A ‘FREAK’ spike in births has been blamed for 17 families missing out on their first choice primary school. 

A total of 47 applications were made for just 30 places in the reception class at Gilwern Primary for this coming September – disappointing 17 families, including some with children already at the school and those whose youngsters attended the nursery there. 

More than 400 people have signed a petition, “Hopeful Gilwern Parents”, to allow an extra class at the school to accommodate the demand. 

Tomos Davies, Conservative councillor for the nearby villages of Llanfoist and Govilon, asked at Monmouthshire County Council’s May meeting how the authority intends to support those parents. 

Labour’s Martyn Groucutt (Abergavenny Lansdown), cabinet member for education, said alternative places, including those identified as other preferences on application forms, have been offered by the council. 

But an additional class at Gilwern has been ruled out, he said.

“We have been asked to consider admitting all 47 and while I understand the request, we must be mindful of accommodating and associated staffing of the current school, which is for 210 pupils in class sizes of 30 in each year group.” 

Cllr Davies said 17 families had been “left in limbo” at a “deeply distressing and concerning time” and could have to wait until July for the council’s “lengthy and cumbersome” appeals process to conclude.  

He asked if Cllr Groucutt would commit to “fast tracking the appeals” and also questioned if the council was satisfied data provided by Gwent’s Aneurin Bevan Health Board was accurate, and whether figures were impacted, as the village’s GP surgery had been registered with neighbouring Powys Health Board. 

Cllr Groucutt said: “We do have accurate figures from the health board and they do show this is a freak year in Gilwern and looking forward, the future data we have is to 2027, this is the only year with such a spike.”

He also added that he couldn’t make any assurances on fast tracking the appeals, as the panel has an independent element, but said: “I will do my best to get the panel assembled at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Cllr Groucutt also said that four children, with siblings already at the school, but from outside the catchment area, weren’t offered places in line with the admissions policy consulted on, and agreed, in 2019 when the Conservatives controlled the council. 

It is “keen to identify alternative schools for whole family groups to attend should that relieve family pressures,” said Cllr Groucutt. 

During his answer Cllr Groucutt also said the last time a Labour government had followed the Conservatives in power, in 1997, new prime minister Tony Blair had been under “tremendous pressure” to limit class sizes to 30.

“That’s something we’ve stuck to as educationally well worthwhile rather than overcrowding and affecting the quality of teaching,” he said. 

But Conservative group leader, Cllr Richard John (Mitchel Troy and Trellech United) then asked: “How is this relevant?” 

Demand for places at Gilwern Primary rose in recent years with the closure of schools in Clydach and Darenfelin on Llanelly Hill.

According to the ‘Hopeful Gilwern parents’ Change.org petition, families “have been left in impossible and distressing circumstances after not receiving places”.

It claims that Gilwern Primary “is fully supportive of our appeals and would welcome all our children with open arms, should the council enable them to do so”.

The writers add: “It seems to us that adequate provision has not been made for our village.

“With so many children living under a mile away, let alone further afield in the catchment. Seventeen out of forty seven children is not just a few outliers.

“Parents who were reassured that their feeder school would be Gilwern Primary are now being sent many miles away. The emotional, logistical, financial and environmental impact of this is huge.”