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School closure: More information needed

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Save our school: Protestors outside County Hall on Wednesday

Save our school: Protestors outside County Hall on Wednesday

PROTESTORS gathered outside County Hall on Wednesday (Mar 9), as the future of Ysgol Bancffosfelen was discussed by the Education and Children Scrutiny Committee.

Carmarthenshire County Council announced that it was looking to launch a statutory consultation into closing the school in 2017, and transferring the remaining pupils to Ysgol Pontyberem.

However, the committee unanimously voted in favour of a motion saying that they would be unable to offer any recommendations without visiting schools in the area, receiving more information from the authority, and studying plans from the governors to take over the running of the school through a Community Charitable Trust.

A report read at the meeting said that the Authority had ‘a legal responsibility’ to review both the type and number of schools under its control, and ‘whether or not it is making the best use of resources and facilities to deliver the opportunities that children deserve.’

The report claimed that Ysgol Bancffosfelyn had seen a ‘steady decline in pupil numbers’ over recent years – from 48 in January 2011 to 35 in January 2016 – which led to 64% of the school’s capacity being unused.

For context, the report pointed out that the Welsh Government defines a surplus of greater than 25% as ‘significant,’ and advises reviewing schools with more than 10% surplus capacity.

It was also suggested that the lack of a permanent Headteacher, when combined with the surplus capacity, presented ‘a school model which does not represent a sound, stable educational model or best use of resources.’

‘In addition, the Authority feels that from an educational perspective having such a small number of pupils makes it extremely difficult for the school to deliver the breadth and depth of curricular and social experiences which pupils of this age require to fully develop.’

The draft consultation document suggested that pupil travel costs would not be much of an issue because ‘many of the pupils attending Bancffosfelen reside within the catchment of Pontyberem.’

Both schools gained similar ratings in the National Schools Categorisation system.

The cost per pupil to the council is £4,547 at Bancffosfelen – 24% above the county average, while at Pontyberem, the cost per pupil is £3,583.

The author of the report, Simon Davies, said that 23 letters of objection to the school’s closure had been received by the council, in addition to a statement by Bancffosfelen governors and a petition signed by ‘a number of people.’

Councillor Gwyn Hopkins proposed that the committee should visit the school, and receive ‘far more details’ about the plan put forward by the Governors to for a Community Charitable Trust.

“We need more details, but it seems at the moment to be at least a possibility,” Cllr Hopkins added.

Cllr Hopkins also suggested visiting Ysgol Pontyberem.

Committee Chair Councillor Eirwyn Williams agreed that the Governors’ plan ‘at face value seems exciting and plausible.’

Councillor Mansel Charles – who admitted earlier in the meeting that he was a supporter of smaller schools – agreed. Cllr Charles also said that while it was good to see that a number of letters of support had been written, it was ‘disappointing’ that they had been received so late, meaning that committee members had been unable to read them in any detail. Cllr Charles also suggested visiting other nearby schools including Ysgol y Fro, and assessing where Bancffosfelen pupils lived in relation to the catchment areas.

Councillor Cefin Campbell said that it was encouraging to see that the Governors and friends of the school had ‘set about things in a different way,’ in looking to form a Community Charitable Trust.

“As a council, when schools go below certain numbers, we deal with it in the same way. This way breaks new ground,” he added, before emphasising that the business plan put forward would be viable in terms of building improvements, educational strategy, and pupil safety.

However, Councillor Hugh Richards suggested that as a large percentage of the pupils lived in the Pontyberem catchment area, the figures put forward relating to school use were ‘undermined’.

The committee’s decision was welcomed by Cymdeithas.

Ffred Ffransis said: “We hope the Council will instruct officers now not to just sit on their hands but to actively work with communities to establish how best to develop schools. Communities change and sometimes schools choose to close or have to close but this should be the last resort not the default position. Let this be the start of a new spirit of co-operation in the revival for Welsh speaking communities.

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Covid-19 vaccination venues and timeline announced for everyone locally over 50

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EVERY person in JCVI priority groups 5 to 9 will be offered a COVID-19 vaccination by 18 April, Hywel Dda University Health Board has confirmed.

While the health board’s vaccination programme has the capacity to offer a vaccine to everyone in groups 5 to 9 by the original target date of 4 April, the delivery plan has had to be adjusted based on confirmed vaccine deliveries.

Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire residents in priority groups 5 to 9 can expect to receive their vaccine as follows:

  • Group 5, people aged 65 – 69 years – delivered by GP practices between 15 February and 12 March
  • Group 6, people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers – delivered by GP practices between 22 February and 4 April
  • Group 7, people aged 60 – 64 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 8 March
  • Group 8, people aged 55 – 59 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 22 March
  • Group 9, people aged 50 – 54 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 5 April

The health board currently has mass vaccination centres located in Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Haverfordwest, Tenby, Carmarthen and Llanelli.

Group 6 is significantly the largest cohort to be vaccinated to date and we understand that many in this group will be anxious to receive a vaccine. Please do not contact your GP or the health board to ask about your appointment, you will be contacted directly when it is your turn and we thank you for your patience.

People in groups 7, 8 and 9 will receive a letter with an appointment date and time. Please arrive as close to your appointment time as possible. The letter will include a phone number to contact the health board should you need to rearrange or cancel your appointment but please make every effort to keep your allocated appointment time.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “While  our programme has had to slow  due to supplies, we want to reassure everyone in groups 5 to 9 that our amazing teams of vaccinators and GP practices have the capability and flexibility to deliver our vaccine supplies as they arrive into the region.

“Vaccine supplies will start to increase again from mid-March, and we are confident that everyone living in our three counties in the top 9 priority groups will be offered a vaccine by mid-April.

“In Hywel Dda we have an older population compared to some other health boards and so over 50% of our adult population will have been offered a vaccine by milestone 2.

“To be able to say that as we approach the anniversary of the first national lockdown is nothing short of extraordinary.

“And again, I must say thank you to everyone living in our three counties who continue to come forward in substantial numbers for the vaccine. Uptake remains remarkably high and we hope to see this continue through groups 5 to 9 and into group 10.”

People are asked, wherever possible, to use their own private transport to attend an appointment. Lifts can be accepted from someone in their household or support bubble, but not from anyone else due to the risk of transmission of the virus.

The health board has put in place transport support for anyone who may have difficulty attending their vaccination appointment. If you have no other means of travel, please contact the health board on 0300 303 8322 and we will be happy to assist.

Everyone in priority groups 1 to 4 should have received an offer of a vaccination. If you have not been contacted, or have changed your mind, please contact your GP at the earliest opportunity. No one will be left behind.

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Covid alert level lowered for whole of UK

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THE COVID alert level for all four nations of the United Kingdom has been lowered to alert level 4.

The decision comes following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in light of the most recent data.

In recent weeks, the R-rate and the number of covid cases has been on the decline.

Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the four UK Chief Medical Officers and NHS England National Medical Director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 5 to level 4 in all four nations.

“The health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital, however thanks to the efforts of public we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded.

“We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer. However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.

“We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic.”

Under the Welsh Government’s Alert level 4 restrictions, schools and colleges, places of worship, community centres, playgrounds and public parks are among those that can be opened.

Theatres, entertainment venues, leisure facilities and outdoor visitors attractions are among the places that must remain close while the country is in Alert Level 4.

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Wife completes 50-mile running challenge to raise money for charity after husband suffers stroke

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A 39-YEAR-OLD woman from Pwll, Llanelli, has raised over £8,000 for the Stroke Association, after she completed a 50-mile running challenge.

Katie Fry’s husband Dale, 36, had a major stroke in July last year, in the middle of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and she wants to raise awareness of stroke and how it can happen at any age and at any time.
 
Dale did not have any symptoms of a stroke, he went to work, played with his children and went for a run but had a headache in the evening so went to bed, when he woke up in the early hours of the next morning he had left sided weakness, headaches and slurred speech.

Katie acted FAST and Dale was admitted to hospital for tests where it was found that Dale had a severe stroke so he was airlifted to Bristol for a thrombectomy, 24 hours later he had life saving brain surgery and remained in Intensive care for days, Dale was repatriated back to the stroke ward in PPH where he remained before being transferred to Neath Port Talbot hospital for his rehabilitation in September.

Dale is transferring to the BIRT (Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust) early March where he will continue his rehab for 12 weeks.
 
Katie said: “Dale was fit and well, the stroke came out of nowhere and it was really unexpected. It has been a hard six months as Dale has remained in hospital for his rehabilitation but due to Covid-19 we have been unable to visit him much at all.

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on Dale’s recovery as resources have been limited and Dale is now on a ward with recovering Covid-19 patients and had limited interaction and support. We communicate via video calls but it’s not the same, this has had a huge impact on Dale’s mental wellbeing.’
 
Katie and Dale have been married for 10 years and have two young children, “I am so proud of my husband as he is working so hard with his rehabilitation and I love to see the videos of him getting a step closer in his recovery. Dale inspires me every day and I hope he and we as a family can inspire other families going through the same journey as us.”
 
Katie decided to fundraise for the Stroke Association with a 50 mile running challenge as she was determined to do something positive, “It has been a release for me to get out running. It was a way of raising awareness for the charity but also to help me navigate through this difficult time. I have two young children so it has been a very stressful time with home-schooling as well as helping Dale with his recovery. I can’t thank my friends and family enough for their help and support and for everyone who has donated.”
 
Katie Chappelle, Associate Director, Wales at the Stroke Association said:
“Thank you to Katie for raising an amazing £8000.00. These are vital funds as with the support of people like Katie we can help more stroke survivors and their families as they look to rebuild their lives.

“A stroke can happen to anyone at any time and it turns lives upside down as it has with Dale and his family.”

To sponsor Katie or keep up to date with Dale’s progress please visit: https://www.facebook.com/donate/740852340189430/

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