An end in sight for the Treganna Saga

I first became interested in the saga of Treganna a few years ago, easily long enough to remember the Capital Vision programme agreed between Plaid Cymru and the LibDems in 2008. Plaid's idea was to do everything possible to avoid creating unnecessary conflict in Canton, and the essence of what we wanted was that a new Welsh-medium school would be built in order to ease the overcrowding problems in Treganna. The actual words of the agreement were:

While respecting fully the current consultation, [we will] fast track as a priority the provision of a new primary school within the community of Canton to deal with the overcrowding at Ysgol Treganna, on a site yet to be identified, and subject to consultation, statutory processes and Welsh Assembly Government approval, aim to open the facility in 2011. We will – again, subject to the outcome of consultation – seek to retain Radnor and Lansdowne Primary Schools without prejudicing short term measures to cater for Welsh-medium demand in the area.

One immediate action for the short term will be to secure a more equitable share of teaching space for Welsh-medium education at the Treganna/Radnor site and to examine the possibility if needed of temporary new Welsh-medium classrooms in the area.

I am not sure that even now I can put my finger on why that agreement wasn't implemented straight away. I guess the obvious answer is money, and of course I have no objections to saving money. But it appears that money became too big a problem, and so various other options were pursued instead. One of them was a proposal for a new building to house Lansdowne as a one form entry English-medium school in the grounds of Fitzalan School. This, along with the EM schools at Radnor, Severn and Kitchener, would have easily provided easily enough space for not only the current numbers of children in Canton whose parents want them to have an EM education, but for any reasonable growth in future. Treganna would have moved to the old Lansdowne buildings. But that plan was not supported by Lansdowne, and so the council then took the decision to close Lansdowne altogether. The numbers supported that decision, but Carwyn Jones refused to let Lansdowne be closed.

So the proposal now being put forward as a solution to creating space for the increasing demand for WM education in Canton has brought a wry smile to both sides of my face:




     BBC, 21 September 2010

On one side, why did Cardiff not press ahead with the plan that had been agreed in the Capital Vision document? If they had stuck with what had been agreed then, the new school would now be under construction. But on the other, why is the talk now of building a three form entry school? I don't think anyone in 2008 envisaged the new WM school being more than two form entry, and if a new Lansdowne had been build it would only have needed to be one form entry ... and it would also balance the EM provision by providing an EM school in Canton south of the railway.

The only rationale seems to be that everyone has got heartily sick of the whole sorry saga; and that Cardiff have got the nod from the Welsh Government that they will cough up the majority of the £9m necessary to build this new 3FE school. Great. It's a solution. Cardiff will be pleased to get the money from the Welsh Government; the Welsh Government will be relieved that it's avoided a damaging judicial review; Lansdowne will be delighted that they can continue to occupy a building that has much more space than they need; Treganna will no longer be squeezed into inadequate and substandard accommodation. Everybody gets what they want. So yes, it's a good solution ... but it's one hell of an expensive solution. It's proof once more of the adage that you can always solve a problem if you throw enough money at it.


Don't get me wrong. I'm happy enough with this outcome ... if indeed it is carried through, though I think the manner in which it is now being put forward suggests it will be. The situation has not just been a political farce, it has meant real inconvenience for the children and staff at Treganna, and worse for those who were not able to get a WM place in the area at all and opted for EM education rather than to have to travel elsewhere. I can therefore take comfort that one part of Cardiff will have the additional WM places it needs ... at least for the current demand. I am certainly happy at the idea of the new school having plenty of green open space to play and learn in, for that in itself should make up for the extra distance that children in the centre of Canton will have to walk to get there. What parents of children at Lansdowne turned down, I'm sure most parents in Treganna will be delighted to take instead.


However I hope people will forgive me for trying to inject a few notes that are not on the hymnsheet. First, this solution does nothing to solve the problem of surplus places. In fact it creates 630 additional surplus spaces. I have no doubt that the new school itself will rapidly fill up, but Cardiff will be left with not only Lansdowne's surplus places, but now Radnor with a whole new empty building to add to the surplus it already has in its current building.

It's all very well for Cardiff to justify this by saying that the projections show that the population of this part of Cardiff will rise. I'm sure it will. But I'm willing to bet that although the numbers of school age children in Canton will rise, the number of those in EM education will continue to go down. The trend towards WM education is quite clear, so any overall increase in the number of school age children will be offset by a greater increase in those whose parents want them to have a WM education. I predict that in a few years one EM school in Canton will close simply because the demand for EM education will fall and Cardiff will not be able to justify the expense of keeping them all open. That will be the ultimate irony.

But looking at the wider picture, this solution will only reinforce the idea already prevalent in a good number of local authorities that the they do not have to make tough decisions about closing EM schools to get rid of their surplus places in the EM sector and set up new WM schools to meet the ever increasing parental demand for them. Why go through that all that hassle when the Welsh Government has given other councils the money to build new WM schools instead? I can imagine many education departments now using the excuse that they will only address the problem of meeting the growing demand for WM education if the government gives them the money to do it.

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Anonymous said...

Good post MH. As you point out there'll be even more surplus places in Radnor Rd now (why, by the way, is that school, which shares the same site as the present Ysgol Treganna, never villified with words like 'crachach', 'middle class' and 'snobs' though one supposes their kids are from mostly the same socio-economic background?! - not that I want to see Radnor Rd called by such names either).

At a time when councils across Wales - Powys and Gwynedd come instantly to mind - are closing schools because they're under capacity that Cardiff (rather Labour in WAG) are now spending millions to open a new WM school ... which is in virtually the same catchment area as WM Ysgol Pwll Coch!?

In any case, it seems, it's worth voting Plaid if you want WM and EM schools 'cos Labour will do anything, spend millions, to resolve the situation so as they try and win back 1 council ward seat.

Dylan said...

I was hoping that you'd post on this, MH, so thanks for not disappointing me! Living in west Cardiff as I do, with a three-year old due to start school in 2011, trying to work out where he'll end up is a nightmare. From speaking to parents in Canton/Victoria Park, it seems that the council has sent children from there to Welsh-medium schools in each of Grangetown, Canton, Llandaf, Caerau and Whitchurch. Our plans to move house are at a stop until we know roughly which part of the city our school run might have to get to!

My initial thoughts on hearing this latest announcement were much as yours:
i. this plan was around three years ago, and here we go again
ii. it would cause a huge number of surplus places in Canton schools
iii. it follows that this plan would sound the death knell for either Lansdowne or Radnor Road
iv. presumably, Cardiff would have had an unofficial go-ahead from Carwyn Jones as this plan goes contrary to WAG's policy of only approving school reorganisations if they get to grips with surplus numbers, something Leighton Andrews has been banging on about since he was appointed
v. the precedent set by this whole affair is very damaging for Welsh-medium education, which can only be catered for, apparently, by hugely expensive one-off decisions which go contrary to normal policies. Note that Jonathan Morgan is already using this new plan as a weapon to stop the reorganisation in Whitchurch:

BUT, I see in Golwg today that Carwyn Jones claims that he knows nothing of this plan. He'll consider it like any other, he says. If he follows the guidlines on this (Circular 23/02 etc) then I can only assume that he'll turn it down (as long he's happy to face the storm that would follow)

Dylan said...

A quick follow up. Here's the link for Carwyn's comments:

Rhodri Morgan has also poured cold water on the plan (surprise surprise):

Cibwr said...

And of course if you spend money on new Welsh medium schools then you get accused of preferential treatment.... really is a lose lose situation.

Anonymous said...

The new plan isn't really a solution but it's all right.

It seems to me that West Cardiff is experiencing that rarest of things - a language shift from English to Welsh. The sadness is that two polticians, Morgan and Patel believe that playing the ethnic/language card has any relevance in modern Wales. What Rhodri has done will for ever blemish his career.

MH said...

I'm sorry not to have replied sooner, and hope someone will still be reading the thread.

Dylan, Although there are conflicting signals, I think that the scheme will go ahead as planned. As for Carwyn Jones, the tone of what he said in the third video, and in particular the way he emphasized the detached "eto" appeared to me to convey the impression that he and his government wanted to be seen to have nothing to with the plan, but will deal with it (and deal with it positively) when they get it. He has to say this, because his line when he refused the closure of Lansdowne was that it was entirely up to Cardiff to come up with a new plan. But I think it's almost certain that this has been talked about in discussions at some level and has been agreed as the way Labour want to move forward.

The critical thing that leads me to think this is the reaction of the three local Labour councillors. In their statement to the Guardian they said:

"We are extremely pleased that the council is now proceeding with proposals to build a new three form entry Welsh-medium school (plus a nursery) on a site we identified. It just goes to show that involving local councillors in the decision making process can deliver results for our community."

" ... We are happy to work with the Council on these new proposals, and only wish that they had considered our concerns and suggestions at an earlier stage."

And WalesOnline adds:

"We are extremely pleased that the council is now proceeding with proposals to build a new school on a site we identified," they said.

"Canton councillors opposed the previous plans to close Lansdowne Primary School and move Ysgol Treganna onto the site, however, [we] have always supported the building of a new Welsh-medium school."

When someone says that they were responsible for this new plan and that a new school on this site was their idea all along, that's a pretty clear indication of their support ... even though I can't find anything to suggest this was their idea. It also fits in with the "big picture" narrative that Labour made it a local election issue and promised that no school would be closed, so Carwyn was merely implementing at Assembly level what his colleagues at Council level were defeated on. It's a blatant misuse of the separation of power ... but that's what Labour do!

As for Rhodri Morgan, I just think he's being his usual mischievous self. He's playing the "innocent ignoramous" card. It is very clear that the Welsh Government are going to provide capital funding for schools, and Local Authorities all over Wales are putting together their bids for their share of it. As one example, Wrexham's new school is going to be 70% funded by the government, 30% by Wrexham. New Treganna is roughly the same split. As another example, Torfaen are planning a £226m programme of school rebuilding. OK, they won't get it, but they'll get some of it. And Cardiff will get their share of the pot too. This £6m will be part of the next round of allocations, but the downside for Cardiff is that it will be £6m less to spend on other schools.

MH said...

Cibwr, Yes I agree. But the response is to say that Lansdowne were offered a brand new building first, but preferred to stay where they are. You can't eat your cake and have it.


Anon, It would be nice to think that, but I'm not sure we can say that yet. But what is happening is that more and more parents in Cardiff want a WM education for their children. Cardiff's biggest problem is that they still haven't surveyed the need, and until they do they are always on the back foot ... firefighting to provide the necessary accommodation at the last moment rather than giving themselves two or three extra years breathing space to plan properly. If they did this, it would put an end to different groups throwing out different projections. At present WM accounts for something like 12% and Cardiff are planning for 20%. But I'm sure that the current demand—if it were surveyed—is likely to be around 35% or 40% if a WM school is available locally, rather than a car or bus journey away.

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