The Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Member for South Wales West, Peter Black has raised a concern that a proposed consultation by Neath Port Talbot Council on access arrangements to Welsh medium Schools in the County Borough could see charges being imposed on pupils who currently enjoy free transport to the school of their choice.
At present a child attending a Welsh medium School, who meets the distance criteria set down in law, is able to access free transport to and from school. This applies even though there may be an English medium school nearer to the pupil’s home due to the legal requirement on the council to promote access to Welsh medium education and because Welsh medium schools do not tend to be community based in the same way as other schools.
Only 73% of pupils in a Welsh medium primary school in Neath Port Talbot currently go on to study in a Welsh medium comprehensive. That is the second lowest transfer rate in Wales. In Swansea 98.6% of pupils will transfer schools whilst staying within a Welsh medium environment, in Bridgend it is 91%, whilst in Newport the figure is 98.6%.
At the Council’s Children and Young People Cabinet Board today members are being asked to approve a consultation on future access arrangements to Welsh medium schools. Such a consultation indicates that some change, including the possibility of charges is inevitable.
"Whilst I understand that Neath Port Talbot Council wish to regularise their school transport policy so that it is consistent with Welsh Government guidance and the law, I am concerned that the outcome of this consultation will be the introduction of charges for pupils using council transport to attend Welsh medium schools," said Mr. Black. "Because there are so few Welsh medium schools, pupils attending them will inevitably have to travel more than the statutory minimum of 2 miles to primary and 3 miles to secondary schools. The introduction of a charge will hit many families who choose to educate their children through the medium of Welsh very hard.
"There is an additional concern that the introduction of a charge will lead to fewer children opting for a Welsh medium education or going on to study through the medium of Welsh at secondary level. Given the plans by the Council to develop a second Welsh medium comprehensive school in Sandfields, that could lead to a lower take-up of places at this new school. I would urge the council to ensure that free transport continues to be available for pupils going to Welsh medium schools."