A foundation for Cardiff's fourth WM secondary

I have to admit to being a little surprised by the decision to allow Whitchurch High School in Cardiff to become a Foundation School, especially in the light of the proposed Education Measure that would prevent schools becoming Foundation Schools in future. I assume that Leighton Andrews concluded that he could not reasonably block the application under the current rules. That's fair enough. I don't have any doubt that the school is perfectly capable of running its own affairs outside local authority control.

However in this instance, it seems that the major motive behind the application has been to sidestep Cardiff's plan to reduce it from a twelve form entry to a ten form entry school. Cardiff's reasons for wanting to do this were:

In recent years there has been a significant fall in the number of children residing in the catchment area of Whitchurch High School whose parents/guardians are requesting an English-medium education. This fall means that Whitchurch High School would have to rely in future on a much larger proportion of pupils commuting from across the city, if it were to operate at a size similar to its present level.

Establishing the school at 10 forms of entry will not only meet the future needs of the children in the local area but will also help to ensure that pupils in other areas of the city also continue to have a viable school in their local area. As school budgets at every school are largely dependent upon numbers on roll, these proposals aim to ensure that secondary schools have a more stable budget and can plan for a viable future.

Cardiff Council Website

My primary concern is the provision of Welsh-medium education; so even though the future size of the High School was part of Cardiff's overall proposals for reorganization of schools in the Whitchurch area, it was of much less concern to me than finding a solution to the problems of overcrowding and over-reliance on substandard temporary accommodation at Ysgol Melin Gruffydd. Leighton Andrew's decision at the end of January has at least found a solution to that.

However, alongside the need to increase Welsh-medium provision, Cardiff does have the problem of large numbers of surplus places in its English-medium schools at both primary and secondary level. Now to my way of thinking a twelve from entry school is much too large; but that's only my opinion, and I'm more than happy for parents to be free to make that choice for themselves. Yet as Cardiff said, one reason for reducing the intake at Whitchurch High was to increase the numbers of children going to other English-medium secondary schools in the city so that these areas "continue to have a viable school in their local area". The inevitable consequence of Whitchurch High remaining as 12FE school is that Cardiff will now have to look elsewhere to reduce the number of surplus places in the secondary sector, which will almost certainly mean closing one school.

And that, of course, will provide an obvious opportunity to create a fourth Welsh-medium secondary in Cardiff.

Cardiff currently has two WM secondaries, with a third due to open on the old St Teilo's site in September 2012. But the rapid increase in the numbers of children at WM primaries means that this fourth WM secondary will be needed by around 2015 or 2016. Any ideas as to where it might be?

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

The heart would say Cathays which was Cardiff's unofficial Welsh School in the pre WM years. Not that there was that much Welsh but it did teach the language, was the school of pioneer educator Elfed Thomas and produced people like the poet Bobi Jones.
Logicaly with Pwll Coch and Treganna having five forms between them the fourth scool should be in the south-west of the city but with Fitzalan popular it would have to be a new-build. Unlikely at this time.

Lateral thinking might suggest co-operation with VOG about the soon to be abandoned Dinas Powys part of Saint Cyres. Maybe a school for Penarth/Cardiff Bay/Canton.

Cibwr said...

My father was taught by Elfed Thomas and I have the privilege of meeting him once. He was a huge influence on my father and hence me. I was educated at Whitchurch High and I can honestly say that size was not a positive thing there. The staff did not know each other and the headmaster was remote from staff let alone its students. Split between two sites it was ripe for being reduced in size, split in two or having its catchment area changed.

Personally I would oppose the foundation status of my old school. Its just to sidestep the plans for reform. Their status will have a knock on effect elsewhere. That is to be regretted.

MH said...

Your comment on the St Cyres annexe has given me food for thought, Anon. The situation is that the one existing WM secondary in VoG, Bro Morgannwg, has an admission number of 189. This (perhaps not by coincidence) is also the combined admission number of the five WM primaries [here].

Bro Morgannwg is not full at present. It has about 140 pupils in each year and therefore could take about another 50. But the combined reception year intake in the primaries in 2010 was 194 [here], and that means that Bro Morgannwg will reach its full admission number in another 5 years. The trend is for expansion, which is why VoG are setting up two new starter schools [here, update here] and expanding Pen y Garth. That's potentially an intake of another 75 children, although it might take two or three years to get to that number. There is also the possibility of the Dinas Powys Infants building becoming a new WM primary if an all though EM primary school is established on the Murch Junior site. So VoG will definitely need another WM secondary, probably by 2016, although it might be able to hold out for a year or two with additional temporary accommodation.

I don't know what the timetable for development of the main St Cyres site (and therefore the closure of the Dinas Powys annexe) is, but the two might dovetail together quite nicely. Nor do I know the capacity of the annex, but from the picture it looks as if it would be entirely suitable as a WM secondary (it's two storey, so it's bigger than it looks at first glance, and seems to be in good repair) ... and it has plenty of land which it could use for any necessary expansion.

So yes, it's a good idea, and it could definitely be used by children from the south and west of Cardiff if there was a shortage of WM secondary places there. However I don't think it detracts from the need for a fourth WM secondary in Cardiff itself (I need to do the same sort of numbers exercise) but it might well affect the decision as to which would be the best site in Cardiff for a fourth WM secondary.

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