The Corporate Director - Education and Family Support presented a report, informing Cabinet of the outcome of the consultation on the Bridgend West schools modernisation proposal, the findings of the consultation and seeking approval to progress to publication of a public notice as prescribed in the School Organisation Code. He added that the Schools Programme Manager was also in attendance in the meeting, to answer any detailed questions regarding the proposals.
The Corporate Director - Education and Family Support explained the background and that in its meeting of 21 January 2020 Cabinet gave approval for the Bridgend West schemes to be taken forward via the Mutual Investment Model (MIM) funding arrangements. The preferred way forward for the Bridgend West scheme were preferred education options of provision of a new-build, two-form entry English-medium school on 'a' site suitable for Afon y Felin and Corneli Primary Schools combined and provision of a new-build, two form entry Welsh-medium school on ‘a’ site suitable for an enlarged Ysgol Y Ferch O’r Sgêr. He explained that the preferred sites for the new schools were determined by Cabinet as the Valleys to Coast (V2C) owned Marlas Estate site and the existing Ysgol Y Ferch O’r Sg?r/Cornelly Integrated Children’s Centre/Corneli Primary School site. In its meeting of 19 January 2021 Cabinet gave permission to formally consult on the Bridgend West proposal. This report outlined the responses to the consultation and was seeking approval to continue the progress to the next stage.
The Corporate Director - Education and Family Support explained that consultation exercises were carried out between 25 January 2021 and 7 March 2021 in accordance with the statutory School Organisation Code. The consultation document invited views and opinions to be submitted in respect of the proposal. A summary of the issues raised by consultees and the local authority’s responses were provided in the consultation report as detailed in Appendix A to the report. He outlined the next stages of the process and referred to the timetable providing an indication of the likely timescales involved.
The Corporate Director - Education and Family Support, explained the financial implications of the proposals and asked Cabinet to consider the recommendations as listed in the report.
The Cabinet Member - Education and Regeneration, stated that this was a very positive item and very exciting news for the community of north Cornelly where they would be receiving two 21st Century new schools. This was a co-operative venture with the housing association, V2C. They had had meetings with them and the local members and these were very positive meetings. The scheme would involve a land swap which was a very innovative way of going about this. They would also ensure there was as much continuity as possible as well as change. No child or teacher would have to move premises until the new facilities were ready and that was built into the sequencing. He stressed that this was not a money making or cost cutting venture. This was a modernisation programme with funding from Welsh Government and BCBC and an investment in the future of Cornelly, a rapidly growing community. The Cabinet Member - Education and Regeneration, referred to the history of schools in Cornelly and changes over the years and his own empathy with the area where he lived when first married.
The Cabinet Member - Education and Regeneration responded to some doubts raised in the consultation regarding Afon y Felin being swamped in a larger school. He wanted to reassure people that being in a bigger school did not mean that a child would be lost, nor that the small school ethos would be lost. There were limits on school class sizes and they would work hard to continue the village school ethos in a bigger school. He suggested that when conditions would allow they should take parents and governors and teachers to see similar situations in Pencoed and Brynmenyn where a village school had been replaced with a new 21st Century school. Nobody there would want to go back, given the choice.
The Cabinet Member - Social Services and Early Help said that this was hugely positive and the intention of Cabinet was for all children to get the best education experience and that they were providing quality learning facilities and community friendly experiences. She asked what feedback they had received from school governors regarding the process. The Corporate Director - Education and Family Support replied that BCBC had excellent school governors across all the schools and as previously mentioned, all stakeholders were sent a link to the consultation document. In addition there had been a virtual meeting with governors and the outcome of the meeting was in the report. In general the feedback was positive. They had a range of questions looking at staffing and were advised that this was something they would work through. They enjoyed an excellent relationship with the governors of these schools and would continue to work with them as the proposal progressed.
The Leader was pleased to see that overall there was broad support from governors. Understandably there were questions and some of the detail would not be available at this early stage. Part of the purpose of the consultation was to shape the proposals as they progressed and they would continue to work closely with the three governing bodies to this end.
The Cabinet Member - Wellbeing and Future Generations welcomed the report and agreed that they should move to the next stage to consult with the public. She asked what learning had come from the CCYD merger which could be brought to this project. In terms of the consultation, she asked that children with additional learning needs were catered for, because she had read with interest the feedback from the pupils and the learner voice. Those children unable to engage with the mainstream should also be given the opportunity to comment on the changes. In some of the feedback there was concerns regarding the loss of community facilities and she asked how this would be dealt with during construction and thereafter. The Cabinet Member also referred to the timetable and asked what would be happening between the 9th June 2021 and 1st September 2023.
The Corporate Director - Education and Family Support, explained that with regard to learning lessons from previous builds, with the Band A schools they convened a group of all head teachers that met on a monthly basis. He also attended those meetings and they drew up a list of key elements which was then passed on to the School Modernisation team. The Heads of the new schemes would be in touch with the group from the previous scheme and be would be guided and share experience. With regard to the learners with Additional Learning Needs, they recognised that they needed to consult with all learners. From the very beginning of the process they had sent out a link to all parents and carers so they were aware of what was going on and had also met with the School Councils and representatives from within the schools. If the proposals were taken forward then as with all new builds, when they reached the design stage they would work with all pupils to ensure their feedback was built into the design process. In addition all new schools had to be fully compliant with DDA requirements and building control measures. They would also be working closely with inclusion service colleagues to make sure all needs were met.
The Corporate Director - Education and Family Support explained that with regard to community use, the key element was to allow for community access. There were three key areas they were looking at, appropriate indoor and outdoor facilities and community wi-fi access within the building and purpose built rooms the use of which would be determined by the governing body.
The Schools Programme Manager added that in relation to the CCYD build and lessons learnt, it was very important to bring both schools together at an early stage to make sure the ethos transferred across to the new school. That was a massive lesson and staff at the schools involved in the new proposals had already asked for this to make sure they started off on the best footing which was very encouraging.
The Leader explained that many lessons had been learnt over the years from a number of amalgamations and a programme of rationalisation so there were a range of different experiences. The crucial element was the commitment from the schools to work together and to make a success of these proposals. In any new school that was a fundamental building block to achieve a successful and sustainable environment for children.
The Cabinet Member - Communities referred to appendix 3 of the report and in particular the teams meeting with the School Council, to tease out what the children though about the change. The depth of the questions asked by the pupils was interesting and it was obvious the children understood exactly what was going on. The questions were targeted and probing and as expected, it showed that welsh education in Bridgend was of a very high quality. When the representatives were asked if this was a good idea, they all agreed it was and were happy with the proposals. He thanked all the officers involved for their hard work, to this end.
The Leader referred to the future of welsh medium education within the borough and how access to this could be extended at the same time as improving the facilities and buildings for children in the English medium education. He asked the Corporate Director - Education and Family Support to outline the current plans in terms of welsh medium education for the west of the borough.
The Corporate Director - Education and Family Support, reiterated that this was a massive priority for the Education Directorate. This featured as part of the Estyn Post Inspection Action Plan and they were very passionate about meeting requirements and the targets for the west and this was of high priority. There were 2 elements in the west, a significant improvement to the Ysgol Y Ferch O’r Sgêr site providing state of the art facilities for learners in that area and also pieces of work around increasing the provision in Porthcawl. These were two separate but very important parts of the modernisation programme and intention to increase the number of welsh speakers within the county borough, he added.
The Leader added that he was personally very excited about the proposals and he was aware of how excited the members of the community were about the increase of welsh medium education within the town.
The Cabinet Member - Education and Regeneration reinforced a number of points. There were assumptions and misconceptions in the feedback and a need to talk to people to convince them that everything would be okay and there was no need to worry. Concerns were raised from Afon y Felin that pupils would be more anonymous in a larger school with larger classes. It was important to show pupils and parents what happened in a modernised school and the way the school and classes were managed, to preserve the small school ethos. Also there was an assumption that if they were expanding at Cornelly, there would be no provision in Porthcawl but that was incorrect. There were plans for Porthcawl and those plans would take shape in the near future.
The Leader added that Afon Y Felin and Cornelly Primary Schools and Ysgol Y Ferch O’r Sgêr were not fit for purpose. All had significant backlogs of work and maintenance and even if this work was completed the schools would not be of the standard expected. He did not want the authority to be in the position where they were reacting to a backlog of repairs and even if funds were available, it would not make the school suitable for the long term. He looked forward to the next phase of the project and wanted to hear people’s views about how they could make this a flagship. They would work with the head teachers, teachers, all staff, governors and young people.
RESOLVED That Cabinet:
· Noted the outcome of the consultation with interested parties as detailed in the attached consultation report and appendices;
· Approved the consultation report for publication;
· Authorised the publication of a public notice on the proposal; and
· Approved the implementation of the proposal, should there be no objections at the end of the public notice period.