Bittersweet victory for Ysgol Treganna

Leanne Wood explains why the champagne remains on ice in the ongoing controversy surrounding English and Welsh medium education in Cardiff.

Teachers and pupils of Ysgol Treganna and the Tan Yr Eos starter school finally had cause to smile after plans were unveiled last week to build a new school to ease overcrowding. However, celebrations were muted and understandably so, in response to the news that a £9 million school was to be constructed to meet the spiraling demand for Welsh medium education in the western part of Cardiff.

This is the third of four articles on the Cardiff schools row we are publishing on ClickonWales in the run-up to the IWA’s event on The Future of Cardiff’s Schools, to be addressed by Chris Jones, Cardiff’s Head of Schools and Lifelong Learning, and Chris Llewellyn, WLGA Head of Education, at the Millennium Centre tomorrow evening. To attend this event click here. Tomorrow we will publish the views of former First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, AM for Cardiff West.

The parents of the pupils at Ysgol Treganna have been here before. Two different school reorganisation plans have been drawn up over the last four years but neither of them came to fruition due to petty, political squabbles within and without Cardiff Council.

Another reason why the champagne will remain on ice is that even if the plans pass through unimpeded, pupils and teachers will have to endure sardine-like conditions for at least three more years.

So the victory, if it can be called that, is a bittersweet one. These latest developments follow on from a summer in which parents and pupils campaigned hard for a solution. Their protests were heard at the Urdd Eisteddfod, the National Eisteddfod and the public area of the Senedd itself, where an impromptu lesson was held to highlight their plight. Their campaign is one I have fully supported. The children have been ill-served and parents have every right to be angry.

The protests were fuelled by the rejection of the council’s previous proposal which would have seen pupils currently in Lansdowne merge with the school down the road at Radnor Road, enabling the Treganna pupils to leave the Radnor Road site and expand into Lansdowne. When First Minister, Carwyn Jones, vetoed these plans many months after they were sent to the Assembly for scrutiny, there were far and wide-ranging consequences. Plaid Cymru’s National Executive Committee subsequently released a statement saying they had “no confidence” in the First Minister’s decision.

It is regrettable that pupils have to wait until 2013 for decent facilities because the need to expand Welsh medium education to meet demand in Cardiff is not new. It has, however, been mired in controversy for many years, with proposal after proposal being repeatedly kicked into the long grass by Labour councillors. References to ‘apartheid’ in the education system have been less than helpful and have caused deep offence all those working to find a solution.

The First Minister has been accused of vetoing the council’s proposals purely for political reasons. Given Labour’s record on the Welsh language in recent years – Welsh speakers are yet to receive an apology for the ‘race hate’ campaign run against them by some senior Labour figures at the start of the Millennium – it is hardly surprising that this conclusion has been drawn.

 The crisis at Ysgol Treganna has not diminished demand for Welsh medium education in the western part of the city – interest rose again this year. This begs the question. How many more parents would want their children educated through the medium of Welsh if they were not forced to endure sardine-like conditions? The failure to gather preference information from parents shortly after the birth of a child has been an obstacle to adequately measuring demand and therefore responding to the interest in Welsh medium education in the capital.

With accurate data the debacle that has befallen Ysgol Treganna could be avoided in the future. Early surveys need to be carried out to stave off another crisis developing in the future.
The new school proposal will only see success if political rivalry and tribalism can be set aside. The educational needs of the city’s children have to come first. Demand for Welsh medium education will continue to increase and it is incumbent upon the decision-makers involved to ensure that this is met. Anything less would be an abject failure, not only for the future of Welsh as a language in our capital city but also for parental choice.

Following the First Minister’s rejection of Cardiff Council’s plans in May, former Plaid Cymru leader Dafydd Wigley said:

“The only way that Carwyn Jones can dig his way out of the hole that he has created for himself by intervening in this way is to immediately provide the necessary funding in order to create a new Welsh-medium school in the area.”

The First Minister has an opportunity to redeem the situation. Plaid in government will continue to ensure that the years of uncertainty come to an end and that this new school and Dafydd Wigley’s words become a reality. The children of Ysgol Treganna deserve nothing less.

Leanne Wood is Plaid Cymru member for South Wales Central in the National Assembly and her party’s spokesperson on Sustainability.

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