I was delighted to read the results of the recent banding exercise for secondary schools in Wales, not least because Penarth’s two comprehensives come out pretty well. Stanwell School came ranked in Band 2, and St. Cyres School is placed in Band 3. I’m not sure what the banding actually means – the Welsh Government’s guide for parents and carers explains it with about as much clarity as Lord Goldsmith justified the war in Iraq. But it seems pretty obvious even to me that schools in Bands 2 and 3 are likely to be better places for education than Band 5.
But this post is ‘schools for Penarth’, not ‘Penarth schools’, so let’s not forget the other options for secondary education in Penarth.
Families with loads of money can avail themselves of all that Westbourne School has to offer – or indeed any of the other private schools in south Wales and beyond. I’m sure these schools do a fine job of educating our youngsters, but at around £10,000 per year it doesn’t come cheap. I wonder how many of Westbourne’s pupils are in receipt of free school meals? Sadly, we’re unlikely to find out, because private schools don’t participate in the banding exercise like the commoners.
Those of us with an ecclesiastical bent can take advantage of the spiritual learning offered by St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School. This school is, like St. Cyres, in Band 3. It turns out that God – or at least her nominated educators in Barry – exiles you to Cardiff at age 16 if your mind is on academia (although free bus transport is available). Not that that has any effect on numbers of pupils; indeed “the number of applications received is far greater than the number of places available”. Let’s just hope the entry test doesn’t involve saying the Welsh version of the school name out aloud.
And talking of Welsh, Ysgol Gyfun Bro Morgannwg is the final option for parents in Penarth. This school was ranked in Band 1. Now, I can’t be alone in having seen houses in certain parts of Penarth advertised as being in the catchment for Stanwell School. If you want a Band 2 school for your offspring, that’s fine. But the catchment area for the one and only Band 1 school in the entire Vale of Glamorgan IS the entire Vale of Glamorgan. Funnily enough, I don’t see that mentioned in adverts for houses in the Stanwell catchment, or, for that matter, anywhere else in the Vale.
One of the significant differences between Welsh medium education and non-Welsh medium education is that pupils can transfer out of Welsh medium education at any time and for any reason. The reverse is only true to a limited extent. The fact that this ‘leakage’ doesn’t really happen in the case of YG Bro Morgannwg (see page 11 of this report) seems to indicate a tremendously strong desire among pupils to stay there. To my mind, that’s at least as good a bellwether as a school being in Band 1.
In fact, such is the success of Welsh medium education in the Vale that despite the creation of a fourth Welsh language primary in Barry in September 2011, “further [Welsh language] reception places will be needed for September 2012 in the Barry area” (page 4 of the same report). Education chiefs appear to be scrambling to keep up with demand. The Council is reviewing future demand to assess whether this is a “one off situation”. And back in Penarth, Ysgol Pen-y-Garth has been expanded to increase capacity from 350 to 420 pupils.
I have no idea whether parents and pupils are attracted by the cultural benefits that come from knowing both languages that Wales is blessed with, by the increasing number of jobs for which proficiency in Welsh is essential/highly desirable, or the 10% salary premium that bilingual workers attract. But as from 8 December 2011, we can add ‘the highest standard of schooling’ to that list. I’m no psychologist, but I’d venture a shilling or two that a fair few parents in the Vale will have taken notice of this banding exercise. And if Cllr Anthony Hampton is worth his salt, he’ll have been scurrying for his slide rule in an attempt to determine how likely we are to see many more “one off situations” right throughout the Vale.
The simple truth is that despite the apparent ignorance of estate agents in Penarth, Barry and for all I know the big City, a quiet, and distinctly Welsh, revolution is happening in the Vale of Glamorgan.
This post has been modified to make clear that God does not abandon students of St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School at the age of 16. My thanks to MC for highlighting this error.