A village school battling for survival has launched a campaign to safeguard its future by attracting pupils from nearby communities.
Parents at Ysgol Llannefydd, near Denbigh, say it’s a “brilliant” Welsh language school that provides an excellent, well-rounded education that sets their children up well for the rest of their lives.
There’s no imminent threat of closure but there is mounting concern over the drop in pupil numbers in recent years.
The school roll has fallen to 11 and an automatic consultation process over its future will be triggered if the number of children drops below 10.
With few local children due to reach school age in the next few years, the parents and governors have joined forces for the drive to recruit youngsters from nearby communities.
St Asaph and Bodelwyddan are particular targets because, unlike Llannefydd, they don’t have primary schools that can provide an education with Welsh as the first language.
Among Ysgol Llannefydd’s advantages is the high level of one-to-one attention given to the children with the pupil-teacher ratio likened to that found in private schools.
Between them, the 11 pupils benefit from having three teachers including headteacher Gari Evans, a classroom assistant, a cook and a caretaker.
High School teacher Katie Farah, who’s currently on maternity leave, lives in St Asaph and brings her four-year-old son, Abyan, to the school which she describes as “fantastic”.
Although she doesn’t speak Welsh, she was keen for Abyan to have a Welsh-medium education and little brother, Ashkir, one, will be following in his footsteps when he’s of school age.
Katie said: “We appreciate the school because there’s a deep knowledge of every child and they value each child, which has been particularly important during the pandemic because Abyan feels safe when he goes to school
“We don’t speak Welsh at home so one of the advantages is that he’s learning Welsh and getting a bilingual education. That’s just invaluable.
“The pupils receive a full and rounded education, and the environment is one of the best.
“I would encourage any parents to come and have a look at Ysgol Llannefydd.
“I think if they had the opportunity to connect with the staff here, either online or physically, they would see the gentle care that’s so readily apparent as soon as you walk in school.”
It was a sentiment endorsed by child minder Kate Wright whose three children, Megan, 10, Elwen, eight, and Edryd, five, all attend Ysgol Llannefydd.
Kate said: “It’s a fantastic school in a wonderful setting and we are really lucky to have it on our doorstep.
“The fact that it’s a Welsh language school was really important for us as I’d learnt Welsh in school but as a second language.
“Although I do work through the medium of Welsh now, it’s taken me a long time to gain that confidence.
“My children are fluently bilingual, they can just flip between both languages and that happened within the first couple of years of school.
“The advantage of them coming to a small school is that they’re like a little family really, so you’ve got the older ones helping the younger ones and it’s just a really lovely environment.
“You see them outside of school playing and they take care of each other, and I think that’s an important quality to have wherever you go.
“They also have a really solid education in all subjects and because it’s a smaller school, they get more individual attention. That’s definitely a bonus. It’s private education ratios.
“It would be really nice to attract new families because it’s really important to safeguard the future of this school because it’s a vital community asset.
“There is a strong sense of community here and it would be very sad to see the school closed and lost forever.”
Headteacher Gari Evans, a farmer’s son who hails from the nearby village of Bylchau, was appointed in 2015 and describes the school as an “extended family”.
He said: “The first-class standard of the teaching and the varied experiences given to the children leads to high educational attainment levels.
“Everyone co-operates fantastically well, and we don’t have any behavioural problems.
“One of the advantages of the education provided by a small village school like Ysgol Llannefydd is that it’s almost like a private education. The staff-pupil ratio is fantastic but clearly there are no fees.
“The first-class standard of teaching allied to the staffing ratio means that the individual needs or every learner are met.
“In addition, the amenities are excellent here and the information technology is on a one-to-one basis – everyone has equipment for online learning.
“On top of that, the scenic location is idyllic and there’s plenty of space for outdoor activities.
“Unfortunately, no new houses are being built around here so we need to attract more pupils from outside the village itself.
“We haven’t reached the point where the county or the Welsh Government are looking to shut the school but we need to ensure that we prepare for the future and try to attract more pupils from outside the area as well.
“Bodelwyddan and St. Asaph are not too far, around about four miles away so our school is eminently accessible.
“We believe that Ysgol Llannefydd offers something unique and special and I would be more than happy to speak to any prospective parents and tell them about everything we have to offer.”
Governor Glesni Owen added: “Both the Governors and Conwy Local Education Authority are keen for the school to stay open and remain viable for future generations of learners.
“However, if we see any further reduction in the current numbers, the school will be in an extremely precarious position.
“We as the wider community need to act now not only to ensure a more secure future for our school, but also all the other community activities in which the school plays a fundamental part and to ensure they have a future too.”