In many respects the Vale of Glamorgan's education policy over the last few years has been forward-looking and positive, particularly the way they responded to a survey showing that the demand for Welsh-medium education was much greater than the provision, and quickly moved to establish two new Welsh-medium starter schools, one in Barry and one in Llanilltud Fawr. Details are here and here.
That makes the reports in the Glamorgan Gem and Western Mail about the impending closure of three schools in the Vale—Llanfair Primary and Llancarfan Primary in the rural Vale, and Oakfield Primary in Barry—appear to be something of a departure from their previous standards. The details of the proposals have not yet been published, but I'd like to offer a few comments on matters that don't seem to have been raised in the reports so far.
Llanfair and Llancarfan Primary Schools
These two schools in the rural Vale are remarkably similar in several respects. They are both located in small villages some distance away from any alternative school and serve large but sparsely populated areas. They are also about the same size. From last year's school census, Llancarfan has 109 children of statutory school age and Llanfair has 114, although Llanfair also has nursery age provision. For a rural area these are very healthy numbers, and are certainly not low enough to justify any thought of them being closed on account of their size. To put things in perspective, only last week Ceredigion announced that they were reprieving Ysgol Dihewyd, which has fewer than 20 pupils.
The average year size in each school is just over 15 compared with an admission number of 18. This means that both schools are comfortably full with very few surplus places. In fact in both cases the original school premises were too small, and they have therefore had to rely on additional temporary accommodation for many years. In itself, this would be a source of concern which might justify a degree of rationalization; however both schools have been enlarged within the last few years. It is complete lunacy to contemplate closing schools which the council has only recently invested considerable amounts of money to permanently enlarge. There must surely be a degree of continuity between one administration and another, otherwise taxpayers' money will simply have gone to waste.
Oakfield Primary School
The situation at Oakfield is rather different. It is in an urban location in Barry and there are five other schools within easy walking distance of it: Cadoxton, Colcot, Gladstone, Holton and Jenner Park. Based on a capacity of seven times the Admission Number, all these schools have surplus places. These are the figures for statutory age children (i.e. excluding nursery provision) for 2012:
Cadoxton ... 413 capacity ... 331 on roll ... 82 surplus places (20%)
Colcot ... 406 capacity ... 237 on roll ... 169 surplus places (42%)
Gladstone ... 350 capacity ... 329 on roll ... 21 surplus places (6%)
Holton ... 525 capacity ... 344 on roll ... 181 surplus places (34%)
Jenner Park ... 273 capacity ... 199 on roll ... 74 surplus places (27%)
Total ... 1,967 capacity ... 1,440 on roll ... 527 surplus places (26%)
Oakfield ... 210 capacity ... 89 on roll ... 121 surplus places (58%)
This level of surplus places is clearly unsustainable and at least one of these schools needs to close, even allowing for future population growth. In such a situation the only question is which.
Oakfield is an obvious choice for three reasons. First, it is not a good school. It's inspection report from Estyn is terrible, classed as "unsatisfactory" on every key question. This is as bad as it can be. So if we put any weight behind the idea that we should not close schools that perform well, it stands to reason that those which perform badly should be first in line to be closed ... providing that there are other, better schools in the same area with enough surplus places. The two closest alternatives, Colcot and Jenner Park, are only a few hundred metres away. So no family will be inconvenienced by the closure.
Second, Oakfield has by far the greatest percentage of surplus places and is now more than half empty. The unpopularity of the school must be linked to its poor performance, and parents are obviously voting with their feet. It is therefore pointless to keep the school open for much longer.
The third reason for choosing to close Oakfield is that it shares the same building with Ysgol Gwaun y Nant. This Welsh-medium school is rated Grade 1 by Estyn on every key question, and is understandably growing both on the strength of its good reputation and because of the general increase in demand for Welsh-medium education. It therefore makes perfect sense for Ysgol Gwaun y Nant to gradually expand into the space currently taken up by Oakfield Primary. Furthermore, there is no reason why this cannot be phased over a few years so as to minimize disruption to children already at Oakfield.
In short, I think the Vale of Glamorgan would be wrong to close either Llanfair or Llancarfan Primary Schools, although perhaps there might be a case for administrative savings such as federalizing the schools under a single headteacher and board of governors.
But the closure of Oakfield Primary seems to be entirely justified both in terms of value for money in reducing surplus places and—much more importantly—because it provides a substandard quality of education to the children who go there.