Agenda Item No. 3

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

SPECIAL MEETING OF THE LEARNING AND CULTURE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE: 1ST OCTOBER, 2018

 

REFERENCE FROM CABINET: 17TH SEPTEMBER, 2018

 

 

C408 PROPOSED RECONFIGURATION OF PRIMARY PROVISION IN THE WESTERN VALE (LC) (SCRUTINY - LEARNING AND CULTURE) -

 

Due to the level of public interest in this item, the Leader requested that the item be moved to the front of the agenda.

 

In presenting the report, the Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture began by asking Members to confirm that they had had an opportunity to consider and digest the report, including the appendix documents which were Appendix A – Joint Consultation Report, Appendix B – Community Impact Assessment, Appendix C – Equality Impact Assessment and Appendix D – Consultation Documents.

 

On full Cabinet agreement the Cabinet Member proposed to present the report in a stepped approach in looking at all aspects of the report which incorporated the salient points from the appendix documents, advising that he would invite Cabinet Members to ask any further questions to Officers present at the meeting before concluding with the final resolutions.

 

On the Chairman’s agreement, the Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture presented the report, the purpose of which was to consider the outcome of the consultation exercise undertaken on the proposal to reconfigure primary provision in the Western Vale by: 

  • Creating a new 210 place primary school building with a 48 part time place nursery class for Llancarfan Primary School;
  • Transferring staff and pupils from the existing Llancarfan Primary School building into the new school building, and;
  • Changing the age range of Llancarfan Primary School from 4-11 to 3-11 years. 

On 22nd January, 2018 Cabinet considered a report on the proposal to reconfigure primary school provision in the Western Vale and agreed to undertake a consultation exercise on the proposal in line with the requirements of the School Standards Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 and the statutory code.

 

A consultation exercise was undertaken with prescribed consultees between the 5th March and 20th April, 2018 with the aim of taking a holistic view of primary school provision in the Western Vale and to inform the community about the school reorganisation proposal to move the site of Llancarfan Primary School from Llancarfan to a newly constructed school building on land north of the railway line in Rhoose, to increase the capacity of Llancarfan Primary School at the new site from 126 to 210 places, and alter the lowest age range of pupils at Llancarfan Primary School from 4 to 3, consisting of the addition of a new nursery class containing 48 part time places, and to seek feedback on this proposal.

 

The proposal aimed to address a number of challenges and provide new opportunities for learners.  These included, but were not limited to: 

  • The admission number at Llancarfan Primary School is 18 pupils per year group.  The school has only 5 classrooms available for teaching seven year groups, therefore mixed age group teaching is necessary.
  • The most recent admission number for reception age children at the school, indicate 3 pupil have registered.  None of these pupils reside in catchment.
  • Over the last three years, an average of 4 children have been born in the Llancarfan Primary School catchment area.
  • The existing site does not meet 21st Century School standards, and does not meet the requirements of the school given the site’s restricted nature.
  • The majority of pupils attending the school reside outside the catchment area, with over half of those living in Rhoose.
  • Forecasted demand emanating from Rhoose given housing developments demonstrate a need to increase capacity to accommodate demand.
  • The Local Authority is required to rationalise school places and is 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. 

As a result of concerns raised by members of the community in relation primarily to the impact to the local area, to ensure the views of the local community were understood, ensuring a transparent and meaningful consultation, the consultation document was redeveloped and a second consultation was held between 21st May and 9th July, 2018.  The key themes and issues raised were detailed in the consultation report attached to the report at Appendix C which Members were required to consider alongside the consultation report.  A summary of the consultation undertaken was referred to in paragraphs 56 to 69 of the report.

 

The Cabinet Member advised that the consultation report must be published within 13 weeks of the end of the period allowed for responses, and to support any decision as to whether there was suitable evidence to justify the publication of a statutory notice, which must take place before a statutory notice is published on the proposal. As a result Members were advised that the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee had been consulted during the first consultation period.  However, the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee had not had the opportunity to give further consideration to this matter or to the issues raised by the consultees as part of the second consultation period, therefore the Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture proposed that opportunity be afforded to the Committee for consideration prior to any decision to proceed with the publication of a statutory notice.

 

The Cabinet Member added that Members needed to have regard to the Legal Implications.  Members should have regard to paragraphs 13 to 55 inclusive, having due regard to these before reaching any decision and asked if Members had read and considered this information and had regard to the legal implications arising.  All Members agreed.

 

The Cabinet Member reminded Members that the Council had general duties under the Education Act, as outlined in the report at paragraphs 13 to 15.  The Council had powers under the School Standards Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 to make proposals to make a regulated alteration to a community school and Paragraph 17 of the report set out the basis of the Council’s proposal in respect of a regulated activity as defined in Schedule 2 of the 2013 Act.  

 

The Council was required when acting under the provisions of the 2013 Act to comply with the School Organisation Code 2013, which could be found via the link included in paragraph 16 of the report and Members of the Cabinet needed to be satisfied that the Council had acted in accordance with the Act and the Code. 

 

The Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture therefore reminded Cabinet Members that they must fully satisfy themselves that there was sufficient evidence before them to demonstrate that the Council was meeting its duties as outlined in the report.

 

Paragraphs 24 to 36 inclusive, set out the required elements in relation to the Councils consultation on its proposal.  The joint consultation report in respect of Llancarfan was attached at Appendix A to the report, and the Cabinet Member asked Members to confirm that they had considered it and all Members subsequently confirmed that they had.

 

The Cabinet Member went on to remind Members of the Council’s duty to comply with the public sector equality duty as provided for by s.149 of the Equalities Act 2010 when reaching a decision on the proposals outlined in the report.  Members needed to be satisfied that the Council’s duty was being met as set out fully at  paragraphs 37 to 50 of the report, which explained what the s.149 duty was.  These matters were fully examined in the Equality Impact Assessment which could be found at Appendix C and summarised in section 7.  All Members confirmed that they had had full regard to paragraphs 37 to 50.

 

The Council had to comply with the public sector equality duty (section 149 of the Equality Act 2010) when coming to a decision on the proposal.  Section 149 requires the Council to have due regard to the need to: 

  • Eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation and any other conduct that was prohibited by or under the Equality Act 2010;
  • Advance equality of opportunity between persons who shared a relevant protected characteristic and persons who did not share it;
  • Foster good relations between persons who shared a relevant protected characteristic and persons who did not share it: Equality Act 2010 s149 (1). 

The relevant protected characteristics were: age; disability; gender reassignment; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation: section 149 (7) of the Equality Act.

 

Section 149(3) of the Equality Act stated that having due regard (that was appropriate in all the particular circumstances in which the Council was carrying out its functions) to the need to advance equality of opportunity and which involved due regard, in particular, to the need to: 

  • remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who shared a relevant protected characteristic that were connected to that characteristic;
  • take steps to meet the needs of persons who shared a relevant protected characteristic that were different from the needs of persons who did not share it;
  • encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such persons was disproportionately low;
  • the steps involved in meeting the needs of disabled persons that were different from the needs of persons who were not disabled include, in particular, steps to take account of disabled persons’ disabilities. 

The Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture further advised that Members must pay regard to any countervailing factors, which it was proper and reasonable for them to consider.  Improving the quality of education in the Council’s area, making schools more efficient, budgetary pressures and practical factors would often be important, which were brought together in the Resource Implications (Financial and Employment) section of the report.  The weight of these countervailing factors in the decision making process was a matter for Members in the first instance.

 

Members should also be aware that the duty was not to achieve the objectives or take the steps set out in s.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).  

 

The Equality Impact Assessment attached at Appendix C on the proposal included a summary of any possible adverse impacts and how they might be avoided.  Officers had sought to investigate whether the proposal would result in some adverse impact on people sharing any of the protected characteristics.

 

The Equality Impact Assessment concluded that there was no real risk of direct or indirect discrimination as the Council was pursuing a legitimate aim (namely, improving the capacity and efficiency of education) and any decision to publish the proposals to make regulated alterations was a proportionate means of achieving that aim.

 

The Cabinet Member added that there must be an evidence base for its decision making, achieved by means including engagement with the public and interest forums and by gathering details and statistics on those who use Llancarfan Primary School currently, and how the school was used.  Members must give careful consideration of the Equality Impact Assessment and its findings as it was one of the key ways in which Members could show due regard to the relevant matters. 

 

All the evidence for this was set out in Appendix C of the report and summarised in section 7 which was informed by the consultation undertaken, which Members were aware of and which was summarised in paragraphs 56 to 69 of the report. 

 

The Cabinet Member asked if all Members were satisfied that there was sufficient justification to proceed on the basis of this information, so that Cabinet were fully satisfied that they could proceed as recommended.  All Members agreed.

 

In conclusion, the Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture referred Members to the Community Impact Assessment (CIA) which was attached at Appendix B to the report.  The salient points were summarised at paragraphs 70 to 81 of the report and were contained in the table provided at paragraph 78 of the report which was a summary of the key information to remind Members of that which was contained in Appendix B.  Members would be aware that despite the fact that the Code did not require a CIA in respect of the proposal made, the Council nevertheless thought it would be prudent to produce a thorough CIA given that under the proposal as a regulated activity, the existing site in Llancarfan would become surplus and the school would move to a new site in Rhoose.  The CIA highlighted that the proposal identified would likely result in a slight to moderate improvement for the wider community overall.  The Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture stated that, in his opinion, the CIA demonstrated that the Council had due regard to the duty, based on a full investigation undertaken by Officers, as outlined in the report. 

 

The Cabinet Member asked Members to confirm that they were satisfied that the report and recommendations fully addressed the Council’s statutory duties and the equality duties further advising that Members should confirm that from the perspective of the equality impact assessment undertaken that there was sufficient justification to proceed on the basis of the information and any measures proposed to mitigate any adverse impact had been appropriately addressed so that Cabinet were fully satisfied that they could proceed as recommended.  All Members agreed.

 

At this point, the Cabinet Member for Social Care, Health and Leisure requested that his concerns over how the Consultation Report had been prepared, collated and conclusions reached within the report be minuted.

 

Following the Cabinet Member’s briefing, the Leader opened the debate to questions commencing with the following:

 

The Leader referred to references made in the report to a regulated alteration and requested the Officer to fully explain the terminology and how the School Organisation Code had been applied in relation to the proposals relating to Llancarfan?

 

The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources advised that Section 2.2 of the School Organisation Code (2013) dealt with ‘regulated alterations’, which included in the definition:

  • ‘the transfer of any school to a new site or sites unless a main entrance of the school on its new site would be within 1 mile of any main entrance on the current site’, and
  • a change in the age range of a school (including a special school) by a year or more. 

As a regulated alteration the school, its structure, governing body, staffing and pupils would be unchanged when moved to a new site.  The heritage and history of the school would remain constant in the eyes of Estyn.

 

A school closure of a school under the Code would require dissolution of the elements just mentioned, which was a significant difference, with the achievements and ethos of the school not being carried forward.

 

The Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Regulatory and Legal Services referred to Paragraphs 56 to 69 which set out details of the consultation undertaken and asked what the purpose of extending the period of the consultation?

 

The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources advised that the Council took consultation seriously, and it was important for the process to both reflect the requirements set out in the School Organisation Code, and be agile in its process to ensure meaningful engagement and opportunity for consideration.  While the School Organisation Code provided guidelines, it did not provide a playbook for every scenario, many of which would be unique to the specific areas and communities affected.  During the course of both consultations there were instances where issues arose or questions asked.  At those junctures it was decided to operate in an open, transparent and accommodating way to ensure that the Council did right by the pupils they were there to support and the communities in which they lived.  To that end, the Head of Strategy stated that it had been decided that there was insufficient information provided in the first consultation document, and that some of the concerns raised by the community which could be addressed better, should be.  To that end, the second consultation was launched and the Council was clear that any opinions expressed in the first consultation would not be discounted.

 

During the course of the second consultation it was discovered that the survey software used by the Council truncated the responses of 10 individuals after 9,999 characters due to limitation in the systems database which the Council was not aware of.  Upon investigating the issue every single respondent was contacted, with the first 9,999 characters of their response, and asked if they wished to include any additional information from their response which may had been lost.  8 respondents had since sent in additional information.  The remaining 2 responses had still been included up to the 9,999 characters that were received.

 

Reasonable adjustment and accommodation was made, proactively, by the Council to address the issue.

 

The Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Planning advised that he had observed that the community felt strongly about the proposal and asked the Director if she was satisfied that consideration had been given to the educational aspects of the proposal?

 

The Director of Learning and Skills advised that she was confident that all educational aspects of the proposal had been considered.  The nature of consultations were not to seek majority approval but rather to ensure that all implications could be highlighted and raised for Members’ consideration.  It was clear that the community felt strongly about the consultation, and their engagement and the quality of the consultation report was a testament to the efficacy of the process. The Director reiterated that she was confident that the educational aspects had been considered appropriately, and this was reflected in the feedback from Estyn received on the consultation.  However, Officers were conscious that the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee had not had the opportunity to consider the feedback to the consultation and this would allow an opportunity for democratic debate. The biggest challenge with the proposal was the distinction between community impact and educational rationale and where the objective of the consultation should lay.  The School Organisation Code was clear that the primary function of a school was to educate.  Under Welsh Government, Local Authorities must give due consideration to rationalisation, capacity and opportunities for investment under national strategy, which was reflected in the Cabinet report and associated appendices.

 

The proposal had gone above the standard set out by the School Organisation Code with regard to community engagement and in developing a comprehensive community impact assessment.  This was done because it was the right thing to do given the feelings of the community, and to ensure that the Cabinet was able to consider the communities’ views when making a decision.

 

The Cabinet Member for Housing and Building Services drew Members’ attention to the resources and implications section of the report which made reference to match funding from Welsh Government, the capital receipt from the site at Llancarfan, and s.106 monies and asked after the difference between each of these funding streams and how they related to one another? 

 

The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources advised that under Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools programme, 50% match funding was available for capital investment schemes that would see learning environments enhanced to Welsh Government’s 21st Century standards.  In order to secure funding, business cases must be submitted and approved by Welsh Government, and would be assessed on a number of criteria, including designs meeting Building Bulletin regulations, and being sustainable.

 

Funding was also available via Section 106 contributions, which were contributions made by developers, following new housing developments in a given area to support services in meeting the additional demand.  Each Section 106 agreement was negotiated separately and tied to agreed timescales.  The Section 106 agreements and associated timescales were outlined in the consultation document, with the first Section106 agreement expiring in January 2020.

 

The consultation document made it clear that a capital receipt would be sought from the existing Llancarfan site should proposals go ahead.  This receipt would not be used specifically for this proposal however; any receipt would be retained for use in future 21st Century School projects under Band B.

 

The Cabinet Member for Neighbourhood Services and Transport stated that reference was made in the report to the quality and standards in education and asked what were the benefits/dis-benefits of the proposal from an education perspective bearing in mind the Council’s duties under the Education Act?

 

The Director of Learning and Skills advised that the proposal reflected Welsh Government’s strategy of 21st Century schools as well as ensuring the duties from Welsh Government discharged to the Local Authority in relation to school place planning, school organisation and rationalisation were appropriately met.

 

Referring to Key benefits, the Director stated that these included: 

  • The proposal ensured adequate provision for forecasted increases in pupil numbers, while aligning with the agreed strategy with Welsh Government on managing surplus capacity in schools.
  • The proposal addressed the challenges associated with building bulletin regulations and required site space in establishing appropriate educational provision for additional pupil numbers emanating from Rhoose.
  • The proposal offered £4m in investment into Llancarfan Primary School and that investment in the school cannot be made on its current site.
  • The challenges associated with mixed classes at Llancarfan Primary School would be mitigated if the school were to move to a new site.  The current admission number in reception for September 2018 is 3 pupils, none of whom live in catchment.
  • The existing school site did not have adequate outdoor space, necessitating expenditure on external facilities in order to hold sports sessions, for example.
  • The existing infrastructure and facility at Llancarfan was not reflective of the evolving national curriculum, which included a focus on digital competency and learning.
  • The proposal would establish nursery provision at the school, allowing for consistency in education and learning environment through the Foundation Phase.
  • Additional pupil numbers would leverage economies of scale with regard to the school’s revenue funding, providing additional resources for the school under the current school funding challenges. 

The dis-benefits of the proposal, the Director advised, were largely related to the community aspects of the school being located in Llancarfan, as outlined in the Community Impact Assessment. 

  • From an educational perspective parents had highlighted concerns with larger class sizes and the small school ethos, however under the proposal the opportunity for the ethos of the school to be retained was facilitated as a regulated alteration, and there were a number of mechanisms available, and were currently in place at other schools, to foster and support cross-year engagement and support for pupils.
  • Llancarfan Primary School was currently categorised as a yellow school which meant it could benefit from improvement.  There were numerous examples of larger schools with additional challenges not faced by Llancarfan, such as high levels of eFSM pupils who were rated by Estyn as excellent and were nationally recognised for their performance, standards and innovation in teaching. 

At this point in discussion, the Cabinet Member for Social Care, Health and Leisure wished to share the concerns of the community and himself over the way in which the consultation had been conducted and the impact on the school moving from a rural to suburban setting.  The Cabinet Member also wished to add that the aforementioned point of Llancarfan school being categorised as a yellow school was subjective and the Council was not in a position to confirm if, at all, this category would change if the school was to move.  The Director of Learning and Skills, for clarification purposes, pointed out that the reference she had made to the school being categorised as yellow under Welsh Government’s categorisation system was relevant in that it demonstrated that the school has room for improvement.  She was of the view that the proposal would support the school to achieve the improvements set out in its School Improvement Plan.

 

The Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Planning asked the Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture if he, as the Cabinet Member for the service area, was satisfied that all other proposed options had been thoroughly considered, to which, the Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture advised that, yes, comprehensive consultations had taken place which also included drop-in sessions for members of the public to engage.  The Consultation Report included all comments raised and, in his opinion, had been handled very well by officers.

 

During consideration of the matter, the Leader also drew Members’ attention to two written representations that had been tabled at the meeting and placed in the public gallery.

 

This was a matter for Executive decision.

 

Having regard to the report and comments made at the meeting the following resolutions were moved by the Deputy Leader and seconded by the Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Planning and endorsed by the Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture; and subsequently:

 

RESOLVED -

 

(1)       T H A T the report, consultation report and other appendices included as part of the report together with the written representations received at the meeting be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the publication of the consultation report on the proposal be approved.

 

(3)       T H A T recommendations 3-5 as set out in the report are not progressed at this stage.

 

(4)       T H A T the report, consultation report, included appendices, and the written representations received at the meeting be referred to the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee for consideration.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To ensure that all relevant information is considered by Cabinet in reaching a decision on whether to publish a statutory notice on the proposal.

 

(2)       To ensure the Local Authority meets the legal requirements of the School Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013 and the School Organisation Code 2013.

 

(3&4)  To seek the views of the Scrutiny Committee prior to final decisions being reached.”

 

 

Attached as Appendix – Report to Cabinet: 17th September, 2018