LEARNING AND CULTURE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE
Minutes of a Special meeting held on 1st October, 2018.
Present: Councillor L. Burnett (Chairman); Councillor N.P. Hodges (Vice-Chairman); Councillors: Ms. R.M. Birch, B.T. Gray, S.J. Griffiths, M. Lloyd, M.J.G. Morgan, Mrs. J.M. Norman, Mrs. R. Nugent-Finn and Ms. S.D. Perkes.
Co-Opted Members: Mrs. J. Lynch-Wilson (Parent Governor - Primary Sector).
Also present: Councillors V.J. Bailey, J.C. Bird, Mrs. J.E. Charles, A.D. Hampton, Dr. I.J. Johnson, G.C. Kemp, R.A. Penrose, L.O. Rowlands, J.W. Thomas, Mrs. M. Wright.
364 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –
These were received from Dr. C. Brown (Parent Governor – Secondary Sector) and Mr. D. Griffith (Welsh Medium Education).
365 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –
No declarations were received.
366 ANNOUNCEMENT –
The Chairman informed the Committee that at the last meeting of the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee, Mr. N. Want (Vale Youth Forum) had informed her that his tenure as a Non-Voting Observer of the Committee was due to end as he was heading to university and she and the rest of the Committee gave thanks to Mr. Want for his contributions over the last year and wished him the best of luck for the future.
The Chairman then welcomed the Committee and registered speakers to the Special meeting of the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee, stating that she had requested this item be considered at a Special meeting to provide more flexibility in how this matter could be considered. Usually, a maximum of five public speakers would be allowed to make representations at a normal meeting, however she had requested a Special meeting be called to allow the report to be considered in sections, with public representations made throughout the meeting. The Chairman noted that written representations had been received for the meeting which had been distributed to Members on the day, and were sizeable, so therefore asked if all Members had had the opportunity to read this additional documentation. All Members confirmed that they had. The written representations consisted of two letters from Assembly Members that were sent to the Chairman of the Committee, with her responses, and a report which was submitted by the Save Llancarfan School Campaign Group which the Chairman confirmed was shared with relevant officers, as was normal practice. The Chairman stated that officers would be required to speak to Scrutiny Committee on any wider aspects of the representations submitted by the Group and to provide their professional observations. Given the length of the document, to ensure full consideration could be given to the matter by Members of the Scrutiny Committee, it was considered reasonable that the relevant officers had the opportunity ahead of this evening’s Scrutiny Committee meeting to consider representations made in the context of the Council’s proposal.
367 PROPOSED RECONFIGURATION OF PRIMARY PROVISION IN THE WESTERN VALE (REF) –
The Chairman commenced by informing the Committee that proposals for the reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale had been sent to the Committee by Cabinet, with the request that the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee consider the report, consultation report, including appendices and written representations received at the Cabinet meeting on 17th September and explained that scrutiny at the meeting should be related to the Cabinet report and proposals contained therein. The Chairman welcomed a full discussion, but within these broad limits.
She subsequently explained the process for the meeting, how the report had been broken down into sections for consideration, when she would bring in members of the public to make representations, and allow Members of the Committee to request points of clarification and ask questions.
(a) School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 and School Organisation Code 2013
This section of the report was introduced by the Operational Manager, Legal Services, who informed the Committee that the Council had a number of general duties under Part 1 of the Education Act 1996, in particular those duties under Sections 13 and 14 of the 1996 Act.
However, in respect of the proposal, the Operation Manager stated that the Council must exercise its functions in accordance with Part 3 of the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 which was concerned with school organisation. The Council also had to have regard to relevant guidelines contained in the School Organisation Code published on 1st October, 2013. Chapter 2 of Part 3 of the 2013 Act dealt with school organisation proposals. An alteration which was a “regulated alteration” in relation to the type of school in question may be made to a maintained school only in accordance with Part 3 of the 2013 Act. The term “regulated alteration” was defined in Schedule 2 to the 2013 Act.
The following changes were “regulated alterations”:
- The transfer of a school to a new site was a regulated alteration (unless a main entrance of the school on its new site would be within one mile of a main entrance of the school on its current site) (paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the 2013 Act).
- The alteration by a year or more of the lowest age of pupils for whom education was normally provided at the school was also a regulated alteration (paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the 2013 Act); and
- The enlargement of the premises of the school which would increase the capacity of the school by at least 25% or 200 pupils as compared with the school’s capacity on the appropriate date was also a regulated alteration (paragraph 10 of Schedule 2 to the 2013 Act).
The Committee was informed that under section 42(1)(a) of the 2013 Act, a Local Authority had the power to make proposals to make a regulated alteration to a community school, and Section 48(2) of the 2013 Act provided that before publishing such proposals, a proposer must consult on its proposals in accordance with the requirements of the Code.
The Officer stated that if a Local Authority decided to proceed with a proposal to make regulated alterations to a maintained school, it must publish proposals to that effect in accordance with the Code. Any person wishing to object to the proposals published under section 48 had to do so within the objection period of 28 days. The Council must then publish a summary of all objections made to the proposal and its response to those objections before the end of seven days beginning with the day of the Council’s determination. The Local Authority proposer must then determine whether the proposals should be implemented. Where a Local Authority’s proposals had received objections, and required determination, those objections would be carefully considered before a final determination was made. Any determination had to take place before the end of 16 weeks beginning with the end of the objection period.
The Code contained a number of requirements which Local Authorities in Wales had to act in accordance with.
Paragraph 1.1 of the Code set out the key background principles and policies, which should be taken into account by the Council in developing school organisation proposals and in addition when developing school organisation proposals, the local plans to which Council should have regard included the following:
- Local plans for economic or housing development;
- Welsh in Education Strategic Plans (made under part 4 of the 2013 Act);
- Children and Young People’s Plans (or successor plans);
- 21st Century Schools – Capital Investment Programme and the relevant wave of investment;
- The Council should also have regard to Welsh Government Guidance on related matters such as:
- Learner Travel Operational Guidance;
- Measuring the capacity of schools in Wales, Circular 09/2006.
Local Authorities had to also consider whether proposals would improve access for disabled pupils in accordance with requirements under the Equality Act 2010.
In considering the Public Sector Equality Duty, the Council was required, in carrying out their functions, to have due regard to the equality needs set out under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, as set out in the Cabinet Report.
There being no points of clarification sought from the Committee, the Chairman welcomed the first public speaker. There were two public speakers for this item, Mrs. Kate Jenkins, Llancarfan Primary School Community Governor, and Dr. Oliver Spencer, Llancarfan Parent Governor.
Mrs. Jenkins informed the Committee of her role as a Llancarfan Primary School Community Governor and stated that she had responded to both consultations on this proposal. The public speaker informed the Committee that she first heard of the proposals to reconfigure primary provision in the Western Vale on Friday, 12th January, 2018 before they were officially published on Wednesday, 17th January, 2018. She informed the Committee that this gave the Governing Body no time to convene, or discuss the proposals with parents. In her opinion, this undermined the work and role of the Governing Body. She noted that staff were also finding it difficult to carry out their duties with the proposals ongoing.
Mrs. Jenkins informed the Committee that the Governing Body had met with officers to discuss the 21st Century Schools Programme and was informed that this funding would only be available for new builds. Subsequently, she had learned that money was available to refurbish existing schools in 21st Century Schools’ bids and therefore she felt that the Governing Body was misled.
Mrs. Jenkins then noted that the proposed reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale referred to the proposals as a transfer of the existing Llancarfan Primary School building into a new school building, however she stated that the Governing Body did not see how the proposals as detailed in the report would achieve this. Whilst the report indicated that this would be a transfer from the existing building into a new school building, the Llancarfan School Community Governor stated that under the proposals, in her opinion, once the existing site was closed Llancarfan Primary School would not exist.
Finally, Mrs. Jenkins stated that if the proposals were carried out as in the report, she would not stand as a Community Governor, as she felt that the new school building would not be in the same community.
Dr. Spencer was then invited to speak to the Committee, and begun by addressing the categorisation of Llancarfan Primary School, noting that the School had been placed in the Yellow Support Category, and he stated that the categorisation system for schools was not a tool to determine the closure of a site. Dr. Spencer informed the Committee that the Governing Body would like Llancarfan Primary School to be placed in the Green Support Category, which they believed would not require significant improvements and therefore they disputed the statement in the report that referred to Llancarfan Primary School not being in the top 50% of primary schools in the Vale of Glamorgan.
The public speaker noted that a fall in pupil numbers had been observed. The consultation document suggested that the number of pupils attending the school was low, however following publication of the proposal, he informed the Committee that this had led to a reduction in enrolments, and therefore the proposals were having a direct impact on the school’s budget and staffing. Dr. Spencer also informed the Committee that as a result of the proposals, parents had stated that they had to find alternative primary provision or leave.
Dr. Spencer requested that the Committee ask Cabinet to protect funding and maintain it at existing levels. The Committee was informed that nursery provision could be provided at Llancarfan Primary School, however the report stated that there was no funding for this possibility, which he found hard to believe given the available funding for new school buildings. Dr. Spencer also informed the Committee that there was a lack of evidence for the benefit to educational standards as laid out in the report and he strongly felt that Llancarfan Primary School already met the criteria for Clever Classrooms, and a proposed Rhoose site was environmentally unsuitable.
In conclusion, Dr. Spencer informed the Committee that Section 106 funding from new developments in Rhoose could be spent on developing primary provision in the Rhoose area, and Llancarfan Primary School’s new status as a Rural School could allow the Governing Body to access additional funding and keep the school thriving.
Members indicated that they had no points of clarification or questions on the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 and School Organisation Code 2013 section of the report, and some points raised by the public representations on this section would be addressed under later sections.
(b) The Public Sector Equality Duty
The Operational Manager, Legal Services, presented this section of the report, informing the Committee that in respect of the Public Sector Equality Duty the equality duty arose where the Council was deciding how to exercise its statutory powers and duties under the 1996 Act and the 2013 Act. The Council’s duty under Section 149 of the Equality Act was to have “due regard” to the matters set out in relation to equalities when considering and making decisions in relation to its statutory duties under those Acts. Accordingly due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality and foster good relations needed to form an integral part of the decision making process and the Council needed to have an adequate evidence base for its decision making.
The Officer stated that the duty was not to achieve the objectives or take the steps set out in Section 149. Rather, the duty on public Authorities was to bring these important objectives relating to discrimination into consideration when carrying out its public functions (which included the functions relating to school reorganisations). “Due regard” meant the regard that was appropriate in all the particular circumstances in which the Authority was carrying out its functions and there had to be a proper regard for the goals set out in Section 149. At the same time, the Council also had to pay regard to any countervailing factors, which it was proper and reasonable for them to consider. The weight of these countervailing factors in the decision making process was a matter for the Council’s Executive in the first instance.
The Committee was informed that the duty covered the nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. However, Section 149, so far as relating to age, did not apply to the exercise of a function relating to the provision of education to pupils in schools (paragraph 1 of Schedule 18 to the 2010 Act). Finally, the Council also had to comply with the specific equality duties imposed by the Equality Act 2010 (Statutory Duties) (Wales) Regulations 2011, particularly Regulation 8 (imposing specific duties to make arrangements for assessing the impact of its policies / practices and monitoring of the same).
The Chairman then invited the first public speaker for this section, Mrs. Rachel Edwards, a prospective parent at Llancarfan Primary School, to make her representations.
Mrs. Edwards informed the Committee that she was a resident of Llancarfan and a prospective parent at Llancarfan Primary School, who had always explained to her children that Llancarfan Primary would be their new school. She stated that she now had one child who was due to start in September who did not know where their school would be. She stated that this was a difficult decision for her and her partner as parents to make, and no such conversation was required with their previous children, who would be the fifth generation of their family to attend the village school.
Mrs. Edwards stated that parents were told they had choice for primary provision for their children, however in her opinion, this was not the case and she now had a short time to find alternative primary provision. Instead, Mrs. Edwards informed the Committee that she would like the same opportunities for all her children.
Mr. Matthew Valencia, as a current parent with children at Llancarfan Primary School, then spoke to the Committee, informing them that he had two children at primary school age and had to ask his children to change their preference from Llancarfan Primary School to another primary school due to the proposals. Mr. Valencia informed the Committee that he lived 100 yards from Llancarfan Primary School and that he had chosen to live in Llancarfan due to its close relationship with the primary school. In his opinion, the school provided his children with a solid grounding, an excellent sense of community and this was good for child development; the school environment having reinforced their wellbeing. Mr. Valencia informed the Committee that he now had to make a difficult decision: should he keep his children in Llancarfan Primary School, or move elsewhere for the same rural setting. Mr. Valencia informed the Committee that he felt the Council had forced his hand and moved his children’s primary provision to Pendoylan Primary School which provided a similar rural setting. He informed the Committee that he had to drive his son to Pendoylan, however this was still one mile less than it would be to Rhoose.
In conclusion, Mr. Valencia stated that he would recommend the proposal be dropped, as the closure of the Llancarfan Primary site diminished options for parents, as not all parents wished for their children to go to 21st Century Schools with fast internet.
There were no points of clarification or questions from Committee Members on this subject heading.
(c) Reasons for the Proposal, Options Considered and Consultation Process
The Head of Strategy Community Learning and Resources informed the Committee that the Council had to ensure that there were sufficient schools providing primary and secondary education for their area. Under the School Organisation Code (2013) with regards to the quality and standards in education, the Vale of Glamorgan Council had to place the interests of learners above all others. Relevant bodies also had to consider the ability of the school or schools which were the subject of the proposals to deliver the full curriculum at the Foundation Phase and each Key Stage of education. This consideration had to include the quality of curriculum delivery and the extent to which the structure or size of the school was impacting on this.
The Officer stated that where proposals involved the transfer of learners to alternative provision, there should normally be evidence that the alternative would deliver outcomes and offer provision at least equivalent to that which was currently available to those learners (including learners with SEN) and proposers should ensure that the disruption to learners was minimised.
The Committee was then informed of key sections of the School Organisation Code (2013) that the Council had to follow as part of the proposals:
Section 1.4: Need for places and the impact on accessibility of schools. Local Authorities had to ensure that there were sufficient schools providing primary and secondary education for their area. Schools were regarded as sufficient if they were sufficient in number, character and equipment to provide for all pupils the opportunity of appropriate education.
Section 1.5: Resourcing of education and other financial implications. It was important that funding for education was cost effective. Relevant bodies had to take into account the following factors in relation to the resourcing of education:
- Whether proposals would ensure a fairer and more equitable distribution of funding between mainstream schools within the Local Authority’s area;
- What effect proposals would have on surplus provision in the area;
- Whether proposals formed part of the Local Authority’s 21st Century Schools Investment Programme and contributed to the delivery of sustainable schools for the 21st Century and to the better strategic management of the school estate through the removal of maintenance backlogs and school buildings which were in efficient or in poor condition.
Section 1.8: Specific factors to be taken into account for proposals to add / remove nursery class. The Council had to consider the standard of nursery education and the sufficiency of accommodation and facilities offered, both in the classroom and outdoors, and the viability of any school that wished to add nursery places.
Therefore, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources informed the Committee that there were not enough places in Rhoose to meet demand, and the Council had a statutory duty to meet this demand. He stated that Llancarfan Primary School had a catchment area population of 55 primary age children set against a capacity of 126 places and only 29 of the 55 primary aged children living in the catchment area attended the school.
Half of those living outside the Llancarfan Primary School catchment area resided in the Rhws Primary School catchment area and the Officer detailed the trend of declining pupil numbers and revenue implications. There were projected surplus places in 2023 at 22%, which was over double the target agreed by Welsh Government and there were no nursery provision available at Llancarfan Primary. Finally, site constraints at both Rhws Primary and Llancarfan Primary limited investment opportunities to expand.
The Officer informed the Committee of relevant facts and figures on Standards and Improvement Categories from the Cabinet report regarding Llancarfan Primary School. He stated that under the Standard Improvement categories, the Primary School had an overall category of Yellow and confirmed to the Committee that these colour categorisation systems were not meant to penalise schools but were simply a measure of support that was required, and as an officer, his duty was to consider what aspects of a school prevented progress. The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources noted the outcomes of recent Estyn inspections, which included the capacity to improve. He also noted that 50% of primary schools in the Vale of Glamorgan were classified as Green in the standards and improvement categories, and that Llancarfan Primary School was the fifth highest primary school in terms of revenue costs per pupil. The Committee was also informed of the Reception intake from 2014 to 2018.
The Officer then provided the relevant facts and figures from the report for Rhws Primary School for pupil projections and available school places. These included the school capacity projections going forward, noting that with a population of approximately 7,000 people, and a projected shortfall of 90 school places by 2022/23, it would be reasonable to have two schools in the Rhoose area. The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources explained the methodology for the Committee, and confirmed that in recent projects for pupil yield at Rhoose Point, the Council’s projections had been correct within 3%.
The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources then provided the Scrutiny Committee with an overview of the options considered as part of the proposal which were:
Extending Llancarfan Primary School
- The site was a constrained site and too small to expand to meet Building Bulletin requirements;
- Business case for 21st Century Funding would not meet criteria for satisfying Building Bulletin regulations;
- Site was sloped which limited development;
- The school was not in the right place to serve the additional increase in numbers emanating from Rhoose;
- Transportation issues would arise given the narrow country lanes providing the only access to the school;
- There was insufficient space to do any construction on site while the school was occupied.
Extending Rhws Primary School
- The site was a constrained site and too small to expand to meet Building Bulletin requirements;
- Business case for 21st Century Funding would not meet criteria for satisfying Building Bulletin regulations;
- Any additional structures onsite would need to be built on existing playing fields;
- School was one of only two Grade 2 listed buildings in the Vale, limiting the scope for change;
- There was no opportunity to address half form entry challenges at Llancarfan;
- No investment for pupils at Llancarfan Primary School;
- The extended school would be too large causing a situation of surplus capacity in 2021 of 19%.
New 210 Primary School in Rhoose and retain Llancarfan Primary School in situ
- A 210 place school would introduce significant surplus places, against an agreed target of only 10% per Welsh Government;
- There was no opportunity to address half form entry challenges at Llancarfan Primary School;
- No opportunity for investment in pupils at Llancarfan Primary School;
- Federation could be considered with Rhws Primary however this required excellent leadership and experience. New Headteacher for Rhws Primary starting in January 2019;
- Additional annual revenue funding required from Mainstream School Funding Formula of approximately £725k.
New 210 Primary School in Rhoose, reduce Rhws Primary School to 255 and retain Llancarfan Primary School in situ
- A reduction to 255 pupils at Rhws Primary could only be achieved through a phased reduction from the Reception intake which would not be realised until 2026. Additional capacity needed by 2023;
- The current admission number of Rhws Primary was 53. A reduction to 255 places would yield a new admission number of 36. Educationally this was difficult to manage class organisation, school structure, curriculum planning, and would necessitate mixed age teaching when considering statutory class size limits of 30 children;
- Additional annual revenue funding required from Mainstream School Funding Formula of approximately £500k;
- Additional funding would be required for the Band B programme to offset the loss of any capital receipt from the current Llancarfan Primary School site;
- New catchment areas would need to be drawn to divide the existing Rhws Primary pupil population to correlate with the new capacities in both schools, or both schools shared the catchment area, with prioritisation given to the new school for newcomers to the catchment area.
- Based on current projections, by 2023 there was an anticipated shortfall of 90 primary school places in the Rhoose area;
- The trend of falling numbers at Llancarfan continued to challenge the efficiency and sustainability of Llancarfan Primary;
- Under the law, the Council was required to ensure adequate provision for school places within its borders to meet demand.
As part of the options considered, the Officer confirmed to the Committee that pupil demand and location had been fully considered and was quantifiable data, and the Council had to consider options that were within the context of the School Reorganisation Code.
The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources provided the Committee with the legal definition of consultation, which was generally considered a process to help understand problems as part of larger systems, and to seek views. It was not a referendum or a method for obtaining permission. The Officer stated that due to high levels of interest and consultation engagement that had been undertaken, the consultation report was subsequently very long. He also noted that there were no right or wrong answers with the options considered, however he considered the proposed reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale as detailed in the Cabinet report was the option that most complied with the School Organisation Code 2013.
The Officer presented Committee with a timeline of both consultations with regards to the proposal, and stated that it was appropriate the matter was referred again to the relevant Scrutiny Committee. The Committee noted that Section 48 of the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 required that before school organisation proposals were published they must first be subject to consultation. The Committee was then informed that consultation processes had to follow Welsh Government guidelines, in compliance with the Schools Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 and School Organisation Code 2013.
The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated that the consultation developed on the feedback received, and during the first consultation it was requested that different sites or options should have been available for consideration, so the Officer confirmed that these were then being consulted upon as a second process. He also confirmed that all responses from the first consultation were carried over, and the Community Impact Assessment was altered based on the feedback received. The officer noted that there had been technical challenges, informing the Committee that the survey software had cut the end off ten responses due to technical character limits. Once the error had been confirmed, each of the respondents affected were contacted to add their final amendments to their responses. The Committee was informed that all of the consultation issues and themes that were outlined during the consultation were included in the report, and the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources confirmed that over 50 issues were raised, and the School Organisation Code 2013 stated that responses had to be provided. As part of the consultation report, the Council considered both consultation exercises, had two meetings with the Governing Body and staff, held two sessions with pupils at Llancarfan Primary School, four public drop-in sessions, and considered 1,136 individual pieces of correspondence on the proposals. The officer confirmed that individual responses were available in the Members’ Room for review.
Mr. Jim Barratt, current parent with pupils at Llancarfan Primary School, was invited to speak to the Committee. The public speaker informed the Committee that he felt the whole consultation process had been too narrow and focused on the one option as detailed in the proposal. In his opinion, Mr. Barratt stated that the Council had pursued the one option in a single minded fashion. He stated that at the earliest conceptual stages of the proposals, the Council had not engaged with anyone else, and he wished that the Authority had talked to Governors of Llancarfan Primary School and Rhys Primary School at a much earlier stage to ensure that the favoured option would be fit for purpose. This best practice approach would honour the public engagement process.
Mr. Barratt queried why the Council had not met with key stakeholders at an earlier stage of the process before preferred options were drawn up, and stated that the Local Authority had had plenty of opportunities, as the start date of Band B 21st Century Schools was January 2017.
Mr. Barratt stated that the consultation was flawed, and based on four false premises which were as follows. Firstly, that a transferral of staff and pupils from the existing Llancarfan Primary School building into the new school building would be a relocation. Mr. Barratt instead stated that the proposals were for a school closure in all but name. Secondly, there was a demand for placements in Rhoose. Mr. Barratt stated that these calculations were based on one approach to modelling, whereas other methods of population modelling predicted less demand than anticipated. Thirdly, demand for additional places in Rhoose could not be met through only one school. In his opinion, Mr. Barratt stated that the proposals in the report risked dividing the community. Fourthly, the designation of Llancarfan Primary School as a “Rural” school. Mr. Barratt concluded that this designation was an opportunity to sustain the future of Llancarfan.
Finally, Mr. Barratt queried why the single option had been pursued in the proposals, and wondered if it could be related to the blueprint that was developed in December 2012 as part of a Task and Finish Group of the Scrutiny Committee. That report contained similar recommendations to those as suggested in the current proposals. Mr. Barratt stated that in 2012, Cabinet had decided not to follow the recommendations of the Task and Finish Group and he urged the current Cabinet to come to the same conclusion for the proposals being considered by the Committee today.
Members of the Committee then sought points of clarification from the public speaker, requesting more information on the other modelling method referenced by Mr. Barratt. In response, the member of the public stated that there were various ways to calculate pupil yields from housing numbers. In this instance, the Council had taken the number of houses being built in the Rhoose area, which was 700, then multiplying it by 0.278. This gave a 90 place shortfall. Mr. Barratt noted that there were different approaches taken by other Local Authorities, for example Salford City Council had tested different approaches to estimates and looked at non-principaled bedrooms, for example one bedroom apartments which would not necessarily yield primary school places. Using a non-principaled bedrooms method calculation, Mr. Barratt calculated that Rhoose would only face a shortfall of 28 places. In a school with 210 places, this would still be a significant proportion, however could lead to a significant surplus in any new school in Rhoose.
The same Member of the Committee then sought more information on the statement that Llancarfan being a rural primary school was an opportunity and not a threat. Mr. Barratt responded by stating that the rural school designation would allow Llancarfan Primary School to qualify for additional Welsh Government funding, and Llancarfan Primary School would be the only school eligible for this funding in the Vale of Glamorgan. A rural school would have more leeway in surplus places and be a more sustainable option. Mr. Barratt therefore considered it right that the Council should consider all other proposals.
There being no further points of clarification, Members were invited to discuss the reasons for the proposal, options considered and consultation process.
A Member of the Committee asked what the designated funding for a rural school would be and what impact this could have on the school. In response, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated that for the financial year 2018/19 this figure was £2.5m funding across the whole of Wales. In 2017 a rural cluster of schools from the Vale of Glamorgan had applied to access this funding, which had a couple of attached requirements. This year, the cluster had been awarded £56k, to be shared across the six schools. The Director of Learning and Skills clarified that this was a grant for small and rural schools, of which the Council was allocated a sum of money, then had to make applications to draw down this funding. As such, this pot of money did not require rural school status for applications, and was already available to Llancarfan Primary School. The Director confirmed that this funding could not be used to offset normal running costs, so previous bids by the Council were for the purpose of funding an educational psychologist.
With regards to the option to extend Rhws Primary School, the Chairman queried why the site had been listed as constrained, and too small to expand to meet Building Bulletin requirements. In response, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated that the building was Grade 2 listed, and he provided the statistics for the square metre floor space per pupil as compared to the Welsh Government Building Bulletin Regulations, which confirmed that the site was already constrained and too small for expansion, so applications for funding would not meet the assessment criteria set within the Guidelines. The Officer also confirmed for the Chairman that the same site size difficulties applied for Llancarfan Primary School.
A Member then raised a point of clarification, that parts of Rhws Primary School were not listed, and queried why the unused space at Rhws was not sufficient for extension, noting that Romilly Primary School had recently undergone lots of development. The Officer responded that the developments at Romilly Primary School were like-for-like, and did not comprise a shrinkage or expansion of the school building.
A Member noted that there was no nursery provision available at Llancarfan Primary School and noted the desire to have continuous nursery to primary provision in the Western Vale, and hoped that the Governing Body of Llancarfan Primary School was in discussions with the Local Authority to explore this option. The Member queried why this could not be provided on site at Llancarfan Primary School. In response, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated that the existing site of Llancarfan Primary School was too small to accommodate nursery provision. As for discussions that took place in 2012, the Officer stated that he did not have the details of these discussions, so could not comment on the recommendations made at that time, however in the present day, he felt that there was not enough space at the site for nursery provision. It was confirmed for the Committee that Local Authority nursery provision was available in St. Athan and Rhoose, and there was private provision available elsewhere. The Committee discussed the availability of sites in the village of Llancarfan, which officers stated had been considered, with the Village Hall deemed unsuitable, however it was stressed that providing nursery and primary provision across multiple sites was problematic and not good for learner transition.
A Member stated that the proposals were based upon a number of predictions, and asked officers if these figures had been analysed for accuracy. In response, it was confirmed that predicted figures were analysed, to ensure that the methodology was evidence based, with the Officer noting that the Council’s projections for pupil yield at Rhoose Point across nursery, primary and secondary sectors was within 3% accuracy and therefore accurate.
The Chairman stated that she had experience of schools that had gone through a federation process, which led to increases in travel for pupils and school standards had slipped. She then asked if, hypothetically, Llancarfan Primary School remained as is, at what point would it be considered “unsustainable”. The Director of Learning and Skills responded that this would depend upon a number of factors, as there was no one set measure for school sustainability. It was a fact that Llancarfan Primary School would receive £96k less funding next year, which would require the Governing Body to come up with a recovery plan, and informed the Committee that the lower number of pupils that attended the school, the lower funding it would subsequently receive and requested Members to be mindful of that fact.
A Member of the Committee asked officers to elaborate on the importance of pupil costing, and of the differences and similarities between Llancarfan and other primary schools that offered less than 210 places with regards to their costs per pupil. The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated that the Council had a statutory duty of care in the context of school funding, as the decision to reconfigure primary provision in the Western Vale would have a knock on effect with mainstream school budgets. Individually, there were no other schools that offered less than 210 places which were financially at risk, however this depended heavily on the personal circumstances of each school, however there were similar issues of pressures on teaching, so the proposed reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale sought to offer a model of primary provision that worked well elsewhere.
The same Member queried what strategic work the Council had undertaken with Llancarfan Primary School to offer support, and how long had the school had the fifth highest costs per pupil. The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated he would check how long Llancarfan Primary School was the fifth highest in the Vale of Glamorgan for costs per pupil, and confirmed that high levels of support available and added that the Council had done everything it could to help the school. He reiterated that the Council did not want schools to fail without offers of support.
Finally, a Member of the Committee sought information on the costs of other rural schools in the Vale of Glamorgan and their capacities. Officers responded that other rural schools within the Vale of Glamorgan, including Wick and Marcross CiW Primary Schools, Peterston-Super-Ely CiW Primary School and St. Nicholas CiW Primary School were operating within budget, and Governors at those schools decided how to balance budgets, with the Council offering support. It was noted that Pendoylan CiW Primary School was also in the rural cluster, however had been working with the Council to develop a financial recovery plan for many years. At the request of the Member, officers indicated that they could circulate the information on budgets and unit costs per school across the rural cluster of primary schools.
(d) Community Impact Assessment
The Committee was informed that the School Organisation Code 2013 recommended that a Community Impact Assessment should be included as part of school organisation consultations, however this was not a mandatory requirement. In relation to the proposal, the Council nevertheless thought it would be prudent to produce a thorough Community Impact Assessment. The Assessment was developed over the lifespan of the consultation and developed within the context of education provision and resulted in a scoring matrix introduced against eight key measures which were detailed in the report. The School Organisation Code referred to community impact within the context of community use of the buildings. The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated that the Community Impact Assessment did not identify the school buildings as being used to provide community services of as a base for community activities.
As a point of clarification, a Member queried if there was a cost for the use of the school buildings and if alternative buildings were available in the village for community use. The Officer noted that schools set their own charging policies for the use of school buildings, and it was only possible to successfully charge for the community use of buildings if there was demand in the first instance.
Following the Officer’s presentation of this section of the report, the next public speaker was asked to make their representations.
Mr. Richard Barnes, Rhoose Community Representative, stated that the majority of the Llancarfan community were not in favour of the proposals, and neither were the proposals to the benefit of all of the village of Rhoose, only the families that would occupy the 300 new houses being built in the vicinity. Mr. Barnes asked why the Rhoose Section 106 funds were not being invested in the current primary school and this should have been consulted on fully as it must have been discussed previously. This alternative provision would benefit many and allow more choice than the proposed reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale. In his opinion, the proposal had impacted upon the future funding for the existing schools, which was particularly difficult as they were underfunded, and the Parent Teacher Association funding which would also suffer as a consequence.
Mr. Barnes stated that the proposal would have a negative impact upon traffic in the Western Vale, as there was limited and inadequate access to all of the Wards affected by the proposal. The public speaker stated that there was limited mention of transport issues in the report, and requested that a further traffic study be undertaken as the traffic situation in these areas was dangerous enough already.
Finally, Mr. Barnes considered these proposals would divide the community, who were happy to work with the Council to support the many and not the few.
With regards to Mr. Barnes’ comments on the dangerous traffic and possible effects of infrastructure resulting from the proposals, a Member of the Committee sought clarification on this point. The Member stated that 30% of pupils who studied in Llancarfan were living in the village, so building a new school in the Rhoose area would result in less infrastructure pressure in the village of Llancarfan. In response, Mr. Barnes clarified that he was talking about existing traffic pressures in the Rhoose area, and requested the Council to carry out another traffic assessment. The Chairman noted that the planning application for any new school buildings in the Western Vale would include another traffic assessment.
The next public speaker for this section, Mrs. Melinda Thomas, Llancarfan Community Council Representative, was invited to speak.
Mrs. Thomas stated that the Community Impact Assessment carried out as part of these proposals did not accurately capture the community in Llancarfan and Rhoose. The speaker stated that the Council had only used selected measures as part of the Community Impact Assessment that biased the result, for example putting too much emphasis on use of the school building, rather than the relationship between the school and community which, in her opinion, was more important and that evidence provided by the community had been discarded or marked low in the Assessment.
Mrs. Thomas stated that there were strong community links at Llancarfan Primary School, and just because the school did not use community facilities, that there would be no detrimental impact as a result of the proposals. As far as the community and Governors were concerned, they saw the proposed reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale leading to a closure of Llancarfan Primary School and not a transfer. She informed the Committee that at least three businesses would suffer as a result of the proposals, including the Fox and Hounds Pub and the Community Hall. Mrs. Thomas also stated that the Community Impact Assessment made no mention of St. Cadocs Church, which in her opinion, was a serious omission. She therefore disputed the statement that there was no evidence of links to the community. The speaker noted that officers had been keen to undertake consultation, which was not a requirement, however she stated that there was a legal precedent that the community consultation should be carried out properly and with full consideration given, and she believed that the comments provided by the community at the meeting had undermined the previous Community Impact Assessment.
A Member sought clarification on the statement by Mrs. Thomas that the school transfer would have a direct impact on the public house in the village of Llancarfan, and requested more information at this point. In response, the Llancarfan Community Council representative stated that many parents of pupils at Llancarfan Primary School used the public house for tea and coffee, and the Fox and Hounds had organised several events for the school, including bike rides, funding events and barbeques, and was therefore embedded in the community environment at Llancarfan.
There being no further points of clarification with the public speaker, a Member asked officers to explain the reasoning that there was no evidence of strong links to the community. In response, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated that this was a difficult issue and he did not wish the community to think that the Council disregarded their opinion, as it was clear that the community placed great importance to supporting Llancarfan Primary School. The Officer confirmed that in the first instance, checks were made with the Headteacher of the school as to the community use of the facilities as per the Community Impact Assessment process as detailed in the School Organisation Code 2013, which was recognised as best practice. The Officer stated that the Community Impact Assessment evolved throughout the process, but ultimately had to consider the impact from an educational perspective. He confirmed that the Council did not wish to destroy the links between the community and the school, only transfer the school to a new site. With regards to a query from the same Member on the possible Section 106 contributions that would be used in proposals, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources confirmed that these contributions were negotiated separately, however had to be based on the location of the development that led to the Section 106 funding.
A Member queried that if Llancarfan Primary School offered wrap around care, what impact upon the community the removal of this provision could have, and in response the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources noted that any new school facilities would offer the same provision.
In response to a question from another Member as to how to link the ethos of the school to a school transfer, the Officer stated that staff at Llancarfan Primary School would be the main driver behind the delivering of education and ethos at the site.
Finally, the Chairman noted that this was the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee, so was pleased that the Committee was considering the local culture as part of the proposals and stated that the Council had carried out work on “Sense of Place” and the Committee should be mindful of this work. She continued that historically, when the previously referred to Task and Finish work on a school places review, it was purely in consideration of school roll numbers, however when the recommendations from that report were considered in the round, as with Oakfield Primary School, it could be seen that the proposals could affect regeneration in the area. The Chairman stated that she would struggle to support proposals if they would lose the “Sense of Place” in the community, which could be difficult to transfer. In agreement, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources confirmed that the Council provided support to the community, for example Creative Rural Communities funding was available, and had been accessed by the village before.
(e) Educational Validity and Quality and Standards in Education
The Director of Learning and Skills introduced this section of the report, informing the Committee that the Council had to be mindful of Section 1.3 of the School Organisation Code 2013, detailing the Council’s duty with regard to quality and standards in education. The Director informed the Committee that relevant bodies should place the interests of learners above all others and should also consider the ability of the school or schools which were the subject of the proposals to deliver the full curriculum at the Foundation Phase and each Key Stage of education. This consideration should include the quality of curriculum delivery and the extent to which the structure or size of the school was impacting on this.
Where proposals involved the transfer of learners to alternative provision there should normally be evidence that the alternative would deliver outcomes and offer provision at least equivalent to that which was currently available to those learners (including learners with SEN). Proposers should ensure that the disruption to learners was minimised.
The Director of Learning and Skills drew the Committee’s attention to page 73 of the consultation report attached at Appendix B to the Cabinet report, which provided Estyn’s response to the proposal to reconfigure primary provision in the Western Vale. Estyn concluded that the proposals were likely to at least maintain the standard of education provision in the area. Whilst the Council was not required to make a case for better provision as part of the proposals, the Director set out the educational benefits which were in line with Sections 1.4 and 1.5 of the School Organisation Code 2013. These were:
- The admission number at Llancarfan Primary School was 18 pupils per year group. The school had only five classrooms available for teaching seven year groups, therefore mixed age group teaching was necessary;
- Over the last three years, an average of 4 children had been born in the Llancarfan Primary School catchment area;
- The existing site did not meet 21st Century School standards and did not meet the requirements of the school given the site’s restricted nature;
- The majority of pupils attending the school resided outside the catchment area, with over half of those living in Rhoose;
- Forecasted demand emanating from Rhoose given housing developments demonstrated a need to increase capacity to accommodate demand;
- The Local Authority was required to rationalise school places and was committed to meeting Welsh Government’s surplus places targets;
- The opportunities afforded through Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools Programme would allow for a new purpose built school, reflective of an evolving and increasingly digital national curriculum to support and enhance learning provision.
The Committee was then asked to consider page 76 of the consultation report which detailed Estyn’s response to the second consultation exercise, which stated that “It is likely that extending the provision to include nursery would support continuity and progression in pupils’ learning experiences from pre-school age to statutory school age. The addition of outdoor facilities is likely to enhance pupils’ wellbeing through providing better opportunities to develop their physical skills and health. In addition, access to high quality outdoor provision is a key principle of foundation phase pedagogy.”
In conclusion, the Director stated that the proposals offered a sustainable solution to the issues facing primary provision in the Western Vale, which had been widely consulted upon. The proposals maintained efficiencies for the schools, dealt with a shortfall of places in Rhoose, was compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act, would offer nursery and outdoor provision, and would offer high quality education.
Morwen Hudson, Senior Challenge Advisor and Lead Officer for School Improvement in the Central South Consortium, was then invited to address the Committee as an expert witness.
Mrs. Hudson informed the Committee that she did not know of any other profession where staff were expected to work in a site that did not meet modern design requirements, whereas a new building with modern facilities would enhance the learning opportunities of the school. The Central South Consortium Officer was concerned that there had been little mention of the pupils at Llancarfan Primary School and the impact of the proposals on their education at the meeting this evening. She informed the Committee that the proposal had numerous benefits and a key consideration for the Committee was that the new site would provide nursery provision, which would provide continuity that had been shown to be very beneficial to educational outcomes. For example, Cadoxton Primary School which had amalgamated with Cadoxton Nursery School to provide continuity and a consistent curriculum, had been very successful with improved outcomes for children and receiving excellent judgements from Estyn who commented on the outstanding progress children made in developing their personal and social skills and their raised standards of achievement.
Mrs. Hudson informed the Committee that outdoor learning was key to the Foundation Phase, and while staff at Llancarfan Primary School used the outdoor space available as much as possible, there were limitations on the current site. As such, the proposals would help enhance pupils’ social, physical and creative development. For example, Ysgol Y Ddraig, which was a new school building, had well established outdoor provision, which was key to delivering the school’s Foundation Phase.
The Central South Consortium Officer then noted that children in Llancarfan were taught in mixed age classes. The Committee was informed that there were pros and cons to providing education in this fashion, however in her opinion, the drawbacks were significant and provided a challenge for teachers. The Committee was informed that using data drawn from Welsh National tests, pupils in Llancarfan Primary School in Years 4 to 6 were performing at less than the Local Authority average, and these classes were the largest in the school, so it would therefore become a greater challenge to deliver this provision if numbers decreased further. The Senior Challenge Advisor for the Central South Consortium then detailed for the Committee that appropriate challenge for more able pupils in Key Stage 2 was identified as a recommendation in the Estyn inspection in 2014 and would therefore, she suggested, be a line of enquiry in the next inspection. Mrs. Hudson then explained how the Primary School fell within the Welsh Government model of school categorisation, detailing that most recently the school had been judged as having an improvement capacity of B and overall support category of Yellow. She then summarised for the Committee the differences between improvement capacities B and C in the national categorisation model, and noted that a school in the Yellow support category was an effective school which was already doing well and knew the areas it needed to improve, however still required additional support. It was again confirmed that in the Vale of Glamorgan over half of primary schools were categorised as Green with an improvement capacity judgement of A.
The Committee was informed that since the last inspection of Llancarfan Primary School, Estyn was now using a different inspection framework and therefore the definitions of good progress had changed. In her opinion, the Central South Consortium Officer stated that there were key aspects that were judged as good that could now be scrutinised differently if the school was inspected. For example, in their last inspection, Estyn noted that “nearly all pupils make good progress from their starting points”. However, in 2018, 37.5% of pupils were making good progress, which was lower than the Local Authority average and she felt Estyn would say this was a minority. It was also noted that improving reading and writing in Welsh was an area that Estyn recommended progress, and whilst reading scores at the primary school had improved above the Local Authority average, the writing scores at level 5 were much lower. Estyn had also recommended that marking procedures be consistent across the school so that pupils knew how to improve their work, however the Committee was informed that the school had undertaken a great deal of work in relation to this recommendation, and this had been reviewed by the challenge adviser who confirmed this was now consistent across the school. The Central South Consortium Officer was also concerned that Llancarfan Primary School was only one of three primary schools in the Vale of Glamorgan with no nursery provision.
Mrs. Hudson then provided the Committee with factors that led to the success of 21st Century Schools, with new facilities and built-for-purpose designs offering greater integration with learning opportunities. The Central South Consortium Officer also made reference to the Successful Futures report, an independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements and stated that all schools should be in the process of planning and preparing for its introduction, but as a small school, she informed the Committee that Llancarfan Primary School would have difficulty in releasing staff to engage with other schools in this key area of development. The new facilities would also reflect positively in the aims of the National Curriculum and the Digital Competency Framework, which would be difficult to achieve with the school at its current location.
In conclusion, Mrs. Hudson asked the Committee to acknowledge Llancarfan Primary School’s Mission Statement which was “the best that we can be”, and stated that the proposals would help the school provide a 21st century curriculum that excited and inspired every pupil and provided the best possible opportunities, and would promote high achievement and help children reach their full potential.
With regards to the educational validity, quality and standards in education of the proposal, a Member sought clarification on the language used by Estyn to describe the school, which sounded like the site was in an urban environment, and asked if Estyn only focused on the grounds of the site in isolation, and could not consider the rural setting of Llancarfan Primary School. In response, the Central South Consortium Officer stated that Estyn did consider other facilities nearby, however they had identified significant limitations on the Llancarfan Primary School site, for example the limited sporting facilities. In comparison, Ysgol y Deri offered modern facilities that were fit for purpose.
In response to a query from a Member who sought more information on the delivery of the Digital Competency Framework at Llancarfan Primary School, the Central South Consortium Officer confirmed that the school had not engaged with their School Improvement Group, and struggled with staff cover. In her opinion, the school could work towards the Digital Competency Framework, however she did not believe the school was ready to achieve the aims of this Framework. The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources also listed the restrictions facing Digital Competency due to the existing Llancarfan Primary School site, which resulted in technical and practical limitations which would lead to it being difficult for the school to achieve the Digital Competency Framework in full.
The next public speaker, Mr. Stephen Parry, who was a parent of previous Llancarfan pupils, was then invited to make representations to the Committee.
Mr. Parry stated that since the consultation for the proposal to reconfigure primary provision in the Western Vale had started, the numbers of pupils at the school had dropped. Mr. Parry stated that the information that was sent to parents with regards to educational validity and viability of the different proposals by different options was biased, and queried why, if the report was so critical of the quality and standards in education available at Llancarfan Primary School, were the staff who were delivering this education also being transferred. Mr. Parry stated that Estyn had been quoted to the Council’s benefit, and stated that many changes that took place in education were unsuccessful if they were based on a lack of research and evidence. In his opinion, the member of the public stated that there was not enough evidence in the proposals to show that they would benefit the children of the future, and queried if the solution to the future of primary provision in the Western Vale should rely on closing a rural primary school.
The report stated that a new 21st Century school would improve learning and quality and standards in education, and Mr. Parry queried how this would be achieved. With regards to the mixed class sizes in Llancarfan Primary School, Mr. Parry stated that Estyn did not find evidence of the teaching quality suffering as a result of this. He also stated that a digital curriculum could be delivered successfully in Llancarfan Primary School. The report gave consideration to the quality of teaching on offer at Llancarfan Primary School, and Mr. Parry stated that he, and many other parents, agreed that play, socialisation and interaction with the environment were more important than children using digital devices such as mobile phones. Mr. Parry believed that the Council may want schools to instead teach socialisation, and Llancarfan Primary School was a good environment for this.
The public speaker stated that the report was concerned about pupil outcomes, however he told the Committee that Estyn said the learning environment at Llancarfan Primary School was varied and stimulated, providing a good learning environment and the pupils at the school performed well academically. Finally, he stated that Welsh Government were considering rural schools as a priority, as they provided quality and standards in education that would not otherwise be picked up in data, and this had not been covered in the consultation report. Instead, the Council was making an economic argument, and not an educational argument.
Following representations from the member of the public, the Director of Learning and Skills clarified that the expert witness, Morwen Hudson, worked for the Central South Consortium which had provided categorisation data inside the consultation report, that expanded upon the qualitative data as detailed in the document.
There being no further points of clarification, a Member of the Committee stated that he had various concerns with the report. Firstly, the report stated that the current building of Llancarfan Primary School was not fit for purpose, with the Member stating that something being unfit for purpose would not happen overnight, and queried why this had not been resolved earlier. He then noted that the report discussed educational outcomes which placed the interest of learners above all else, however it had been discussed at the Committee that standards would only be at least maintained, and it did not appear the proposals would guarantee improved results, instead transferring the issues at one school to another so might not be addressed as part of the new building. The Member was not comfortable with the characterisation of Llancarfan Primary School as an unsatisfactory school when it had been deemed “good” by Estyn; if the Council could confidently predict the proposals would provide “excellent” judgements by Estyn this would be another matter, however this was not guaranteed.
In response, the Director of Learning and Skills stated that the Council had to consider raising standards in education as part of the School Organisation Code, and was committed to supporting learner journey and providing schools that were judged excellent. She noted, however, that Llancarfan Primary School when last inspected four years ago was not Excellent, and using the updated figures from Central South Consortium, officers were of the opinion that the school building was a limiting factor. All things being equal, the Director believed that excellence could be achieved at Llancarfan Primary School but could never be guaranteed, as excellent leadership and teaching was essential, and a new building alone could not deliver excellence. With regards to Estyn’s response to the proposals, concerning standards of education provision, she urged the Committee to read their response to the consultation exercise which stated that the Vale of Glamorgan Council had presented a sound rationale for the proposals.
The Chairman noted that there were many new schools being developed in the Vale of Glamorgan, and after site visits she had noticed that the venue as well as the teaching had a new vitality. She asked officers if this vitality could be borne out in this case, and if it could be qualified. In response, the Central South Consortium Officer stated that St. Cyres Comprehensive School had moved into a new building as part of the Penarth Learning Community and had fantastic results and standards of education, and she believed that the new environment had had a positive impact on outcomes. She also stated that Ysgol y Ddraig, which had resulted from an amalgamation of schools into a new building, had not been inspected by Estyn but was achieving standards higher than previously.
Finally, the Central South Consortium Officer stated as a point of clarification that she had never referred to Llancarfan Primary School as an underperforming school. In agreement, the Director of Learning and Skills provided examples of schools in the Vale that had seen improved results since moving into new buildings, with Cadoxton Primary School providing a clear example of a 21st Century school that received an excellent inspection from Estyn, having received three excellent judgements out of the five categories at its most recent inspection. Ysgol y Deri, which was an amalgamation of three Special Schools, one of which had transferred from Barry to Penarth, had also received an excellent judgement from Estyn for its leadership and partnership work.
With regards to investment in schools, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources confirmed that the Council had to take advantage of Welsh Government applications for funding, which at present was focused on 21st Century schools.
A Member of the Committee noted that excellent judgements had been received from Estyn for other schools in the Vale of Glamorgan that were in Victorian buildings, and the speakers at the Committee were satisfied with the educational provision received at Llancarfan Primary School. She then queried where extracurricular activities took place at Llancarfan Primary School. Officers responded that while Cadoxton Primary School was located in an old building, inside this was not the case, as it offered facilities that were the most modern in the Vale of Glamorgan with the exception of a new build and was therefore fit for purpose. With regards to a question on the precise rationale for considering proposals on Llancarfan Primary School, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated the provision of education could not be looked at in isolation as the Council had responsibility for over 50 schools and over 20,000 pupils, therefore discussions on proposals to reconfigure primary provision in the Western Vale would also have to consider mainstream funding at places across the whole Local Authority. He confirmed for the Committee that the school had to pay for the use of community facilities in the village of Llancarfan, which while being a small figure, was still a claim on resources and had to be considered as part of any obstacles to curriculum delivery.
Finally, the Director of Learning and Skills stated that with regards to the Section 106 funding for new developments in Rhoose, it was important for the Committee to consider that if this funding was spent on an education site that did not meet the Welsh Government’s Building Bulletin Regulations, then the Council would not be able to access match funding.
The Chairman sought more information on Llancarfan Primary School’s placing in the standards and improvement categories, querying if the results suggested if progress was being made to bring about improvements, or if a plateau had been reached. In response, the Central South Consortium Officer stated that the categorisation of Llancarfan Primary School as Yellow was not a cause for concern as it identified that capacity for improvement was available, however Estyn would consider as a line of enquiry why the more able children at Llancarfan Primary School were not meeting higher standards.
(f) Next Steps / Summary
For the final section of the report presentation, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources informed the Committee of the timeline of the proposal.
To progress the proposal a statutory notice had to be published providing 28 days for objections. The notice must be published on a school day and with 15 school days included within the notice period. Following the publication of a statutory notice and objection period, a further report to Cabinet would be issued on the outcome of the statutory notice period.
The Officer noted that the Council was still early on in the decision-making process, which was reflective of the statutory guidance and offered the Western Vale with a 21st Century primary school that provided an opportunity that met the needs of future pupils. Finally, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated that it was important to consider the community input which had not been invalidated by the proposals that met the needs of statutory guidelines.
At this point in proceedings, the final public speaker, Dr. Rebecca Farquharson, was invited to make her representations to the Committee.
Dr. Farquharson stated that since the proposals had been put forward by the Council, Llancarfan Primary School had been designated by Welsh Government as the Vale of Glamorgan’s only rural school. As such, the school now had fantastic opportunities to take advantage of the 21st Century funding available, which could be used in existing buildings. Dr. Farquharson stated that the business case for the proposed reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale was yet to be approved and the Cabinet Secretary for Education had stated that Local Authorities should be minded of the direction of policy travel in this area and the public speaker therefore considered that the Council was treading a fine line with regards to the Welsh Government vision for rural schools and as such the Council’s business case could be challenged by Welsh Government.
Dr. Farquharson therefore urged the Committee to consider alternative proposals for primary provision in the Western Vale as Llancarfan Primary School could now access £10m rural funding. This would directly resolve all of the issues raised by the Council, and enhance existing buildings and facilities. The public speaker stated that a local architect had deemed it possible to convert existing space within the school hall to provide two new classrooms in the roof space, which would allow the removal of at least three of the temporary classrooms which could then be removed to allow various play areas and she asked why the Council had not considered this option.
In her opinion, Dr. Farquharson stated that the expanding of the existing Rhws Primary site had not been considered in full, as there was space available at the rear of the building and safe access available from Station Road, which could allow a Foundation Phase at Rhws School. She also informed the Committee that the Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Education had stated that 210 place schools were not necessary, and there were no requirements for schools with lower numbers of pupils on the roll. The combined approach she had outlined above, she felt, would meet the needs of both communities in Llancarfan and Rhoose.
In summary, Dr. Farquharson stated that there was an overwhelming dismissal of the proposed reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale, which had not been properly evidenced. Dr. Farquharson stated that workable alternatives were available that were more fitting for rural schooling and strengthened local communities. She did not want a divided community, and it was clear that the community of Llancarfan did support the proposals as 92% of those consulted were in opposition. Dr. Farquharson asked the Committee who they thought would benefit from the funding available, or did they really believe that all options had been fully considered.
In conclusion, she stated that the uncertainty was damaging the future of Llancarfan Primary School, and alternative proposals could provide the opportunity to deliver the best standards in education for all.
The Chairman gave thanks to all of the public speakers for their contributions to the meeting and noted that Cabinet had sent the report to the Committee for its consideration and following the meeting, the recommendations of the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee would be referred back to Cabinet for Executive decision. She asked if any Members had any final questions for officers that had not been raised at the meeting, before recommendations were moved by the Committee.
A Member stated that it was tremendous to hear from a united community supporting their school. The Member stated that he had two Victorian schools in his Ward that had changed with the times, one by making a move to another location, and another able to expand within its own boundary. He summarised the options presented to Committee, which was that the school site was not fit for purpose and had a low intake which was blamed in part on the uncertain fate of the school. The Member considered that this was a very difficult decision as the Council had to support the school’s community but also consider the bigger picture. He wondered if there were other options available, which could include opening other schools, and if Llancarfan Primary School was viable as it currently stood. The Member stated that rural schools were not just for one village, and pupils could attend from other locations so the transportation to the existing and possible new school had to be considered as any proposals could lead to increased congestion. The Member felt that the debate must continue, however the final result on any proposals would not make the people happy. He urged the Committee to make children and their future the priority, considered alongside the presentations that had been made at the Committee meeting. This was a very difficult decision and the Member asked if there might be another way to consider the reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale.
Another Member stated that he had issues with the impetus for the proposals and the timescales the Council was pursuing. He noted that there were pressures due to the projection of pupil numbers in future, and also funding deadlines. He praised the debate and level of engagement at the meeting, as the Scrutiny Committee had the opportunity to speak to the public directly. He also noted that the nature of the rural structures had not led to other considerations being considered. The Member felt that there were more questions to be asked and options to consider, which could lead to more opportunities.
A Committee Member noted that on 1st November 2018, Llancarfan Primary School would be classified as a rural school and the Committee was being asked to make a decision before this date, where extra funding could be made available. For this reason, she felt it would be remiss of the Committee to recommend anything to Cabinet before other ideas could be put forward. The Chairman sought more information from officers on this point and the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources stated that the Council as the proposer commenced its consultation before 1st November 2018 thus the proposal must be published and determined in accordance with the first addition of the code. The Council had published its consultation document as required by the code before the 1st November 2018, accordingly, any proposal must be published and determined in accordance with the first edition code.
The Director of Learning and Skills also confirmed that the consultation report had been published under the existing guidelines, and stated that future guidelines would include a presumption against closure for rural schools, however confirmed that the Council’s proposal was for a regulated alteration and not a closure.
A Member of the Committee stated that he was not happy with the way the consultation process had been conducted. The report made reference to the School Organisation Code and the Council may have met its legal obligations, however he considered it in the Council’s best interests not to proceed hastily. He noted that the Welsh Local Government Association Consultation Guide gave local people a voice, and he did not feel that had happened in the consultation for the proposed reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale. He stated that there was a difference between listening and hearing, and wanted a constructive dialogue and in his opinion, this had not happened. As Elected Members, he pointed out that the Committee must avoid predetermining an argument and he felt that officers were doing this. He felt that a decision had been made, but he had not heard what problems were trying to be solved in the business case. For example, he raised concerns regarding the calculations for the 90 surplus places in the Rhoose area, stating this was a prediction and the Council could not be certain what the population would be like in 2020-23. The Member stated he also had concerns about the business case timing and felt he was being pushed into make a premature decision as the funding and need for places originated from Rhoose developments. These were split into two halves, and the second development had not commenced with no planning permission confirmed. He would understand the compulsion if this was so, and thought that the development was likely to happen, however informed the Committee that Brexit might have an impact on housing and the economy that meant the Council should not rush into this decision. The Member clarified with officers the surplus places comprised from the 787 new dwellings in Rhoose and whether they were on the north or south of the railway line dwellings. He concluded that these would be completed too far away in the future for his liking, and it was too early to make such a huge decision. The Member then summarised his position stating that he felt the predicted school places were not guaranteed, he did not like the consultation process, and if the Scrutiny Committee accepted the proposals for reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale, the Council would risk losing trust. He had questions over the funding and the business plan which sought to improve educational outcomes, however was not guaranteed. He stated that the Committee had heard of Victorian schools that had achieved excellent outcomes, and felt that Llancarfan Primary School could achieve these levels with support. As such, he could not support the proposal in its current format and wished for more time to consider all the options and create an environment where all the facts could be considered.
The Chairman sought more information on the business case timings for the Band B 21st Century School funding. In response, the Director of Learning and Skills stated that there were two timing restrictions for the funding. Firstly, Section 106 funding was provided to the Council in tranches and had expiry dates, and secondly, the 21st Century School Funding Programme timing had been agreed with regards to match funding. She considered this a lesser issue due to the ability to slip funding, however the timescales for the Section 106 funding were tight and had to be matched with the Welsh Government grant. In response to a question from a Member as to whether the Section 106 deadlines could be extended, the Director stated that this has sometimes been possible, but could not be guaranteed so was still a significant risk.
At this point in the proceedings, a Member was asked if, as he was Chair of the Governing Body of Rhws Primary School who had submitted representations against the proposal as part of the consultation report, if he should declare an interest in this item. In response, the Member indicated that he would not answer this question.
There being no further questions or comments on the proposed reconfiguration of primary provision in the Western Vale, the Chairman asked if Members would like to move any recommendations.
A Member requested that the proposal be deferred to adequately consider the other points raised at the meeting, bearing in mind the timescales of the Section 106 payments, so Cabinet could consider the proposal in further detail. Another Member clarified that the deferral should allow a genuine consultation exercise to be undertaken to allow the community to work with the Council for alternative solutions.
Following a vote, it was subsequently
RECOMMENDED – T H A T Cabinet further engage with the community to explore other options that consider the future of primary provision in Llancarfan and the rest of the Western Vale.
Reason for recommendation
To explore other options that consider the future of primary provision in Llancarfan and the rest of the Western Vale.