'They've turned their backs on us': Community's fury as Abersoch school prepares to close

Ysgol Abersoch in the Llyn Peninsula has only 7 pupils on its register Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

Campaigners fighting a decision to close a village school in one of north Wales' most popular holiday locations have accused Plaid Cymru of turning their backs on the local community.

Gwynedd’s Plaid-run County Council decided to shut the doors once and for all at Abersoch primary school.

Margot Jones, Chair of Governors, said she was disappointed by Plaid Cymru at Council and Parliamentary level.

“I’m just shocked and disappointed that Plaid Cymru have turned their backs on us. I always voted for Plaid Cymru because I thought they were supporting small communities and the Welsh language. 

“This school is a symbol of everything that Plaid Cymru should be standing for, or I thought they did. So, I’m afraid they’ve lost my vote.”

Margot Jones is the Chair of Governors at Abersoch School and a former pupil and parent. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

At the end of September, the cabinet voted unanimously to close the school's doors on 31 December this year.

Concerns were expressed by the Department for Education about the low numbers of children in the school, with 76% of its capacity vacant.

The increased costs were also a contributing factor, with the education of each pupil costing £17,404 each in Abersoch, compared with the county average of £4,198.

The seven pupils on register will have to move to the nearby Welsh language school, Sarn Bach, to receive their education. 

Ysgol Abersoch in the Llyn Peninsula has only 7 pupils on its register

But according to Margot, a former pupil at Abersoch herself, this will have a detrimental effect on the community of Abersoch.

"The other schools are not in a village. Being part of the community is so important for the children and it's important for the people who live here."

Abersoch in the Llyn Peninsula is a popular tourist destination, with almost four in ten of the houses being second homes. On average, house prices there cost more than £500,000.

However, Margot Jones emphasises the close knit community still exists in the village.

"Everyone sees the place just as a holiday camp, but it's not."

"There are still Welsh people living in Abersoch. There is a community here, and we deserve a school.

"I don't think cabinet members or Plaid Cymru all understand the word 'community', or want to promote the Welsh language. It will change the village forever."

Annette Weston sends her two daughters to Abersoch primary school, despite living outside the catchment area. Credit: Y Byd ar Bedwar

For parent Annette Weston, the strong sense of community was what attracted her to send her twins to Abersoch.

“I saw the school, children were out and about with their teachers everyday. They were going to the beach, they were really part of the community. And I felt this was definitely something I wanted for them.

“When I came to pick them up from school and the teachers told me the decision, the teachers were in tears as well. It’s heartbreaking really that they are happy to let this close.”

Despite not being able to speak Welsh herself, Annette is determined for her young girls to be fluent in the language.

“The Welsh language is very important. They need to be able to learn, to speak it, to understand it for anything they want to do locally or further afield, maybe, for the rest of their lives.”

According to the 2011 Census figures, 43.5% of the population of Abersoch spoke Welsh. 

For Awen Jones, a parent who lives and works in Abersoch, the school plays a key part in securing the language.

"There is no other building that brings us, the local people, together in the area."

"Outside school, most of us speak Welsh. And if you take that element out of the village, that's when you lose the language."

But according to Awen Jones, there is no price on the value of the school in the community.

"I understand the figures, but it comes to the point where I think, are we just giving up on Abersoch? Are we supposed to leave Abersoch as it is?

"Instead of thinking 'we have to close it, the figures don't make sense, we need to ask 'is it possible to keep it open?'"

Mabon ap Gwynfor, Member of the Senedd for Dwyfor and Meirionnydd, rejects the claim that Plaid Cymru have turned their backs on Abersoch.

"It was an impossible decision for the local authority to make. There were 7 children there by the end, and they had to make the decision based on those facts. They had to make that very, very difficult decision."

Despite a promise to secure the future of Welsh schools in Plaid’s manifesto, the Senedd Member says that the local Gwynedd council have not been supported by the Welsh Government on this issue.

"There has been a lack of investment from the outside in the area. Councils need those resources and money, to be able to sustain essential services."

Abersoch residents say they are now considering taking their fight to the Senedd in Cardiff.

Gwynedd County Council refused to take part in the programme. They said that the Council's Education and Economy Scrutiny Committee will consider the decision on Thursday and that it would therefore not be appropriate for them to be interviewed.  

Gwynedd County Council said it had a duty to provide the best possible education and learning environment for all the county's children. In their statement they said,

"The review of the situation at Ysgol Abersoch has not been part of a wider strategy for education in the area, but rather a response to a particular concern about challenges facing the school."

Y Byd ar Bedwar will air on S4C and online on S4C Clic at 8.25pm on Wednesday evening. English subtitles are available.