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Agenda Item No.

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET: 9TH MARCH 2015

 

REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (LIFELONG LEARNING): 9TH FEBRUARY 2015

 

“ SCHOOL PLACE PLANNING IN THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN (DLS) -

 

The report informed Members of the Minister for Education and Skills’ assessment of the progress made by the Council with regard to reducing surplus school places.  The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources in presenting the report advised that following the publication of an Estyn report on school surplus places in schools in Wales in May 2012, the Minister for Education and Skills had contacted Cabinet Members for Education to point out that there was a higher than necessary level of school places across Wales, which had resulted in a drain on resources which could be better used to improve the quality of education for all learners. 

 

At that time there were 10 local authorities with more than 20% surplus primary school places and 6 local authorities with similar levels of surplus places in the secondary sector.  The Minister had therefore, requested that the 16 local authorities with more than 20% surplus places in either sector or projected to have more than 20% by September 2016 submit statements, setting out plans under consideration or already underway to reduce the level of surplus places to below 15% at January 2015.  The remaining authorities, which included the Vale of Glamorgan were required to submit a statement on how surplus places would be managed to January 2015 with an estimate of what levels of surplus would remain in each sector at that time.  The statement that had been submitted to the Minister on the management of surplus school places for the Vale of Glamorgan was attached at Appendix A to the report. 

 

Surplus places in the primary sector were forecast to reduce from 16.4% to 10.19% in September 2016 and to increase from 4.76% to 12.86% in the secondary sector by September 2016, decreasing again after this date as larger primary cohorts fed into the secondary sector.  The statement also set out the position in terms of schools with a significant number of surplus places, increasing demand for Welsh Medium school places and plans to reduce surplus capacity in some areas through school reorganisations. 

 

Following the submission of the statement further correspondence was received from the Minister in which he confirmed approval of the targets set out in the statement and challenging the Cabinet Member for Children's Services and Schools to meet those targets. The Minister added that he would be writing to all local authorities to make it clear that he would consider using the powers available to him under Schedule 7 to the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 should insufficient progress be made against agreed targets.

 

A further letter from the Minister for Education and Skills was received on 9th December 2014 (Appendix B), the purpose of which was to review achievements to date and set out what further action was necessary.  The following progress was acknowledged:

  • Proposals to meet the demand for Welsh medium education primary school places were brought forward.
  • School amalgamations have been agreed which will provide schools which are more sustainable in the future.
  • The innovative and cost effective construction process adopted to provide a new school building for Ysgol Gymraeg Nant Talwg and the Authority's plans to replicate this for Ysgol Gymraeg Dewi Sant and Oakfield Primary School.
  • The school rationalisation and building renewal at Penarth Learning Community and the strategic plans in train for the Llantwit Learning Community.
  • At January 2014, 11% of primary school places were empty which, taken together with projections and other known developments suggests that the 2016 target of 10.19% will be met.
  • At January 2014, 14.9% of secondary school places were empty, however when the projected fall in numbers is taken into account the 12.9% target for 2016 might be met, depending on whether the rebuild of Llantwit Comprehensive School is achieved. Even if the target is narrowly missed, it is clear this situation would not persist as robust plans are in hand.

The letter dated 9th December, 2014 also highlighted that the Minister welcomed the progress that had been made to date and encouraged the local authority to continue with prudent and strategic planning in the future.

 

The Head of Service further highlighted for Members, that in January 2014 three secondary schools; Barry Comprehensive, Llantwit Comprehensive and Bro Morgannwg had in excess of 25% surplus capacity.  Projections showed that surplus places at Bro Morgannwg would fall to under 25% in 2016 (23% surplus) as larger primary cohorts feed into the school. Surplus capacity at Llantwit Comprehensive School would be removed when the school was rebuilt. The new school building was scheduled to open in September 2017 with the reduction in capacity and surplus places being reflected in the January 2018 Pupil Level Annual School Census.

 

Members were also informed that robust admission procedures were in place to manage admissions to community schools in the Vale with pupils being admitted up to the admission number for each school, which was only exceeded in exceptional circumstances and in agreement with the school. 

 

In considering the report a Member queried whether the number of new developments that were due to come on line through the planning process, had been considered in the future projections as there were concerns that schools would be full sooner than officers were predicting.  In response, the Head of Service stated that it was a frustrating process as Welsh Government were not keen for local authorities to project future populations because the schools identified within Local Development Plans had not yet come to fruition.  Officers were confident however, that there would be an increase in numbers and could advise that the projections had been carried via a Facilities Paper that had had to be developed for the LDP itself.  The Member stated that he was pleased to note that the Planning Department had been fully consulted in relation to the future projections. 

 

A Member who had been part of the School Surplus Places Group of the Scrutiny Committee a few years previous referred to the significant surplus places at Holton Primary, Jenner Park and Oakfield and queried the future proposals for those schools.  In response, the Head of Service advised that for Jenner Park the situation had changed in recent years with a significant increase in demand being received in the last two to three years. It was now expected that by 2017 the school would not be in the significant school surplus places category.  This was anticipated to be the same for the Cadoxton area and for Oakfield.  In referring to Oakfield in particular, the Head of Service informed Committee that 24 pupils had been accepted in September 2014 which had been the largest intake the school had known for many years at reception, and 28 pupils for nursery provision was anticipated for September 2015.  Therefore, with the demand increasing and with the new developments proposed for the area the likelihood would be that this would be sustained over future years. She could confirm that the Authority had also been challenged in respect of the numbers for Oakfield by Welsh Government but they had successfully been persuaded on the basis of the proposed future developments.  With regard to Holton Road, Members were reminded that the school was part of the catchment area for the Waterfront development and a new Flying Start Development was also proposed for the area.

 

A co-opted Member informed Committee that grants had recently been offered to businesses in Holton Road to turn premises into residential properties which could assist future projections. 

 

Following queries in relation to Welsh Medium Education, the Head of Service stated that demand for Welsh Medium Education had been taken into account within the overall predictions.  It was well documented that the demand was increasing rapidly in the Barry area and although it was difficult to predict the projections were reviewed on an annual basis. 

 

Referring to Appendix A, the Chairman sought reassurance that any proposals to reduce surplus capacity would be reported to the Scrutiny Committee for consideration.  The officer advised that Committee had already considered the Gwaun y Nant proposals and that year on year reviews of school surplus places would be undertaken. 

 

In conclusion, the Chairman stated that he welcomed the report and was pleased to note that a number of the recommendations of the School Surplus Places Task and Finish Group had and were continuing to be pursued.

 

Having fully considered the report it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED -

 

(1) T H A T the progress to date be welcomed.

 

(2) T H A T on an annual basis the Committee receives a school place planning update for Vale of Glamorgan schools and that the report be referred to Cabinet for its consideration.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1) In order to apprise Members of the measures taken to manage school places across the Vale of Glamorgan and of current performance against set targets.

 

(2) To ensure school place planning was considered on an annual basis and for Cabinet to consider the progress made on reducing surplus places and the Minister’s assessment of performance against agreed targets.”

 

Attached as Appendix – Report to Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning): 9th February 2015

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