Monday, 27 February 2017

Llangennech - Gwyn Hopkins

For the last two weeks this blog has been dominated by Llangennech and the wider story of the Labour Party in Llanelli. There is considerable overlap between the two, but barring any new surprises, the Llangennech story seems to be coming to an end. The turmoil within the local Labour Party, on the other hand, still has a long way to run.

In the case of Llangennech, the blog will publish some more material dealing with the lessons learned in the hope that this may be of use to other communities and researchers.

Today Cneifiwr publishes Cllr Gwyn Hopkins' response to some of the comments on this blog, along with a copy of a letter he wrote to the Llanelli Star.

Some readers will also have seen Cllr Hopkins' letter in the latest edition of Golwg which puts Llangennech in the wider context of primary school provision in the Llanelli area. Freedom of choice has been one of the main arguments deployed by objectors, but in his letter Cllr Hopkins asks how much freedom of choice there is for parents wanting truly bilingual (i.e. Welsh-medium) education for their children in Llanelli and Llangennech.

The following map starkly illustrates how little Welsh medium primary education is available in the area.

That there is considerable demand for Welsh-medium bilingual education was brought home to me over the weekend when I had the privilege of attending a three-day non-political event for families with children in Welsh-medium primary schools. Sixty families came, mainly from Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, and they were overwhelmingly ordinary working class people who had spent a lot of their hard-earned money to be there.

The enthusiasm and determination of the parents stood in stark contrast to the negative tone we have heard from some in Llangennech and elsewhere.

Cllr Hopkins will be standing down as county councillor for Llangennech in May after many years of service to the village. It is a great pity that the row, which has at times been intensely personal, should have clouded his final couple of years in office, but he can retire in the knowledge that he did the right thing, and future generations will owe him a debt of gratitude for the stand he has taken.

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With apologies for the slightly strange mix of fonts and background colours which the software has applied, here first is Cllr Hopkins' response to comments on this blog:

Although – in retrospect - I agree that more should have been done to communicate and explain the County Council’s proposals with parents, this task was surely the responsibility of those making the decisions during 2014.  Here are the facts relating to the decisions made:
 
·         During the period May 2012 – May 2015 Carmarthenshire County Council was ruled by a Labour-led Independent/Labour Coalition. Kevin Madge (Labour) was Leader of the Council. 
·          During this period the Council’s ten – member Executive Board (Cabinet) was Labour-led.  It had 5 Independent and 5 Labour members with Labour’s Kevin Madge as Chairman (who had a casting vote, if necessary).  There were no Plaid Cymru Councillors in the Cabinet.
·         Also, during this period the Cabinet member for education was Labour Cllr. Keith Davies (who died in August 2015).
·         The Welsh Labour Government’s Standards & Organisation Wales Act (enacted on 4/3/2013) instructed Local Education Authorities to prepare a Welsh in Education Strategic Policy (WESP) to expand Welsh medium education by creating more Welsh medium schools.  This statutory policy was duly prepared and contained the directive “to convert 3 dual stream schools into Welsh medium schools by 2016”.
·         The WESP was approved unanimously by the Cabinet (not the Council) on 28/7/2014.  The choice of schools was – almost certainly – recommended by Cllr Keith Davies but was undoubtedly endorsed by the Cabinet.  The County has only 12 dual stream schools in the age range 4 – 11 to choose from, in any event.
 
Thus, subject to final endorsement by the County Council on 18/1/2017, the decisions relating to creating a Welsh medium primary school in Llangennech were recommended by the Labour Cabinet member for education and made by the Labour-led Cabinet – not by Llangennech’s two Plaid Cymru County Councillors who played no real part in the decision making process until 18 January.  The Cabinet, and Keith Davies in particular, should then have made arrangements for Cabinet members (Keith himself included), to meet with parents to explain the rationale of the decisions that they themselves had made (with appropriate LEA officers in support).

The allegation the Cllr Gwyn Hopkins refused to meet with parents is untrue.  He was never contacted by any parents to meet them about this issue.  Moreover, it is up to the individuals responsible for making policy decisions to explain and justify them, not people who played no part in the process.

The County Council received over 1400 submissions supporting and opposing the County Council’s proposals. There were 720 submissions against – 18 e-mails and 702 in the form of prompted, pro-forma letters (not much more elaborate than a petition).  The objectors organized a door knocking campaign to “persuade” inhabitants to oppose the proposals (not infrequently “helping” them to complete the forms) both within and outside Llangennech ward.  Even the door of Robert Sully, the former County Council Director of Education, was knocked and he lives in Llys y Pinwydd in Pemberton ward. There were also reports that they were knocking doors in Llanelli, 3 miles from the ward.  As far as being a valid, scientific and reliable statistical exercise this falls down heavily at the very first validity hurdle because the individuals collecting the data were very far indeed from being unbiased on the issue.  As such, the operation was a complete farce, totally unreliable and, therefore, impossible to take seriously.    

On the contrary, there were 698 submissions in favour – 119 e-mails and 579 letters.  The supporters did not organize a door knocking campaign to obtain any of these and very few of the letters were in the form of a template.  The vast majority are submissions written by individuals independently although, admittedly (as was the case with the objecting submissions), some are from individuals not living in Llangennech ward.  There is no doubt whatever that these are of much more value than the 720 proformas.
Gwyn

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Set out below is a copy of Cllr Hopkins' recent letter to the Editor of the Llanelli Star:

Dear Editor,


Nigel Hughes accuses me of “spewing fake news” (letters 24 February).  Any alleged “fake news” that I have ever articulated pales into total insignificance compared to his outrageously absurd lie about me, with respect to the proposals to merge Llangennech Junior and Infants schools.  He writes: “proposals which he (that’s me) had devised”.  A solicitor relative of mine is of the view that this claim is so mendacious that I would be justified in suing its author.  I am considering it.  In any event, I challenge Mr Hughes to produce a shred of evidence to substantiate this incredibly stupid and ridiculous assertion.   Indeed, it puts even Donald Trump’s “post truths” and “alternative truths” completely in the shade.

However, I have to say that if I had in fact devised the Welsh Labour Government and Labour-led County Council policy of expanding Welsh medium education that occurred during 2013 – 15, I would be absolutely delighted to admit it.  In fact I would not stop boasting about it.  Alas, as a backbench member of the Council’s opposition group, it was not to be!

As someone who has taught Statistics to degree level for a number of years, I assess Mr Hughes’ method of deducing that 95% of the people of Llangennech are against the County Council’s proposals as absolutely ludicrous.  His pathetic process would fail the most elementary of statistical validity, objectivity, scientific, reliability and legitimacy tests. 

On January 18th the County Council voted 38 – 20 in favour of establishing a Welsh medium primary school in Llangennech as from 1 September 2017.  That would be described as a comfortable victory if it was the final score of a rugby match.  The issue is, therefore, over and done with - bar the shouting.  However, Mr Hughes and other protesters are intent on doing a lot of pointless shouting.  Moving on to consider other important matters would seem to be much more sensible and likely to be a lot more productive.  

   
 

32 comments:

Jac o' the North, said...

Ah, yes, but these are facts, and to the Labour Party facts are like play-doh to a child, something to be twisted and manipulated into a more pleasing shape. Or to be ignored altogether if they prove unattractive.

Anonymous said...

Councillor Gwyn Hopkins says "in retrospect - I agree that more should have been done to communicate and explain the County Council’s proposals with parents, this task was surely the responsibility of those making the decisions during 2014." This statement is quite damning. He is the County Councillor for Llangennech. He is on the Education and Children scrutiny Committee and is a governor of the Llanganech. Because a decision was made in 2014 is he actually saying that in 2016 he or the school had no responsibilty to communicate and explain to the parent's a huge change to their child's education. It would appear to be a total abbrogation of responsibilty with little regard for the parents and children in his own school. As a governor of a school I find this beyond belief. There should be an investigation of what they actually did or as it appears didn't do to prepare the school for change to Welsh Medium education.

Meilyr Bowen Hughes said...

Diolch Cneifiwr am yr holl waith rwyt wedi gwneud dros yr wythnosau diwetha a diolch yn arbennig am rhoi'r stori o safbwynt Gwyn. Anodd iawn yw cael tegwch gan y Llanelli Star ar unrhyw fater ynglyn a'r iaith Gymraeg neu safbwynt Plaid Cymru ar faterion eraill.

welshnotbritish.com said...

Right click and paste as text only, or paste into notepad first and then copy and paste that. This will solve any issues with the text using formatting from elsewhere.

Cneifiwr said...

Thanks WnB. To be honest, I put this together very early this morning and could not face the hassle of trying to clean it up before work.

Cneifiwr said...

Anon@8.44

There are lots of lessons to come out of this, especially how these changes are communicated to parents. I have followed three cases at close quarters, and can confirm that it is not easy.

The objectors were in every case immune to reason and unwilling to engage in any sensible debate. In one case I know well, the governors held a meeting for all parents and brought in a respected authority on the subject. He was shouted down, and the other parents were left feeling intimidated.

Huw Edwards ran into the same brick wall when he tried to engage with the objectors in Llangennech.

Local authorities and schools cannot exclude groups determined to disrupt meetings. We need to come up with smarter ways of engaging with the majority of parents who are willing to listen.

Anonymous said...

I would change all Welsh schools into welsh medium education. Then you would see a dramatic rise in welsh speakers in Wales. That I can promise.

Gary Jones said...

The decision to choose Llangennech was taken at an Executive Board meeting in December 2015 ( Plaid/Indy ) Parents found out via Llanelli Star in January 2016, they asked for a public meeting on the issue in The Community Council meeting, it was refused.
I helped the protest group, at the time there were only 5 active members of the Labour Party in the village, myself, another Community Councillor, who supported the decision, and 3 students, who took no part.

The proformas gathered by the protest group was done in the Village. No cohesion was employed, in fact I took 2 of the proformas that were for the proposal, and passed them on.Under the Freedom act, the campaign group obtained the Pro letters of support, they came from all over Wales, very few from the village, you are welcome to come and view both sets.
There is a significant opposition to this change, which I see when I regularly canvass, you assume that parents have access to transportation, so that they can choose to transport their children to an English Medium school, this is not always the case, and the council have refused to provide any transport.
If it is the case that, it's all the fault of the last Labour/ Indy council in choosing Llangennech School, it makes me wonder why has it taken so long to find out?
The protest group has a 30 page document, detailing the failings of the consultation process, they are still awaiting answers on many issues.

Gary Jones said...

Which meeting, and who was the expert?

Gary Jones said...

"The choice of schools was - almost certainly- endorsed by Councillor Keith Davies " is very vague, it either was or it wasn't? Also WESP was not endorsed by full council?

Cneifiwr said...

Gary Jones @ 2.55 - this is obviously keeping you awake at night! It was not in Llangennech.

Anonymous said...

Gary Jones i think Cneifiwr has it right . It IS keeping you awake .

Lis J said...

The purpose of a Statutory Notice is for people to object to something which only 720 in a village of 5000 did. As you rightly said Gary, you the protestors were knocking on doors in the village (and beyond) to encourage people to sign the proformas. I can tell you that I didn't appreciate being accused on my own doorstep of pushing 'English speaking children' out of the village! The fact the Council received 698 of responses from people in support of the change (without any door knocking and considering that a Statutory Notice doesn't ask for responses of support) proves that the MAJORITY of the village are in favour of this proposal. All your questions submitted to the Council have been answered on numerous occasions and not liking the answers received doesn't mean that the questions have been unanswered. As a Community Councillor, you should now be setting a good example to the other protestors (all of whom either don't have children in the school or their children will not be affected by the change) and start supporting the headmaster, staff and pupils through this change.

Gary Jones said...

Night Shift! I extend the offer to come and meet, if you want our side of the coin.

Anonymous said...

The ability to speak two languages is a gift that should be cherished. Fel Cymro Cymraeg mae na falchder yn fu hgnalon pan rwy'n clywed y plant yn siarad Cymraeg.
Mae'n drieni mawr fod hwn wedi cael eu droi mewn i rhyfel rhwng Plaid a Llafur

Gary Jones said...

I was Nights

Gary Jones said...

The 698 quoted are mostly from outside the village,the information was obtained by a freedom of information request. A certain Councillor was seen distributing proformas in meetings all around Wales, anyone is welcome to see them. On the other point I suspect the village is probably in the majority against the proposal, this is my personal view as a result of canvass returns recently.
Once the Ombudsman has reviewed the case, I as a democrat will accept the decision and work with the school, if elected.

Gary Jones said...

Not all the questions submitted to the council have been answered, They said they would reply in writing to many, but am still waiting.

Gary Jones said...

If anyone is interested, I am Nights again tonight, so may reply late in the night. Major shift pattern and redundancies happening in April.

Anonymous said...

The map is a little misleading due to the 2 mega Welsh Primary Schools, Ffwrnes and Dewi Sant with well over 400 pupils each. No English language primary schools are anywhere close to this capacity.

Anonymous said...

I love watching Gary Jones try to split hairs and continue to make a party political point.
It's so refreshing to see that a candidate is putting his party and prejudices first. Which party is it, again? LabKip?
As the Council online record only goes back to 2015, it is difficult to see how he can be so confident of his version of 'the facts'.

Anonymous said...

Oh ! And your paid to go on the interneth? Next you be saying it was break time ..

Gary Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gary Jones said...

You can obtain all information through The Freedom of Information act.
My personal stance on this is,I support any family having access to English or Welsh Medium Education in the area they live, and here in Llangennech I support the school remaining Dual Stream as I believe children living in the village should not be split up. I would oppose this even if the council was Labour controlled, as I am a community Councillor first. My colleague on the Council, Labour, supports the proposal.
The handling of the proposal was hamstringed from the start, when the protest went to the Community Council in January 2016, the chair, guess who, refused to have a public meeting on the issue declaring that it was not an issue for the community council. I would have thought that all the above "facts" would have been the right time to be presented.

Anonymous said...

It's done with now. Maybe your energies would be better spent discussing with locals the benefits of the changes. As much as I'm sure you and others involved in this situation may see negatives there are positives in the long run for any child. Languages are mandatory at Secondary level - be it German, French or Spanish. Its a proven fact that bilingual children are able to pick up extra languages far more easily than a monoglot. Those are free GCSE's and even A-Levels. Huw Edwards is a good example... he went on to do French in Cardiff Uni (Got a first class honours too). If I were a local Councillor i'd be reassuring those who I represent of the benefits their child would gain from learning through a different language - or in this regard: their own language.

Anonymous said...

facts are dangerous things

http://online.carmarthenshire.gov.uk/agendas/eng/EDUC20140708/REP05.HTM

8th July 2014

Decision made to move ALL Dual Stream schools along the 'language continuum'.
Damn those inconvenient truths and their ways of stymieing a poorly thought out position adopted by someone more interested in party games than the facts.

Obreros a la Victoria!

Gary Jones said...

I removed the comment , because I repeated the points below

Gary Jones said...

Yes, we can use social media in our break time, as long as we don't comment on work activity.

Gary Jones said...

Can't see that line from the link you provided, even so "language continuum @ is a very vague notion. Hendy School Governors have rejected Welsh Medium only I believe?

Anonymous said...

As a disinterested rather than uninterested onlooker, I'm becoming more and more confused by what Gary Jones (whoever he is) writes in his somewhat muddled comments. Less verbosity and more clarity is needed Mr Jones.

Lis J said...

Gary you're again missing the point about the Statutory Notice, it's only the ones objecting that matter therefore less than 1/5 of the village bothered to object. Whether or not the people who you're talking to in the village whilst out canvassing are against the change bears no relevance because they should have objected to the Statutory Notice.

Regarding your accusation of 'a councillor', please clarify the facts, who, where, when and an example of the proforma that was being distributed.

Gary Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.