Cardiff's next Welsh-medium school

Cardiff published a consultation document on the new school to replace Treganna this week. Download it by clicking the image:

     

Nearly everything in it as we've been led to expect, and I can't imagine there'll be any serious objections. It's going to be a three-from entry school built on land owned by the council off Sanatorium Road, between the Arjo Wiggins paper mill site and Lansdowne Surgery.

     

The catchment areas for Treganna and Pwll Coch are to be revised as shown below. Again, nothing surprising. Perhaps they are a bit awkward because the two schools will be only a few hundred metres apart, but there is no other sensible way of doing it.

     

However there was one thing that particularly stood out in the document. This table shows the Welsh-medium intake for the current school year and the projected intake for the next three:

     

Pwll Coch is a 2FE school, and the new Treganna will be 3FE. This means that their combined intake capacity (admission number) will be 150 children. The problem is that the demand is projected to be 157 in September 2012 and 171 in September 2013, which is when the new school will open. Therefore even this new 3FE school (which is already bigger than I'd like any primary school to be) will be inadequate to meet the demand.

So where are the additional 21 places a year going to come from in 2013? A number which will certainly keep on growing in subsequent years. It should be very obvious that yet another WM school will be needed, and looking at the catchment area map, it seems obvious that this needs to be somewhere in Grangetown.

The possibilities will be either to build a new school, or for the new WM school to be set up in an existing EM school building. There are six in that part of the WM catchment area, four in Grangetown (Ninian Park, Grangetown, St Paul's CiW and St Patrick's RC) and two in Butetown (Mount Stuart and St Mary the Virgin CiW). Looking at the capacities and current numbers, two are over capacity, none of the others has any great number of surplus places, and the numbers in all but one are growing. So I don't want to put any of them into the firing line. The only general point I would make is that as more children go to WM schools, fewer will go to other schools. A proper analysis of population trends and parental preferences would be needed before any proposals could be made.

But it is clear that a solution does need to be worked out, and worked out urgently, because even on the day it is opened the new 3FE school will not be big enough to meet the parental demand for WM education in this part of Cardiff.

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However I do think there is an obvious temporary solution that might give bit of breathing space. At present, Tan yr Eos operates as an overflow for Treganna, but also draws children from Grangetown. Tan yr Eos was intended to be a temporary arrangement for a year of two in the existing buildings of Ninian Park Primary, but has now had to be enlarged with temporary accommodation in Sevenoaks Park. This is definitely not a good permanent arrangement, yet to me there seems to be no reason why the children presently there should not transfer to the new school as planned, but that Tan Yr Eos should begin again as a new starter class which can take the 21 places need in Grangetown in 2013 and maybe an additional 30 in 2014, to then move to permanent accommodation in 2015 at the latest. For that reason, I think it would be premature to arrange to dispose of the accommodation presently used by Tan yr Eos.

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The new Treganna on the Sanatorium Road site is designed to meet the existing, long-standing problems of overcrowding in Canton. It's taken a long time to get to this point, and it is now the only solution available. But the real challenge is to keep ahead of the game so that children in Grangetown won't have to endure the same sort of overcrowding. If Cardiff don't work on a solution now, the same problems are inevitable. As always, they need to be planning for the city's next Welsh-medium school.

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17 comments:

Plaid Gwersyllt said...

this is in Band A of 21st C Schools but monies from SBIG Tranche 3 is not guaranteed yet so is there a danger this will be deferred for 12 months as well. Civil Servants from DCELLS are coming to Wrecsam on 13th January to discuss our T1, 2 and 3 SBIG projects, I will let you know outcomes

MH said...

Actually, according to page 8 of the document (despite the 21st Century Schools heading) Cardiff are negotiating to get some of the £6m contribution they want from the WG via SBIG Tranche 3. Their 21st Century Schools bid is classed as an "also". That did surprise me, as I thought SBIG/T3 was settled. So it might well be that some of the uncertainty about deferment of SBIG/T3 is linked to pushing funding for New Treganna through quickly.

Of course that's only second guessing on my part. But it does seem clear to me that "something" is being negotiated with the aim of making sure the funding is available sooner rather than later. This new school is in effect a political deal with the WG to make up for their decision not to allow Treganna to transfer to Lansdowne. Perhaps the quid pro quo for not taking the decision to judicial review was that the WG gave the nod that they would make the necessary financial arrangements.

Another rather odd thing brought up during Carwyn Jones' scrutiny session on 7 December was to do with borrowing. Although the Welsh government has no borrowing powers, local authorities do. It was put to him that councils might be "encouraged" to borrow in lieu of the Assembly doing it, especially because of the worse than expected cut in the block grant settlement for capital projects. He wouldn't be drawn on that, but rather cryptically said he would make them aware that the facility was there if they wanted to use it. Perhaps there is room for a model in which local authorities borrow for such projects, but with the cost of servicing the debt paid by the WG so that councils did not lose out because of it, or some compromise between the two. Call that "third guessing" on my part.

And congratulations on getting planning permission for the new school at Gwersyllt. One more step. Now you just need the money to build it. I hope your funding isn't deferred, but if it is perhaps the idea of borrowing directly for a year as a "bridging loan" might be cheaper than having to put up another couple of temporary classrooms.

Lyndon said...

Cardiff have already proposed expanding Pwll Coch to 3FE in their 21st Century Schools document. The site is big enough.

MH said...

Thanks, Lyndon. I didn't know that, but I've just googled it and found it mentioned here and in a bit more detail here. I looked for the 21st Century schools bid to find out which band it was in, but couldn't find it. Do you have a link?

At least Cardiff have recognized the capacity problem, which is something. And even if I hold my nose at the thought of yet another 3FE primary school (630 pupils plus another 90 or more in the nursery is far too big for my liking) there is still the issue of geographical distribution. It seems silly to have two large schools within a few hundred metres of each other, but a huge catchment area stretching to Grangetown, Butetown and West Moors some distance away. I think it would be better to find another site. I think people might object to a taking a corner of the Marl, but maybe the strip of wooded wasteland (an old railway) on Ferry Road opposite Staples and West of South Clive Street. It's long and narrow (220m x 60m) but is in fact as wide and much longer than the site of Ninian Park Primary (105m x 60m).

The other thing is that Pwll Coch was built as a 1FE school, then expanded to 2FE with a new wing. That increased classroom space, but left the hall, dining room and other shared facilities sized for only half the new number. Adding yet more classrooms without building larger shared facilities would be out of the question, but I guess that Pwll Coch probably want the bigger hall anyway; and because of the way schools are funded, probably want the extra money that would come with even more pupils. It's one of those instances where what an individual school wants is not necessarily best in terms of school provision as a whole.

Anonymous said...

Just as a matter of interest, how many 3FE primary schools are there currently in Wales?

MH said...

That's an easy one, Anon. It's all on the StatsWales site, here.

A three form entry school with no empty places will have 630 (7 x 90) children of statutory age with 90 in nursery year 2, making 720 in total, plus a few more nursery year 1.

This would make them quite a bit bigger than any other primary school in Wales. In 2010, the ten largest were:

Cardiff - Rhiwbeina Primary School ... 562 + 77 = 639
Vale of Glamorgan - Romilly Primary School ... 527 + 80 = 607
Newport - Glan Usk Primary School ... 556 + 45 = 601
Pembrokeshire - Pembroke Dock CP School ... 516 + 83 = 599
Newport - St Julian's Primary School ... 520 + 72 = 592
Flintshire - Ysgol Bryn Coch ... 535 + 56 = 591
Newport - Pillgwenlly C.P. School ... 513 + 75 = 588
Caerphilly - Rhiw Syr Dafydd Primary ... 477 + 87 = 564
Torfaen - New Inn Primary School ... 481 + 59 = 540
Newport - Lliswerry Primary School ... 463 + 73 = 536

Anonymous said...

So once Pwll Coch becomes 3FE, are we to understand that the Welsh-language community in Canton/Grangetown will by chance have the two largest primary schools in Wales?

Three questions:

1. What are the educational advantages/disadvantages of this?

2. What will be the effect on recruitment to WM education; i.e. will parents begin to back off because they don't want their children to go to primary schools with 700+ children.

3. What will be the effect on Welsh as a community language in Canton, given that it could be argued that Canton is the only place in Wales outside the "Fro Gymraeg" where Welsh is heard in the street, in parks etc as an everyday language by a very large percentage of the population. In fact, in Thompson Park in Canton, Welsh is used among children playing far more often than English.

I ask these questions as a friend of WM education.

Anonymous said...

I went to Bryntaf WM primary in the 1970s - at the time the only WM school in Cardiff.

If I remember correctly we had 600 pupils (located the Parade, behind Newport Rd where Coleg Glan Hafren is now after being moved from Mynachdy near Gabalfa).

I have to say I didn't feel under a disadvantage for being in such a large school - 4 different classes to every year.

I think too much can be made about the size of classes.

On balance, I'd prefer my kids to go to a larger primary school than a smaller one - in fact they do! And they're very happy there.

MH said...

While there may be educational disadvantages with very small schools (because they might not have the resources to provide the full curriculum) there isn't the same problem with large schools. Class sizes are an issue in all schools; but the number of classes in a school is not an immediate issue, because most children in primary schools will be in the same class most of the time.

The size of a school as a whole will only become apparent to children at assembly, breaks and school-wide activities, but it will have an effect on the ethos of a school. Treganna has been a small community school, and as a result of the expansion it will become something else. Whether that is good or bad will be a matter of opinion, though I'm sure everyone involved in the transition will do their best. Personally, I prefer smaller schools; but others (like Anon 9:31) might not. No problem there. I only hope that Cardiff ends up with sufficient variegation in the WM sector to offer parents that sort of choice. Having two very large schools doesn't offer the same choice as one large and two smaller schools would. As Anon 00:38 noted, very large schools are likely to put at least some parents off.

But having said that, the much more important thing is that there are sufficient WM places available. I accept a 3FE Treganna as the only choice left available. But I fear that Cardiff's previous difficulties in being able to expand WM education will now result in them taking the easiest option every time, which will be to expand (first by temporary classrooms, then by building a permanent new wing) the WM schools they already have rather than look to create new ones. I wouldn't mind betting that Ysgol Y Wern will expand in that way in north Cardiff, and will be a 3FE school within the next five years. Again, I think the better option would be to open a new WM school, but the hassles involved will mean it is easier to expand on the same site. Easy is not always best.

We know from surveys of parental preferences that travel distance is a large factor in determining whether parents will choose a WM school. Many (about 10% of all parents) would prefer to send their child to a WM school, but don't do it because there is an EM school that is much closer. I'm sure Cardiff would say that most of Grangetown is closer than two miles away; but two miles is not really walking distance if you have small children, and if there is an EM school only half a mile away, convenience may well count for more. Indeed it might be a necessity if you don't have transport. The irony is that if you're in those parts of the catchment area that are more than two miles away (Butetown and West Moors) Cardiff will provide transport.

Skip Hire Cardiff said...

I know that these days parents are looking at lot more at the quality of education as mentioned in other comments parents may be a little wary of schools with high class room numbers as the teaching is divided further.

more small schools might be a better solution than single large schools.

Dylan said...

Thanks again for this MH.

As a parent from Riverside, I note that this document was launched on the last full day before the closing date for school applications for September 2011. Coincidence? That application documentation stated that pupils in Riverside were in the catchment area of Kitchener (EM) and Pwll Coch AND Tanyreos (WM). How can any address be in TWO WM schools' catchment areas? And how can Tanyreos have a catchment area at all, given that it's an overflow for Treganna? As far as I'm aware, catchment areas don't overlap. Certainly, the council's own maps show that Tanyreos has no catchment area (including the one they sent prospective parents). I feel that the council is being less than straightforward on this.

I'm also worried by the wording of the consultation document which talks of 'Sufficient capacity to meet the rising demand for Welsh-medium primary education within the Canton area whilst taking account of emerging trends in the Riverside and Grangetown areas of the city'. I.e. sort out Canton, with Riverside and Grangetown having to make do with whatever's left. It also is a nonsense that some Riverside (and probably Grangetown) children will presumably be starting in Tanyreos in September and then will be moved over to the new Treganna, on the other side of Pwll Coch, in 2013 (if things go ahead). All along they will have been actually living in the (old and new) Pwll Coch catchment. (And what of siblings?)

It's also very interesting that a couple of fields in southern Canton will now hold the two largest primary schools in the whole of Wales, which between them could serve a secondary school of over 1,200 pupils.

Looking closely at Pwll Coch, the council's figures for this year (2011) seem to be disastrous. 94 children for 60 places. What will happen to the 34? EM for some, others bussed to who knows where (given that Treganna and Tanyreos are already full). In 2012, it will be 102 children for 60 places, it seems. Speaking to parents in the Pwll Coch area, it is already clear that much of its catchment area is a no-man's land from which WM children are sent to Llandaf, Caerau, Grangetown, Whitchurch etc.

Anyway, good news for Canton, which they deserve. Otherwise, west Cardiff is still a complete mess.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps the quid pro quo for not taking the decision to judicial review was that the WG gave the nod that they would make the necessary financial arrangements."

I don't know the reason why Cardiff did not pursue JR, but I can assure you that your suggestion is incorrect - ludicrous even.

I would guess that Cardiff decided against JR because a)it would achieve nothing in terms of resolving the problem and b) their legal advice suggested the case was unwinnable - which indeed it was.

MH said...

Thanks for the info, Dylan. So much of what Cardiff has done and is doing with regard to WM education drives me to tears. There doesn't seem to be a coherent strategy, just a series of ad-hoc stops and starts as the political parties try and score points off each other. Yet, despite that, WM education is expanding.

I take the view that I don't so much care how it's done as that it's done. There's more than one way to skin a cat. But it's not good for those who will be shunted around, for siblings that have to go to different schools and for those who understandably don't send their children to starter classes in temporary locations like Tan yr Eos because there's no telling where the permanent school will be.

The one big thing that Cardiff have failed to do is properly assess parental demand. I have heard it said that they are working to a target of 20% WM education, but it is ridiculous to set a target like that without such a survey. If Cardiff is the same as Swansea, Wrexham, Caerffili, the Vale of Glamorgan or even Newport, the actual demand will be at least twice the current provision.

Again, it comes down to politics. What would Cardiff do when they found that current real demand was between 25% and 35%? They couldn't build new schools, so they would have to close EM schools and create WM schools in their place. But with all the inter-party political battles there have been, it seems that no-one has the stomach to do it. Mark Drakeford's article on Click on Wales was rather bland in the sense that it just attacked Cardiff without offering any suggestions about how to improve things. That's only to be expected from the local Labour party. This made some sense:

"Parental demand assessed in advance of supply produces one figure. But once a supply, in the form of a new school, is created, then untapped, latent demand rises to the surface to overwhelm the number of new places on offer."

But it almost seems he is offering it as an excuse for not measuring demand at all.

MH said...

Anon 17:26, I noted that the Consultation Document hints at unusual, seemingly retrospective, means of getting Assembly funding from SBIG rather than 21C. DCELLS are playing their cards very close to their chests, but I'm willing to bet that money will be found from somewhere and that New Treganna will open in September 2013.

To you, I'm sure it will be quite inexplicable. But I'll be smiling.

Anonymous said...

MH - Irrespective of whether or not the money for the new school is found, it will have nothing to do with any backroom deal on JR as you have alleged. This isn't speculation or assumption on my part - I know it to be a fact.

MH said...

I'll take that fervent denial in the same way that I took your assertion that a judicial review of Carwyn Jones' decision would be unwinnable, Anon.

As I said, there are many ways to skin a cat. As it happens, building a new WM school was part of the 2008 Capital Vision Agreement between Plaid and the LibDems.

- while respecting fully the current consultation, 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."

The reason that didn't happen back then was because the Welsh Government made it clear that it wasn't prepared to see a new school built without first addressing the issue of surplus spaces. So Cardiff had to jump through other hoops. The proposal to close Lansdowne met the criteria the WG had set down, but was rejected nonetheless. It's party politics, given a sharper edge because of Labour's continuing heavy loss of seats in 2008, and their determination to make life as hard for the current administration as possible.

The clearest sign that an argument has been won is when your opponents rubbish you, but present your ideas as if they had thought of them. When the three local Labour councillors claimed that this latest proposal was what they had suggested, it was obvious that the go ahead for the new Treganna was assured.

Dylan said...

Two years on I've being rereading the discussion above - a depressing experience. The issues have not been addressed and the council is now consulting on permanently expanding Pwll Coch to 3FE, but with no guarantee of improving the school in a significant way. Pwll Coch is basically a 1FE school, with a 1FE hall and facilities. I'm afraid you were overly optimistic when you said 'Adding yet more classrooms without building larger shared facilities would be out of the question', MH (8 January 2011 19:30).

Here are the details, although I can't find the proper consultation documents on-line:
www.cardiff.gov.uk/objview.asp?object_id=24849

The consultation is disingenuous: it's asking people to accept Pwll Coch as 'technically' a permanent 3FE school but suggests that this is a short term solution. So no real improvement to the buildings are offered. But if the decision is made to stay 3FE there will be no opportunity to revisit this should the council decide that their temporary plans should become permanent.

It seems that the plans for a new school in Grangetown have got nowhere.

Dylan

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