would be choosing Welsh-medium education following the closure of Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton, a group of local parents and members of the campaign group decided to establish a new Cylch Ti a Fi and Cylch Meithrin in the village.
Cylch Ti a Fi Cilfynydd a Phont Norton opened in 2021 and Cylch Meithrin Cilfynydd a Phont Norton first opened its doors in 2022, with both held at the local community centre.
The Cylch Ti a Fi won an accolade for the best in Wales at the Mudiad Meithrin Awards last year and the Cylch Meithrin continues to grow, the campaigners said.
Angela Karadog, a trustee and treasurer of the Cylch Meithrin Cilfynydd a Phont Norton steering committee said: “We want to ensure that the Welsh language continues to thrive locally within the community when the local school closes and that we will still be able to provide children in their early
years with experiences to play, learn and have fun using the language.
“There is currently a lack of communication from the local council for parents living in Cilfynydd wishing to choose Welsh-medium education around what is available, especially in terms of transport to the new school in Rhydyfelin.
“We are also sadly hearing from parents who say that it is no longer
an option for them due to the new school not being local and accessible.”
The council’s stance
A spokesperson for Rhondda Cynon Taf Council said: “The location of the new Welsh-medium primary school and the school organisation consultation process for the greater Pontypridd area – as well as all other claims associated with these proposals – were reviewed extensively as part of the judicial review in 2020. Following the review, the Court of Appeal found in the council’s favour, enabling the £75.6m investment in education facilities to proceed. The unprecedented level of investment being delivered jointly with Welsh Government will benefit learners and families for generations to come.
“A full school organisation consultation was held for the creation of an English-medium primary school in Glyn-coch, to amalgamate Cefn and Craig yr Hesg Primary schools and create a first-class facility to replace the existing buildings which need significant maintenance. This gave residents a chance to have their say, and only a single objection was received following publication of statutory notices. The council is delighted by Welsh Government’s recent funding announcement for the new school, which will include innovative green technologies and establish an on-site civic hub.
“The selection of a school and applications for school places are subject to parental choice. Free home-to-school transport is provided to learners living 1.5 miles or further from the nearest suitable school. There will be no removal of Welsh medium capacity or choice. Demand for nursery places at YGG Pont Sion Norton has increased in the current academic year compared to last year, and there is still capacity available. The new Welsh-medium primary school in Rhydyfelin will provide even greater capacity when it opens. Welsh-medium education capacity is expanding throughout Rhondda Cynon Taf.
“In relation to Welsh-medium early years provisions in Ynysybwl and Cilfynydd, the council’s childcare development team has only recently been made aware of the closure of Ynysybwl Meithrin. The company trustees have said their business and facility is not viable, and the council is in contact with them to support the investigation of options for an alternative venue to develop early years provision in this area.
“In Cilfynydd, the organisation and main partner for early years provision is Mudiad Meithrin, which opened as part of the Mudiad Meithrin SAS (Sefydlu a Symud – Set Up and Succeed) project. It is funded by Welsh Government to support the development of new meithrin as part of the Cymraeg 2050 strategy. The council provided a start-up grant for the new setting and also support for the Ti a Fi.
“The council recognises the importance of Cymraeg 2050 and our Welsh in Education Strategic Plan is integral in delivering this vision. We are very confident that our continued investment in Welsh-medium provision is ensuring children and young people have access to good Welsh language education from Early Years through to primary and secondary schools – for all learners, no matter about their learning needs.”
The council also highlighted that the new school in Glyncoch includes plans for discrete English and Welsh-medium childcare provision on site.
A Member of the Senedd calls on Welsh Government to reconsider the school’s medium of language
Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd for South Wales Central, Heledd Fychan has written to the minister for education and the Welsh language and asked him to reconsider the school’s medium of language as a matter of urgency.
She said that campaigners for Welsh-medium education in the area have been calling for a new Welsh-medium school to be built on this exact site for years.
She said the decision follows decisions to close Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Pont Sion Norton and to open a new Welsh-medium school on the site of Ysgol Heol y Celyn, which she said will be miles further from the communities of Ynysybwl and Glyncoch.
Ms Fychan said: “There is genuine concern about the future of the Welsh language in the area, and many believe that this new school will be a step backwards in terms of the language and Welsh-medium education.
“Although transport will be provided to a new Welsh-language school, parents without a car will need to travel on two buses for their children to use the breakfast club; if their children need to be collected for an urgent appointment or if they are ill; or if their children attend after school clubs.
“With the percentage of households that own cars among the lowest in Wales in these communities, only a small number of parents will choose to drive their children to a Welsh medium school which is more difficult and expensive to get to than a new English medium school on their doorstep.
“Given that we have an ambition here in Wales of one million Welsh speakers by 2050, I am very surprised to see the Welsh Government investing in a plan that will harm the future of the Welsh language in the area. The Welsh Government must reconsider the language medium of this school as a matter of urgency.”
The view from Welsh Government
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our ambition is that all learners in Wales have the opportunity to become Welsh speakers wherever, and in whichever school they are educated.
“The new school in Glyncoch includes proposals to introduce a higher level of Welsh-medium provision from the outset – starting from its childcare provision, gradually progressing to more Welsh-language play and learning opportunities over time.
“The minister for education and Welsh language has approved plans to increase the percentage of learners in Welsh-medium education in Rhondda Cynon Taf by 10% over the next 10 years.
“The local authority will also open new Welsh-medium primary schools, expand existing Welsh-medium schools and re-categorise others from dual stream to Welsh medium – creating an additional 300 Welsh-medium school places.”