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Agenda Item No 6

 

The Vale of Glamorgan Council

 

Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning): 9 February 2015

 

Report of the Director of Learning and Skills

 

School Place Planning in the Vale of Glamorgan

 

Purpose of the Report

1.         To inform Members of the Minister for Education and Skills' assessment of the progress made by the Vale of Glamorgan Council with reducing surplus school places.

Recommendations

1.      Members consider the Council's performance on managing school places and the progress made to reduce the number of surplus places since 2012.

2.         The Scrutiny Committee refer this report and its comments to Cabinet for consideration.

Reasons for the Recommendations

1.         Members are aware of the measures taken to manage school places across the Vale of Glamorgan and of current performance against set targets.

2.         Cabinet is aware of the progress made on reducing surplus places and the Minister's assessment of performance against agreed targets.

Background

3.         Following the publication of an Estyn report on surplus places in schools in Wales, in  May 2012 the Minister for Education and Skills contacted Cabinet Members for Education to point out that there was a higher than necessary level of school places across Wales which was resulting in a drain on resources which could be better used to improve the quality of education for all learners. He stated, "every surplus place is a tax on the head of learners currently in the system". "Although the WLGA and individual authorities have signed up to this view, too little progress has been made in recent years and little regard has been given to Welsh Government Guidance that local authorities should aim to retain no more than 10% surplus places overall". 

At the 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 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 6 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 Minister's expectation was for there to be improvement in local authorities carrying more than 10% surplus in either sector and assurances from those with lower levels of surplus that provision would be sufficient and efficient up to 2015. These statements were to be submitted by 29th June 2012.       

Relevant Issues and Options

4.         The statement submitted to the Minister on the management of surplus school places in the Vale of Glamorgan is attached in Appendix A to this 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 feed into the secondary sector. The statement also set out the position in terms of schools with a significant number of surplus places (over 25%), increasing demand for Welsh medium school places and plans to reduce surplus capacity in some areas through school reorganisation.

5.          Following 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 challenged the Cabinet Member for Children's Services and Schools to meet these 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.

6.         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 is necessary. The following progress is 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.

7.         Further action required is not prescriptive and is largely focussed on the Council continuing to manage school places as at present:

  • Keep provision under review and ensure a good balance of supply and demand in the future.
  • Continue with prudent and strategic planning in the future.
  • Ensure robust administration of admissions which together with the changes that have been made should help to ensure a balance of supply and demand.
  • Any proposals for change, including school organisation proposals, should contribute to the provision of sustainable schools which deliver the best possible educational experiences for children and young people.

8.         Appendix C of this report shows the percentage surplus capacity/over subscription for all Vale schools as at January 2014. 4 primary schools had significant surplus places which, is defined as over 25%. The schools falling within this category are Holton, Jenner Park and Oakfield which are located in Barry and Ysgol Gymraeg Dewi Sant in Llantwit. The number of schools in this category has reduced by 50% since January 2013 due to the reduction of surplus capacity at High Street and Palmerston schools which are located in Barry, Ysgol Pen y Garth in Penarth and St. Athan Primary School. Those schools in the 25% surplus capacity category are expected to move out of this grouping as follows: Jenner Park by September 2015 (15% surplus), Oak Field Primary by September 2018 (18% surplus) and Holton by September 2019 (23% surplus).

9.         In January 2014 three secondary schools; Barry Comprehensive, Llantwit Comprehensive and Bro Morgannwg had in excess of 25% surplus capacity. Projections show that surplus places at Bro Morgannwg will fall to under 25% in 2016 (23% surplus) as larger primary cohorts feed into the school. Surplus capacity at Llantwit Comprehensive School will be removed when the school is rebuilt. The new school building is 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.

10.      Robust admissions procedures are in place to manage admissions to community schools within the Vale of Glamorgan. Pupils are admitted up to the admission number for each school which is only exceeded in exceptional circumstances and in agreement with the school. The school must demonstrate that additional pupils can be accommodated as a result of class reorganisation or by increasing the number of available classrooms. Appendix C shows that Evenlode Primary School is oversubscribed as a result of accommodating an additional reception class as a one off exception a number of years ago. Voluntary aided and foundation schools are their own admission authorities and as such, manage their own admissions.

Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)

11.      Although there are no resource implications arising directly from this report it should be noted that the reduction of surplus capacity in schools enables school funding to be more usefully directed towards teaching and learning and represents more effective use of available resources.  

Sustainability and Climate Change Implications

12.      The reduction of surplus places and operational efficiencies resulting from school reorganisation and investment in school buildings has improved the sustainability of a number of schools.

Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)

13.      There are no legal implications directly arising from this report.

Crime and Disorder Implications

14.      There are no direct crime and disorder implications as a result of this report.

Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)

15.      A key driver of all school reorganisation proposals is to improve educational outcomes for children and young people in all phases and helping to narrow the inequalities in achievement between advantaged and disadvantaged groups and individuals. The release of funding through school reorganisation enables better targeting of available resources to achieve these aims.  

Corporate/Service Objectives

16.      The effective management of school places is linked with LS2 to 'Develop, consult on and implement a School Reorganisation Programme to ensure the right schools are provided in the right places.' included within the Corporate Plan 2013-17.

Policy Framework and Budget

17.      This report is a matter for Executive decision by the Cabinet.

Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)

Not applicable

 

Relevant Scrutiny Committee

18.      Lifelong Learning

Background Papers

None

 

Contact Officer:

Paula Ham, Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources

 

Officers Consulted

Head of School Improvement and Inclusion

School Organisation Manager

Principal School Planning Officer

 

Responsible Officer:

Jennifer Hill, Director of Learning and Skills

 

 

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