Response to open letter from Barry Comprehensive School
Published 19 May 2015
On the 9th March, I received via a reporter from the Barry and District news an ‘open letter’ from the teachers and support staff of Barry Comprehensive School. That letter was published in the newspaper on 12th March.
I made a decision not to respond until today when the formal consultation process has begun, when the options and facts are available. I am, therefore now in a position to respond to your open letter about the future of Barry Comprehensive School. Rather than respond through the local press, I have chosen to write to you as members of staff directly, via the Head Teacher of Barry Comprehensive School, requesting that he circulates it to you and the other members of staff. Out of courtesy, I am also sending a copy of this response to the staff at Bryn Hafren, Bro Morgannwg and Nant Talwg.
Your letter states that there is no objection to the principle of co-education but that a single school is not appropriate. Your letter also makes several other comments about the potential level of investment involved in the preferred option being considered, as well as the merits of the previous consultation undertaken in 2013.
You will, I hope appreciate that I am committed to improving the educational opportunities available to all young people in the Vale of Glamorgan. I trust that this is an aspiration that you share. It is an aspiration shared by my Cabinet colleagues including the Member for Children’s Services, Chris Elmore. Your letter confirms that you have no objections to co-education although you appear to object to the size of the school.
The potential transformation of Barry schools was carefully considered by the Council’s Cabinet in February and all aspects were considered, including the issues you raise in your letter. The Cabinet report was subsequently referred for consideration by the Lifelong Learning and the Corporate Resources Scrutiny Committees during March.
The Cabinet’s preferred option has been finalised and we have today published the consultation document setting out our plans to invest in the future of secondary education in Barry. This consultation will run for 8 weeks from today and will include a variety of opportunities for those with an interest in the future of secondary schooling in Barry, to engage in the process. Our plans would enable all young people in due course to attend a mixed school and we aim to make the best use of the available funding.
The preferred option being suggested is the creation of a mixed-sex comprehensive English Medium school in Barry, by merging Barry and Bryn Hafren Comprehensive Schools, initially on a split site of the current schools. The consultation seeks views on this option. Subject to the availability of sufficient Welsh Government funding, the consultation document also seeks views on the option of creating a single school campus at the current Barry Comprehensive and Ysgol Bro Morgannwg sites. Again, if sufficient Welsh Government funding is available, an option is put forward to relocate Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg and Ysgol Gymraeg Nant Talwg to the current Bryn Hafren site to allow the Welsh medium school to expand and meet the increasing demand for places.
Both Barry and Bryn Hafren comprehensive schools have seen a decline in pupil numbers and have significant surplus places. Conversely, rising pupil numbers at Bro Morgannwg and an increase in the number of Welsh medium primary schools means that Bro Morgannwg will not be able to accommodate all pupils from its feeder primary schools from 2020 on its current site.
A previous public consultation exercise, which concluded in December 2013, saw a large majority of parents, secondary school pupils and primary school pupils respond in favour of mixed secondary schooling in Barry and this current consultation is expanding on that previous exercise.
In your letter you raised concerns about the size of the proposed new school. The published evidence about the size of schools points to weaker performance of smaller schools rather than to any disadvantages of larger schools. Our forecasts suggest that if the amalgamated school opens in 2017 there will be 2050 students and that number would rise to 2214 by September 2020 and would be accommodated on its new campus if the proposal is agreed and subject to the consultation exercise. The new school would however be built to accommodate up to 2400 pupils to allow for pupil numbers to continue to grow through to 2025.
The new campus, if developed, would consist of a number of buildings so that our young people can access high quality specialist accommodation while also benefitting from a friendly and calm learning environment. You will of course appreciate that this is not only subject to the responses to consultation that commences today, but also subject to there being sufficient Welsh Government funding being available to allow the redevelopment on a single site.
Your letter also suggests that we have given mixed messages about the benefits of mixed schooling. We are confident that mixed-sex schooling has social advantages and that it is supported by many local people, but it may not, on its own, deliver the improved educational opportunities we would want to achieve.
Combined, however, with the planned new investment and by building on recent educational improvements at both schools, a move to mixed education would provide the potential for further improved educational opportunities. Of course these benefits will ultimately come as a result from the hard work of the students and yourselves and the vision of the school’s leadership team.
You also make comparisons with the investment that was secured at Penarth and Cowbridge, claiming that the investment in Barry represents a ‘fraction’ of that invested elsewhere and that the proposals in Cowbridge and Penarth did not involve renovation of old buildings. This is not the case.
I would confirm that at Cowbridge Comprehensive School 4 existing buildings ‘were renovated’ alongside the provision of a new building to enable the school to be brought on to a single site at a cost of £21.5m.
The Penarth Learning Community (PLC) did replace the old St Cyres School building and the 3 Special Schools in the County and brought them all onto one site, at a cost of £49.5m. In this case it was not possible to use the existing dilapidated buildings and was at a time when Welsh Government funding was at a level of 70%. The Council’s investment in the PLC totalled just over £13m with the balance being funded from the Welsh Government 21st Century Schools grant.
The Council also intends to use and renovate the existing buildings at Llantwit Major when it is redeveloped. Llantwit is again intended to be a refurbishment of the existing buildings with some new build for both the Comprehensive and the Primary school. It will also include shared facilities with the leisure centre. This has a cost of £20.7m, 42% of which is Welsh Government funded, with £11.938m from Council funds.
In Barry, we are proposing that £35.7m is invested in the Barry scheme of which £17.8m would be met by the Council and the remainder by Welsh Government. In comparison to other school modernisation schemes this will be the highest level of investment that the Council has committed to date.
The preferred proposal for the Barry schemes will see some new build as well as refurbishment of the current buildings. It will also include the provision of a 3G pitch, a new sports hall, re-roofing, and new curtain walling.
Finally, in your open letter, you queried whether the response to the earlier consultation was properly representative of the views of local people. I would confirm that more than 900 people responded to that earlier survey in autumn 2012 and included the views of children, young people, parents and staff. As stated above, in the consultation exercise that commenced today, we will again ask for the views on the ‘principle of amalgamation’, as well as about the proposed option for the expansion of Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg and subject to sufficient funding from the Welsh Government, the creation of two new campuses.
I can confirm that our consultation document will include a series of events and workshops to enable children and young people, parents, governors and school staff to find out the exact details of the proposals.
We look forward to hearing more about your views on the best way forward before the closing date of 6 July.
Councillor Neil Moore,
Leader of the Council.