Penarth Education Crisis

I don’t use words like ‘crisis’ lightly. Just once before, actually, and that time a direct quote from the Guardian. But thanks to CG for sending me some information from the Vale of Glamorgan education department, I think it’s time to use the word in its full glory.

Because the statistics that have landed on my desk are absolutely shocking.

They reveal the reception class intake for every Welsh medium primary school in the Vale, and the council has a big problem on its hands. As from the start of this school year (September 2013) there is not one spare space in any Welsh language reception class in the Vale with the sole exception of Ysgol Dewi Sant, Llantwit Major (itself a new school opened just three years ago).

What this means for Penarth parents interested in Welsh-medium education for their offspring is a battle for places in Pen-y-Garth. And if you fail to get a place? No problem. The Vale will presumably bus your 4-year-old child off to Llantwit Major and back.

I don’t know many parents who would consider it acceptable to send a very young child on a 1 hour 8 minute round trip to attend school. So what on earth has the Vale council been doing over the last few years to precipitate this disastrous state of affairs?

Ysgol Pen-y-Garth was extended to a 2-form entry in 2011 as a result of a report in 2009 that stated that failing to provide additional capacity:

is not considered an option as there is a continuing increase in parents choosing welsh medium education. From September 2010 the current number of reception class places in Ysgol Pen y Garth is insufficient for the numbers requiring places. The council will therefore be in breach of its obligations under the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998.

It’s important to note that the 2009 report also stated:

the increase in demand for welsh medium education [in Penarth] is predicted to continue into the long term.

Reception class numbers have surged from 29 in 2006 to 60 in 2013. Given that there were 59 in 2012, presumably the reason numbers haven’t increased beyond 60 is because that’s the school’s maximum capacity. The rate of increase between 2006 and 2012 was 30 new reception class pupils over 6 years, or an increase of 5 per year on average. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that there are already 4 children in Penarth failing to enjoy the lifelong benefit of bilingual education as a result of the Vale’s failure to plan for long-term Welsh-medium growth. Each further year of delay adds another 5.

Is the council in breach of its obligations under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998? I think so. Section 1 of the legislation imposes a maximum infants class (reception) size of 30 pupils. Section 2 requires every local education authority to:

prepare a statement setting out the arrangements which the authority propose to make for the purpose of securing that any limit imposed under section 1 is complied with in relation to infant classes at schools maintained by the authority.

And what is the Vale doing to rectify the situation? Let’s not forget that in 2009 the council recognised that increased demand for bilingual education would continue “into the long term”. Very late in the day, the education department has decided to undertake a survey of parents with children under 2 years of age to assess demand.

I’d be very surprised if demand wasn’t way above 60 pupils per year. That’s not only because study after study has demonstrated that bilinguals have better educational and social outcomes and therefore improved job prospects (and a 10% salary premium to boot). It’s not just because being bilingual provides extra fortitude against mental deterioration in older age. It’s also because the overwhelming proportion of people in Penarth recognise that only a bilingual education provides our children with a full appreciation of the culture and languages of our wonderful country.

The Vale might try to hide behind the figures on surplus places that show that of the primary sector in Penarth, Ysgol Pen-y-Garth has the highest proportion of surplus places. That would be very disingenuous, given that the school has only just expanded to a 2-form entry. Perhaps more interesting is to tot up the total number of surplus places in the English-medium sector (190) and suggest that an English-medium school should be closed to make way for the latent demand for bilinguals. Just prepare for highly-charged comments from those with an interest in the status quo.

I’m sure Councillor Chris Elmore will not unfairly blame his predecessor Anthony Hampton for taking his eye off the situation in Penarth and allowing things to deteriorate so badly. But now, Chris, it’s time for action. We need a new Welsh-medium primary school in Penarth.

8 Sylw

Filed under Democracy, Education, Labour, Schools

8 responses to “Penarth Education Crisis

  1. A subject close to my heart. Looking at how the problem might be solved, I can think of these possibilities.

    One solution would be to close Dinas Powys Infant School and make Murch Junior School into a 3-11 Primary School. The main reason for doing this is that all-through provision is better in educational terms, and this is the only Infant/Junior paring left in VoG.

    There aren’t very many surplus places in either school, so Murch would have to be enlarged, but there is plenty of room to do so. This would free up the Infants building to become a new one form entry Welsh-medium school. There’d need to be a consultation process, so it probably couldn’t happen by September 2014. But a starter school could be set up somewhere in Dinas Powys to enable the move to take place later.

    It might well be feasible to use the now disused St Cyres Lower School site for this. VoG ruled out using this as the site for a new Primary to replace Dinas Powys Infants and Murch Juniors, but it could be used temporarily.

    Another possibility is that in the new VoG Local Development Plan, a new school is earmarked for the proposed development of Upper Cosmeston Farm in Lower Penarth. I accept that the development of new housing (235 on this site) might be controversial, but there’s no particular reason why the school shouldn’t be built before the development or even without the development (although a Section 106 agreement would help with the funding). Nor is there any reason why the school shouldn’t be a WM school. By catering for the latent demand that must exist in Lower Penarth, it would ease the pressure on Evenlode (and even Victoria and Sully). Obviously this couldn’t reasonably be built and opened before September 2015, so a starter school would be necessary.

  2. david wilton

    thanks for this – this is exactly what Pen y Garth parents have been thinking over the last 2 years. These 2 form classes feel cramped, and given the massive catchment of the school at some point its going to need to have another school. I know parents of Dinas, Sully and even parts of Penarth that would sent their children to welsh medium if it was closer. More local schools would also attract much more ‘floating’ parents.

    • Thanks David. It’s inevitable that more Welsh medium primary provision will be needed in Penarth and the area at some point. All the Vale is doing by procrastinating is preventing children from being bilingual.

  3. Gareth Clubb

    This is an important blogpost. But there’s something you haven’t picked up on – presumably because your focus is Penarth rather than the wider Vale. Using the same timeframe as you’ve used for Penarth (2006-2012), it’s possible to demonstrate the growth in numbers across the whole Vale. That growth was 135 to 259 over 6 years, a total of 124, or 21 per year. We might generously regard that as ‘natural’ growth (because there was theoretically enough space for the reception population to grow – even if that wasn’t the case for Iolo Morgannwg or in fact the whole of Barry between 2009 and 2011). So in order to keep pace with demand, the Vale should be providing at least two 30-form entry class every three years somewhere in the Vale. That’s a school the size of Pen-y-Garth opening every three years somewhere in the Vale, or two schools the size of Iolo Morgannwg. Over the last few years the Vale has actually managed to keep pace precisely because it’s developed about this level of capacity:
    – Pen-y-Garth doubled in capacity in 2011 (30 extra places)
    – Nant Talwg opened in 2011 (30 places)
    – Dewi Sant opened in 2011 (30 places)
    But we’ve seen nothing for 2 years now, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to get anything in time for September 2014 either. An expanded Gwaun-y-Nant by September 2015 if we’re lucky. But there is no sign that the council is even looking at Penarth. Penarth councillors need to get on top of this situation because Pen-y-Garth can’t be made into a three form entry and demand is being constrained by the lack of capacity.
    And the Vale needs to get its act together on Welsh medium education right across the county.

  4. Nice work Gareth. This puts the scale of the challenge facing the Vale into perspective. It looks like they’re totally lacking the urgency this situation demands.

  5. Gareth Clubb

    To let you know, I’ve received an email from Chris Elmore. He says
    “After discussions with officers following the questions raised in the blog, I can confirm that in the Penarth area there are sufficient Welsh medium places at Ysgol Pen Y Garth to meet the future demand from the schools catchment areas of Dinas Powys, Penarth and Sully… for September 2014 there is an anticipated reception intake of 50 compared to 60 places available, this has been confirmed with the school… The Council has not refused a reception place to any child living in the schools catchment area over the past 5 years, on average 10% of children who enter reception are from outside the schools catchment area”.
    This gives a bit of breathing space I would think, although just one school for Penarth (Sully, Dinas Powys and Llandough) is clearly unsustainable in the medium term.

  6. Hysbysiad Cyfeirio: Ydy Cyngor Bro Morgannwg yn Llyffetheirio Addysg Gymraeg? | Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg Penarth

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