The case for a Welsh-medium school in Risca

In my last post on Welsh medium education in the County Borough of Caerffili I finished by asking where the additional WM schools should be. It would be silly to ask the question without making an attempt to answer it.

I did mention that a new WM primary school was being proposed as part of the Bedwas Colliery redevelopment, so I'll take that as a need that has already been addressed and for which there is an obvious solution. So the next priority I can identify is Risca (or Rhisga) and this post briefly sets out the case and supporting evidence for a WM primary school there.

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At present the nearest WM school to Risca is Cwm Gwyddon at Abercarn, which is about 7km by road from Risca. As I mentioned before, the Welsh Government turned down Caerffili Council's application to provide three additional WM schools in 2003. One of those locations was Trinant. In the decision letter, one reason quoted for Jane Davidson's refusal was:

• Further Welsh language provision is required in the Risca and Crosskeys area, rather than at the top of the valley.

Source

So even six years ago there was a recognized demand for WM education in Risca. Now let's see if we can substantiate that and put some hard figures against it. As it happens there is an established WM nursery called Cylch Meithrin Dewi Sant in Ty Sign. This was inspected by Estyn at the end of 2006, and this is an extract from the report:

This Welsh medium cylch meithrin is held in St David’s Church Hall in the Ty Sign area above the town of Risca. The nursery serves a very large housing estate and its surrounding area which is acknowledged as being socially deprived with a high level of unemployment.

The nursery is open for four sessions per week, with 30 children between two and a half and three years of age currently on the register.

After leaving the nursery, nearly all the children transfer to the nearby English medium primary school as the nearest Welsh medium provision is a considerable distance away and the local authority does not provide for their transport.

Source

So, from the evidence of this one nursery group alone, in just one part of Risca, it seems clear that there is at least enough local demand to support a one form entry WM school somewhere in Risca.

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Now let's turn to Caerffili's own Welsh Education Scheme for 2009-14. One of its objectives is:

• To ensure that there is a 100% transfer rate from cylchoedd meithrin and Welsh medium primary schools.

WES - Item 2.1 page 66

From the Estyn report, that is very far from being met. Of course, one obvious question to ask would be whether more parents would be prepared to let their children make the journey to Cwm Gwyddon if it were to be paid for. It's a good question, but unfortunately it's not really relevant because we can see from the WES (page 35) that Cwm Gwyddon now only has 10 surplus places in total, i.e. fewer than two spare places per year group.

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The final part of the equation is of course the hardest. Having established that there is a clear need, the question is where that school should be and whether it's affordable. The three latest schools built or being planned in Caerffili (at Penallta, Waterloo and Bedwas) were, or are going to be, built under Section 106 agreements. All three are part of large new housing developments, and a Section 106 agreement is a contract under which the developer agrees to provide either a sum of money or build something of value to the community in return for getting planning approval for the development. In these three cases the Council essentially gets a new school building for free.

There is no similar derelict industrial site in Risca, and my guess would be that the Council doesn't have the money to build a new school, so we need to look at the existing provision to see if there is room for some juggling. This is a map of the area showing the four schools that feed into Risca Community Comprehensive School. Click on it to open it at a larger size.

     

From the 2007 figures, these are the numbers at each of the feeder schools and their capacities:

Waunfawr Primary School
132 on roll, 152 capacity, 20 surplus places

Risca Primary School
Infants building ... 91 on roll, 73 capacity, 18 over capacity
Junior building ... 254 on roll, 247 capacity, 7 over capacity

Ty Sign Primary School
458 on roll, 569 capacity, 111 surplus places

Ty Isaf Infants School
86 on roll, 150 capacity, 64 surplus places

Source

Now I hesitate to say this because it will sound glib, but at a strategic level it is clear that Ty Isaf Infants School could be closed, with all its current pupils accommodated at Ty Sign Primary instead. Even if we completely ignored the Welsh-medium factor, the number of surplus spaces at Ty Isaf would at the very least put a question mark over its continued viability as a school. Also the two schools are only 500m apart, so there would be little inconvenience for the children concerned.

However if we do take the WM factor into account, even a modest 20 children a year choosing WM education would reduce the numbers going to EM schools by 140.

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So next we need to look at whether the current Ty Isaf building would be suitable for use as a WM school. Their website has an informative video, and this is a satellite picture:

     

It is an infants school at present, with four teaching areas in the main building and a nursery in a separate annex. As it only caters for a nursery and three year groups, its capacity of 150 (excluding the nursery) is on the small size for a full 1FE primary. However there is room on the land between the school and the railway for either temporary classrooms in the short term, or for a permanent extension. Temporary classrooms are not ideal, but the sad fact is that an awful lot of schools, particularly WM schools, are forced to rely on them. Two additional classrooms would raise the capacity from 150 to the standard 210 for a 1FE primary school.

If it were up to me, I would not close the school and then re-open it as a WM school, but would implement the change gradually by making next year's intake entirely WM, with any children who want an EM education going to Ty Sign instead. Thus no child who is already at the school would have to change school, and when children reach the end of KS1 they move on to Ty Sign or Risca Primary anyway. The nature of the school would be a bit unusual for the first few years in that teaching in classes would be in Welsh but the communal activities would be predominantly in English. I don't think that should cause any major problem. After three years the school would become fully WM, so even the children in the first WM intake would have their entire KS2 education in a normal WM context. It would not be necessary to provide the additional accommodation until then.

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Of course I in no way want to suggest that the current Ty Isaf is anything other than a very good school. According to Estyn it is one of the best. But that isn't the point. The point is that the parents of somewhere around 25 children in Risca each year choose to send them to a WM nursery but then have to switch to EM schools. Why should we make it so difficult for these children to continue with a Welsh-medium education, and why aren't they entitled to have this locally in Risca?

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11 comments:

Dewi Harries said...

Excellent posts over the last few days on this subject. Incidentally I was a pupil at Risca Town Welsh Medium Unit....many, many years ago.

Dewi

Anonymous said...

Stand-alone infant schools are generally frowned upon these days and are being phased out quite rapidly. Also the projection of pupil numbers at Ty Sign shows a fall below 400 in three of four years time, adding to the problem of surplus places.

Putting these two together I would have thought that a merger of the two schools in the next couple of years is more likely than not. This should free up the site for a much-needed WM Primary.

Anonymous said...

excellent case made, now who do we need to show this to, in order to get some action. It's likely a 12 year consultation will be necessary as is the usual method!

Would love to see some analysis pieces on potential in RCT

Anonymous said...

I note that within the decision letter, another of Jane Davidson's reasons for refusal of 3 new schools was:

"the rate of increase in WM provision in Caerphilly is significantly higher than in any other authority in SE Wales"

Surely she is not that deluded/daft to be unable work out that it is not the fact that Caerphilly is doing TOO MUCH,
rather that the rest of the, until very recently Liebour dominated SE Wales authorities have done so very very little! (on purpose)

MH said...

Thanks for the comments.

Dewi, I didn't know there had been a WM unit at Risca Town (now just Risca) before. It would almost seem as if things had gone backwards.

Anon #1, You made a good point about stand alone Infants. This one is more unusual again in that there is no corresponding separate Junior school. So yes, I'd like to think it was both logical and likely that Ty Isaf becomes a WM school. Yet, so far as I know, I can't see that the idea has ever been floated. It's one thing having the ideas, it's another to make them real. It needs concerted local action.

Anon #2, I've looked at RCT. Like Caerffili it is better than average for SE Wales. But give me a clue, where do you think new WM schools in RCT should be? At a guess I'd say the biggest "holes" were Mountain Ash and Tonypandy.

Anon #3, Yes, that was a rather strange conclusion for Jane Davidson to reach. But I'm hopeful that the attitude of Labour in the Assembly has changed (now that Plaid is part of One Wales). The attitude of Labour Councillors is still generally obstructive. Blaenau Gwent stands out as one of the worst. The attitude of Labour in Carmarthenshire with regard to secondary education is almost beyond belief.

Lyndon said...

The problem with this plan is that Ty Isaf is a feeder school for Risca Primary, not Ty Sign. Risca is one form entry for reception and years 1 and 2, and 2 FE from year 3 on when kids from Ty Isaf join. Any merger of Ty Isaf and Ty Sign is going to result in a major loss of pupils at Risca, which would almost certainly be strongly resisted by parents.

This bizarre and complicated arrangement is probably why Ty Isaf still exists as a separate school, the only way around the problem would be to expand infant provision at Risca, which will involve new investment.

Anonymous said...

1. Surely Ty Isaf is insustainable in the short never mind the long term, being almost half empty. This is a real waste of taxpayers' money and indefensible.

2. the Cynon valley is indeed a weak area for provision in RCT, considering Hirwaun is not far short of Oakdale (4,000 odd in population with its own WM school - Cwm Derwen) and Aberdare at 31,000, one school unless I am mistaken is all that there is (YGG Aberdar) the nearest then being across in Ferndale. then as you rightly say Mountain ash and Tonypandy/Penygraig/Gilfach with zero provision. Unless RHAG's website is out of date. Which it could be as neither Cwm Derwen nor Penalltau are listed. Are they still in existence do we know?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said:

I note that within the decision letter, another of Jane Davidson's reasons for refusal of 3 new schools was:

"the rate of increase in WM provision in Caerphilly is significantly higher than in any other authority in SE Wales"

Er... no, the letter does not give that as a one of the reasons for her refusal. If you had read the letter properly you would have noted that the part you quoted was the view of one of the objectors. The letter goes on to say that

"The Minister agrees with the LEA that the objector’s comparisons with other
authorities’ rates of growth in provision are neither accurate nor relevant. Each
authority must assess the need in its own area."

MH said...

I'm glad someone still reads post that are several months old, Anon. And that you read the decision letter.

Yes, you're right. She did say that ... but she dismissed all three proposals anyway.

However I think there can be no doubt that there is an unmet demand for WM education, so that the projections that she rejected in the next paragraph as "excessive" in fact turned out not to be. And even if she genuinely thought the projections were excessive, why did she not let at least one, if not two, of the proposals through?

Anonymous said...

MH - Just because a post is old doesn't make it any less interesting - or relevant!

The letter doesn't say that the LA's projections were excessive - just that information on demand provided by the local authority 'tends to support the objector’s view that 560 additional places would be excessive'. You might think that this is tantament to the same thing - but this would be a mistake. The difference may be subtle but it is significant

There has been a been a marked growth in demand for Welsh medium education in Caerffili since 2003 - but I am not sure that it has been at quite the rate projected by the LA at the time. So in that sense, it probably was 'excessive'. Anyway, the important fact is that three Welsh medium primary schools have openned since 2003 - two of them at the locations orginally proposed by the LA - Penalltau and Aberbargod - the other in Oakdale. The schools in Aberbargod and Oakdale (Bro Sannan and Cwm Derwen) are filling up quickly - Penalltau less so. The LA has not re-visited its Trinant proposal because, to put it bluntly, it was a silly place to put a new Welsh medium school.

I agree with you that new provision in the Rhisca area is overdue, although in my opinion Caerffili LA could be working with Newport to find a way forward in this matter. However, the the most pressing issue facing WME in Caerffili is insufficiency in the secondary sector. The LA's recent plans to address this through the introduction of a Welsh medium 'middle school' were, to my mind, hopelessly flawed. They need to come up with something better - and quickly.

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