200 Square Miles Without State Secondary Education?
Why closing Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn, Llandovery, is not the best option for future prosperity
The catchment area of the doomed Ysgol Gyfun Pantycelyn – the wards of Llandovery, Cilycwm, Llangadog and the eastern half of Cynwyl Gaeo – contained 522 children aged 7 to 13 in 2011. These would be the secondary school population of 2015. This number excludes the new population to result from planned housing estates in Llandovery, but does include children whose parents opted to avoid Pantycelyn because of the closure rumours that began back in 2008.
To reach Carmarthenshire County Council’s proposed new school west of Ffairfach, pupils have to be transported through Llandeilo, where air pollution levels are too high and must be cut. Less road traffic, not more, is the answer.
The alternative route on the south side of the river Tywi through Bethlehem is narrow, winding, and single lane in places – not at all suitable for buses, which would present dangers to other road users.
A bypass for Llandeilo is suggested as the ‘get out of jail’ card. No money has been allocated for this, and given the heavy pressures on the Welsh Government’s budget, money may not be forthcoming. In addition, do we really want to destroy the historic landscape of the Tywi valley at Llandeilo with urban intrusions of roads and roundabouts, as well as with buildings for a 1200-pupil school?
Transporting hundreds of children twice a day from their own community, over distances of as much as 20 miles, is damaging in many ways – bus and car emissions adding to pollution, unnecessary and costly consumption of diesel and petrol, time wasted sitting on buses.
There are no state secondary schools near Llandovery to which children could easily transfer. Brecon High School and Ysgol Bro Pedr, Lampeter, are each 21 miles away. Builth Wells High School is 25 miles. Yes, there is the independent Llandovery College, but the fees are too high for the majority of local households to contemplate.
The long-term costs of closing the school are likely to be far greater than any short-term savings in cost per pupil – savings that, in any case, will evaporate as fuel costs rise. Secondary school education is a critical necessity without which towns decline. This autumn the secondary schools in Llandovery and Llandeilo have been combined into Ysgol Bro Dinefwr, which could surely continue as a TWO SITE SCHOOL? Far better than creating a zone of 200 square miles with no state secondary education at all.