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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Educational dilemmas

I really do not want to get drawn into the controversy over school closure and merger plans in either Denbighshire or Carmarthenshire, but one does have to ask whether words are being used in the strict context of their meaning when Cwmdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg call for better standards of consultation on these issues.

It seems that Carmarthenshire Council, who are consulting quite widely on the strategic and detailed aspects of their plans are in the wrong, whereas Denbighshire, who failed to consult properly and were forced to withdraw their proposals are a model of good practice. Cwmdeithas education spokesperson, Fffed Ffrancis explains (I think):

Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg has called on Carmarthenshire County Council to follow the example of Denbighshire County Council which has withdrawn the threat to close a number of Welsh medium village schools.

"It (Denbighshire) has decided instead to consult fully with local communities."

In Carmarthenshire, bosses have promised consultation but Cymdeithas says it fears this will be a "sham" as decisions have already been made.

This is a no-win situation for Carmarthenshire. They promise to consult but are suspected of having already made up their mind. What happens when Denbighshire carry out their consultation and then come back with fresh proposals? Will they then be accused of pre-empting the statutory consultation process by having made up their mind?

Cwmdeithas seem to be using the word 'consultation' in an absolutist way - there is opposition so the plans must be abandoned. Unfortunately that is not how the real world works. Proper consultation is used to test proposals to see how sound they are and to modify or change them before they can be implemented. Sometimes it does result in a return to the drawing board. Consultation cannot, however, change the hard economic and policy realities that public bodies have to deal with and which lead to these proposals in the first place.
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