Old news, but good news

I've just come across an article from last week on the UCAC website which reported on a meeting held at last month's Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale. The meeting was about the growth of Welsh-medium education in the south east, and I discovered one or two things that are news to me, and which sound very encouraging.

     Twf Addysg Gymraeg yn y De Ddwyrain?
     Google Translation

•  The Education Policy and Research Officer at Newport, Ruth Salisbury, said that the city is now actively planning to open a third WM primary school.

•  The Deputy Director of Education in Blaenau Gwent, Richard Parsons, said that there is a definite commitment to introduce immersion classes at Abertillery Comprehensive with the aim of teaching subjects like history, geography and music through the medium of Welsh. And that the county will conduct a survey of parental preferences in the next year, which I think is almost certain to lead to a second WM primary being established.

Excellent news, and the second part goes some way towards softening my criticism of Blaenau Gwent in this post last week.

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Plaid Panteg said...

As a parent seeking to send my children to WM education, my concern is actually that Newport/South of Torfaen does not have secondary WM provision.

Currently all children, even from Newport, are sent to Gwynllw in Trevethin. The school in itself is very good, but it is a fair distance for me to travel from in South Cwmbran, let alone Newport.

It is criminal our newest city has no post 11 WM education.

Anonymous said...

Re: Plaid Panteg. the article does mention in passing that the situation of 2ndry education in the old county of Gwent is being looked at. (Whatever that means)

Maybe it's worth contacting RHAG (parents for Welsh education) about the situation in your area?

MH said...

Yes, PP, it is a problem. What's happening right now is that Gwynllyw is being enlarged. I was only partly impressed with the plan. The building project aims to get rid of the massive amount of sub-standard temporary accommodation it currently relies on and increase the overall size. The costs of doing this were met by contributions from the four Gwent authorities.

I certainly agree with replacing the temporary accommodation. But I did have doubts about enlargement, because I thought it would have been better to open a new WM secondary on another site. Blaenau Gwent were at one stage suggesting that the Nantyglo Comprehensive buildings could become a WM secondary, but the more pressing need is in the south, i.e. Newport. However because both Newport and Monmouthshire (for Ysgol y Ffin would surely feed into it) have now paid money to Torfaen to enlarge Gwynllyw, they are going to be that much more reluctant to pay for a new school themselves.

But it is clearly necessary, and it will have to be built (or an existing school converted) within the next few years, for even the enlarged Gwynllyw will be full by 2012/13. The authorities this year put in a joint bid for money (£1.45m) to do a feasibility study for a new WM secondary (that's the best answer I can give to Anon about what it meant) so they are well aware of the problem. But agreeing a solution, and finding the money to pay for it, is something else again.

Anonymous said...

Any news in Rhondda Cynon Taf of a new WM in Mountain Ash? With YGGAberdar already oversubscribed just 8 years after opening with a large increase in places over its old site.

MH said...

You've asked the question before, Anon, but I can't find anything to suggest RCT have any plans for more WM schools.

The best info I can find is this set of minutes from July 2007.

There are no proposals at present to build a new Welsh medium school in the Cynon Valley and the project does not appear in our 3 year Capital Programme. To create new school provision of any denomination, the Welsh Assembly Government insist on documentary evidence of demand for such provision, which is usually in the form of refused admission requests (in written form), or published forecasts showing increasing pupils numbers, which are based on firm statistical evidence. The evidence necessary to create a new school of at least 240 places (which is, in our opinion, the smallest sustainable “model” of primary provision, namely 8 year groups and 30 children per class) does not exist.

We are aware of cases of localised “pressure” on school places, in particular at YGG Aberdar. In recognition of this, a double mobile classroom unit was added to the site last year, which ensured that all applications for places at the school that met our admissions criteria could be granted. Planning permission for this unit may be extended if future demand warrants and consideration could be given in the future to a permanent extension, again if future sustained demand for places can be proven

When the new YGG Aberdar was constructed, 80 additional places were provided, to meet recognised demand that could be evidenced at that time. The building was also designed to be extendable in the future, if required.

At YGG Aberdar, the Headteacher had suggested a large intake of pupils which has simply not materialised. For example, for September 2007 admissions, the Headteacher provided 76 names of pupils whose parents had allegedly requested places, application forms were sent to all but only 48 bona fide applications have been returned.

There is no evidence of an overall shortfall of places for Welsh Medium education in the Cynon Valley, in either the Primary, or Secondary sectors, and certainly no evidence to suggest a shortfall of places specifically in Mountain Ash or Cwmbach.

I don't agree with their reasoning, because it doesn't take account of those who would go a new WM school if one was available nearby. Neither do I see any justification for claiming that the school has to be 240 (that would be 210 plus nursery) or nothing. On that basis half the schools in RCT would be forced to close!

As it happened, there were 58 children in the YGG Aberdar reception class that year. But the very fact that it now relies on temporary accommodation must be enough to demonstrate that it is full. I'd suggest that you find two EM schools close together with surplus spaces, so one can close and reopen as a WM school. Split Infants and Junior schools are a good place to start. If you know the area, make a suggestion and I'll look into it.

Anonymous said...

A problem in Mountain Ash being there are no Infant/ Junior schools, their all 3-11 primaries.
According to Rhondda Cynon Taf's 2007 figures for the schools in Mountain Ash were-

Places- 199
On Roll- 104
Surplus- 95

Places- 205
On Roll- 138
Surplus- 67

Our Lady's R.C Primary
Places- 111
On Roll- 93
Surplus- 18

Places- 206
On Roll- 180
Surplus- 26

Places- 203
On Roll- 143
Surplus- 60

Pengeulan (Most of whom's catchment area is YGG Abercynon not Aberdar but it is still considered to be in Mountain Ash)
Places- 168
On Roll- 157
Surplus- 11

The same SEP shows Newtown Primary has 22 on roll, I don't know what was happening there but this is now closed (As indicated on the plan) and the old building is now a house.

The most logical thing to do would probably to close the school with the smallest roll (Excluding the Catholic school for obvious reasons) this would be Glenboi, just outside Mountain Ash, between the fairly nice and modern Glenboi housing development, and the council estate of Fernhill. The surplus of the remaining schools is 164 plus OLRCs 18, is more than enough to handle Glenboi's 104 on roll especially considering the areas projected general fall in numbers on roll over the next decade. From Glenboi, Caegarw and Darrenlas are the most natural schools (The closest) to take any of their pupils and as together they don't have enough capacity for 104 extra pupils I'd imagine there would need to be some considerable boundary changes to grow Miskin's catchment area. Also to note none of the schools in the area excluding Glenboi have any real room to grow as they are all in very tightly constrained sites.
Another (Speculative) option could be to close Darrenlas and Caegarw Primary Schools and open a new Dual Stream school on a new site near the new Cynon Valley Hospital on the valley floor. This would have the benefit of leaving to very small sites with Victorian era buildings to open at a new modern site, improving facilities for EM and WM education in the area, however this would be the more expensive and potentially controversial. He downfall in the number of EM places could be met in the short tern by extending Miskin and Glenboi's catchment areas which would help to alleviate their surplus problem which reopening Glenboi as WM wouldn't. This of course is all speculative with no plan forthcoming from RCTCBC.
The major problem is of course Labours willingness to allow for the growth of WM education in the area. One major reason why many parents in the mid Cynon Valley area don't send their children to WM school is because of distance. If my child was 4 years old, would I be happy with him/ her going up to 60 minutes on a bus every morning and evening? I think not!. They say a school need 240 places to be viable, but none in Mountain Ash comes close to this.

MH said...

Thanks for putting that together, Anon (please invent a name for yourself).

I've just been looking at the map and on Google Streetview. There is a remarkably high number of school buildings in the area.

If we were having this discussion three or four years ago, the most obvious candidate would have been Cynon Infants. It was closed because it had fewer than twenty pupils, who were transferred to Darren Las Primary. It was a relatively new building, in a bit of open space. It probably only had capacity for about 75, but that isn't so bad. But the building was snapped up and is now the Darren Las Community Building.

In Clarence Street, Miskin, there is another old school that is now the Continuing Education Centre. So a degree of rationalization to reduce surplus places has already happened.

I've just looked at the latest figures (Jan 2010) on StatsWales for the schools you've listed. In every instance, the numbers on roll have gone down further. As I'm sure you know, but for the sake of others reading this, the numbers you've given are for statutory age children only, excluding nursery.

Places - 199
On Roll - 104 (now 83)
Surplus - 95 (now 116)

Places - 205
On Roll - 138 (now 137)
Surplus - 67 (now 68)

Our Lady's R.C Primary
Places - 111
On Roll - 93 (now 69)
Surplus - 18 (now 42)

Places - 206
On Roll - 180 (now 159)
Surplus - 26 (now 47)

Places - 203
On Roll - 143 (now 83)
Surplus - 60 (now 120)

Places - 168
On Roll - 157 (now 118)
Surplus - 11 (now 50)

So there are very many more surplus spaces now than there were in 2007. Excluding Our Lady's from the equation, it means that there are now 401 surplus spaces in the five remaining schools, whereas there were only 259 in 2007.

So the case for closing one is obviously very strong, with the two obvious candidates being Glenboi (as you say) and now Miskin.

Judging purely by the map, closing Glenboi would mean a journey of 1.6km to Cae Garw or 1.8km to Darren Las. An alternative would be to travel to Cap Coch in the other direction, which is about 1.6km. All of these would involve travelling on the Aberdare Road, which would not be an ideal journey on foot.

On the other hand, Miskin is only 720m from Darren Las and 750m from Pengeulan, meaning both are very much within walking distance, on routes that don't involve main roads. These two schools have 97 surplus spaces between them, which is more than enough for the 83 current pupils at Miskin. The Miskin building has capacity for 203, which is just about right for a viable 1FE school, and is not so tight for space as the other sites if it needs to expand in future (the Google images show open land to both the north and west).

So Miskin would be my choice. Because it has so many surplus places now, I would look at setting up a starter class in part of the the unused space. After a year of two, if there were enough pupils for a viable Ysgol Gymraeg Meisgyn, I would look to divert the new intake that would otherwise have gone to Miskin to Darren Las and Pengeulan. but not move the children already there (unless they wanted to move, say because of siblings). After six years, we would have a fully fledged new WM school, with no child forced to move.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Sorry about my late reply. Its is sad but not unexpected to see big falls in the number on roll in all of Mountain Ash's schools. Also it is a disgrace that YGG Aberdar, a school just 8 years old has to rely on 'temporary accommodation' (something tells me there's nothing temporary about it).

I agree with you than now Miskin would seem the most viable school to close and re-open as a WM school. The amount of surplus spaces would mean its position has really become untenable to keep its current position. A starter class would be a very sensible thing to do as shown by Cardiff, however has Rhondda Cynon Taf ever done this before? The new EM pupils could as you state easily be split between the two nearest EM schools which both have large surplus spaces. What it comes down to though is RCTCBCs willingness to open up another WM school even where there is a clear demand for it with Aberdar- over capacity and Abercynon- near to it. The real problem here IMO is the Labour party, sadly I think its very unlikely that Plaid will regain power in 2012 however we can always hope the current administration will be more forward thinking to establish this school.

Also a big worry of mine would be surplus spaces in the other schools, surely if RCT was to establish a new school it would have to close two on the EM schools otherwise you would still have Glenboi under 50% capacity? I am no expert on school openings and closings so what do you think would happen?

MH said...

Anon, I think that from the numbers of surplus places in EM schools we can certainly create space for a new WM school. The question now is to demonstrate that there would be enough parental demand in the area to make such a school viable. To do that requires either a survey or a breakdown of where the children who currently go to Abercynon or Aberdar come from. From the minutes I quoted before, it is clear that RCT aren't going to make any special effort to create any new WM schools, but if the demand can be shown to exist they would not be able to ignore it ... irrespective of the political colour of the council.

I think it is also clear that the Council will always prefer fewer larger schools because these are cheaper than a greater number of smaller schools. So my guess would be that their preferred solution would be to enlarge Aberdar rather than open a new school in Mountain Ash. But that's where money comes in. It will cost money to build an extension at Aberdar, but cost them nothing to use the empty space in Miskin. In times like these, that matters. The new WM Education Strategy also puts them under an obligation to increase their WM provision by three or four percentage points by 2015, so they will have to figure out some way of doing it.

Over the past few days I've sent a few emails to those who I think would be interested in setting up a new WM school. So if you or anyone wants to contact me - syniadau [at] inbox [dot] com - I think we could probably do more by networking and using local knowledge than on the blog here ... though I wouldn't want that to stop anyone making more comments. Let's form a group that can do the necessary research and put together a firm proposal, then let's try and rally local support around it.

On a slightly different tack, the other area in RCT where there seems to be an obvious "hole" in WM provision is around Tonypandy. So does anyone have any similar ideas for there?

Lyndon said...

The latest QEd2020 document from Swansea council proposes the establishment of three new WM primaries by 2016. The plan for Graig Infants in Morriston has already been announced and the council are planning for two additional schools.

WM Secondary education in the city will be full by 2016 and there are hints at a joint scheme with NPT for a new WM Secondary.

Anonymous said...

"WM Secondary education in the city will be full by 2016 and there are hints at a joint scheme with NPT for a new WM Secondary"

I was about to criticise that, thinking, christ Newport and Swansea sharing a school, that's a heck of a distance!
Then I realised you meant Neath Port Talbot!!

MH said...

I've been looking at the Swansea documents, Lyndon. They're projecting the demand for WM primary places to go up from 1,988 now to 2,719 in 2016.

There's a post brewing.

Anonymous said...

Thats excellent news from Swansea.
Especially because of the new WM secondary school. Pupils from Port Talbot have such a long distance to go to Ystalyfera a new school to serve the south east of NPT and north west of Swansea is much needed.

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