Crisis for WM school places in Cardiff

 
A couple of days ago I received a copy of a letter from RhAG, the group campaigning for more Welsh-medium education, that has been sent to the Director of Education at Cardiff Council. It goes into some detail about the impending crisis in providing sufficient Welsh-medium places in Cardiff, demonstrated by the surprisingly large number of parents whose children have been refused places at the Welsh-medium school of their choice. As it was also copied to the Education Correspondent of the Western Mail the intention was clearly for it to be made public, but as the Western Mail haven't—or haven't yet—run the story, I thought it would be a good idea to publish it on Syniadau.

 

 
RhAG has expressed its concern generally at the level of refusals on first allocation in relation to September 2015 primary admissions for WM schools, which is at an unprecedentedly high level and which must be attributed to the failure to plan proactively for growth. However RhAG does appreciate that the LA now have to cater for EM growth which was absent from 1995 onwards until about 2 or 3 years ago.

On first allocation, 685 places were given at WM schools to applicants and 110 were refused.

The total number of available WM reception places was a potential of 787 places which realistically would probably cover the 795 who gave a WM school as their first choice having regard to the various events that can change the demand over the 3-4 months between application and allocation. There were therefore probably enough places to meet the demand if one treats the demand and places on a city-wide basis. However it is apparent that there were not enough places to satisfy parental demand for WM primary places as parents want a school which is reasonably close to home, and it is not reasonable to expect a child in Trowbridge to have to travel to Pentwyn, for example.

In fact the first allocation of places was actually lower in number at 685 this year than the 693 allocated at the same stage last year. The number of refusals at 110 is the highest ever and it is more than likely that of those 110 only a small percentage, probably less than 25%, will ultimately find a WM place because the parents will have reluctantly taken an EM place which has the merit of being local even though the child will in 90% of the cases have started in a WM setting in nursery for 1 or 2 years. This is a loss wholly unacceptable to those who have worked hard to persuade parents of the benefits of WM education and have succeeded, only to be frustrated by the inadequacy of the provision, particularly as the increase of the percentage in WM education is Welsh Government policy to which the LA has subscribed by preparing its Welsh in Education Strategic Plan.

RhAG suggest that the city and county of Cardiff must do better next year, by increasing the accessible provision and altering the method of application for and consequent allocation of places.

 
1. INCREASE OF ACCESSIBLE PROVISION

It is apparent that the shortage of places and consequent high level of refusals is localised. In 7 out of 16 catchments there were no refusals or only one. In 4 schools there were refusals above or close to 20 and in another 3 refusals of 8 or 6. To some extent those refused were applicants resident outside the catchment but there were a total of 23 refused who were resident in catchment, and we suspect that some out of catchment applications were made by parents who had every reason to believe that they had no hope of a place in their catchment school.

The following is a review of the schools area by area, suggesting the remedies advocated by RhAG.

a. Far East

In this area the 2 schools are Bro Eirwg and Pen-y-pil, where respectively 8 and 2 children were refused places. We believe that the 2 unsuccessful out-of-catchment pupils at Pen-y-pil were Glan Morfa pupils whose parents believed, correctly, that they would not get in to Glan Morfa after 2 years of 10+ children being refused there. We cannot guess the origin of parents from out of catchment seeking places at Bro Eirwg unless, yet again they lived in the Glan Morfa catchment. Clearly both schools are full and the growing need can only be met by expanding Pen-y-pil to 2 streams.

b. South East

Glan Morfa is overcrowded with demand for the third year exceeding provision. The LA has a plan to meet this need which is for publication at the end of this month which must include a proposal to make additional provision at Reception level in September 2016

c. East Central

Between them Y Berllan Deg and Pen-y-groes can cope with the demand in this area. It would be helpful if the availability of places at Pen-y-groes could be widely advertised.

d. North and North Central

In this area 3 of the 4 schools are under pressure, namely Y Wern, Mynydd Bychan and Melin Gruffydd and the one with spare accommodation Glan Ceubal is really convenient to take overspill only from the southern part of the Melin Gruffydd catchment. The buildings of Melin Gruffydd and Mynydd Bychan are not capable of extension. We suspect that the out-of-catchment demand for Melin Gruffydd comes from parents in the area of Heath south of Heathwood Road who are in the Mynydd Bychan catchment but who have no hope of a place at Mynydd Bychan due to pressure for places from pupils living nearer the school site. As RhAG has repeatedly urged the only sensible thing to do for Mynydd Bychan school is to reduce its catchment so that it serves only Cathays and Little Heath (Y Waun Ddyfal). The rest of Great Heath (MYNYDDBYCHAN i.e. south of Heathwood Rd) should be transferred into the catchment of Y Wern which can be extended to a full 3 FE which will be immediately taken up. The pressure to overspill Heath children into Melin Gruffydd may then be relieved. Glan Ceubal can take overspill from Whitchurch village as well as from the Pencae catchment. We understand why the LA was reluctant to see unfilled places at Y Wern and thus refused RhAG's urging that it be made 3 FE at once but taking this step is the only way of relieving pressure on both MG and Mb which is evident from this year's figures.

e. Far North West

Creigiau and Gwaelod-y-garth are both just full. Further growth can be expected and we urge the LA to close the small EM provision at Gwaelod-y-garth and transfer it to Pentyrch which used to have spare capacity.

f. West

Two of the three schools here (Pencae and Nant Caerau) are oversubscribed but cannot be expanded on their sites. Pencae suffers from being adjacent to a major place of Welsh employment and is a convenient place to take out-of-catchment children (20 refusals of out-of-catchment children; a repetition of last year). However the LA should have regard to the proposal for housing to take the place of the BBC studios which will further increase the demand at Pencae. The developers will need to provide a 2 stream WM school to replace Pencae. Nant Caerau serves an area with a different demographic. Last year 10 children were refused places at NC; this year 21 of which 7 were in catchment (we imagine that the other 14 were from Ely also very local for whom there are only 11 places at Coed-y-gof, the catchment school). Something must be done to expand the buildings available to Nant Caerau. RhAG accepts that expansion cannot be on site. The possibilities are:

     1. Part of Glyn Derw
     2. New build on Ely Mill where the county has s106 rights
     3. At Michaelston when Michaelston moves out onto the Glyn Derw site.

There are currently 11 vacant places at Coed-y-gof which are likely to be filled by:

     1. Ely children refused at Nant Caerau
     2. 20 out of catchment children at Pencae
     3. The usual late applicants.

The total of the above is more than the number of vacant places. Does Coed-y-gof need a third stream?

g. South Central

Here we have 2 existing schools and the new Grangetown/Butetown school for which starter provision is to be made in the buildings formerly occupied by Tan-yr-Eos. At Treganna 16 have been refused who can be offered places at Tan-y-Eos. The total of applications in the Four Wards so far this year seems to be 161 but we would expect some of those refused at Pencae to opt for Pwll Coch. (We are aware of one child resident on the east of Cathedral Road and thus in the Pencae catchment who is likely to do this) We would urge that there be provision to accept 60 at Tan-yr-Eos in 2016 next year, having regard to the magnetic effect of a new Welsh-medium school which the new school will be.

 
2. APPLICATION METHOD

RhAG would urge that the LA in its literature for new parents highlight the difficulty of matching schools to children precisely, warning parents that if they want to choose WM education and have started a child in a Nursery class then it would be wise not only to choose one WM school but also a second to enable the council to meet demand with some flexibility. An effort should be made to avoid presenting a parent with a choice of one local WM school or a local EM school. If a WM school has been the first choice the LA should not couple a refusal of a WM place with the offer of an EM place but rather should indicate that another WM place is available which should not be an impossible journey away. Only in this way will the council fulfil its duty to promote the growth of WM education.

RhAG has expressed its concern at one aspect in particular of the admissions this year, which is its failure to honour the sibling link priority for admission to primary school.

The aspect of particular concern is the total of 8 applications refused in spite of the existence of a sibling link, a link which normally gives a high priority to the applicant which derives from the county's own rules, dating back to 1985 after the case of R v South Glamorgan County Council, ex p Evans 1984.

RhAG fails to understand why the sibling link now been ignored in 8 cases, 5 in Nant Caerau, 2 in Mynydd Bychan and 1 in Glan Morfa. RhAG has been made aware of a serious consequence of these refusals of places to children who were in the Nursery Class with parents having already been in touch with some schools to say that they will be withdrawing the elder children as they cannot face the complications of having children in 2 different schools, a consequence which the LA should have foreseen. RhAG is yet to receive explanation for the authority's failure to comply with its own long-standing rules and offer a proposal to rectify what has been done by offering places to all 8 children in the near future.

 
Ceri Owen
Cyfarwyddwr Datblygu / Director of Development
Rhieni Dros Addysg Gymraeg
Parents for Welsh Medium Education

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3 comments:

lionel said...

Great to see an article on WM education here again. I've missed them

Anonymous said...

What's going to happen when parents eventually realise that children from non-Welsh speaking homes are actually not reaching their full educational potential in Welsh medium schools?

Anonymous said...

What evidence do you have for this other than your own anecdotal prejudice?

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