School review report gets public airing

First published in News

A PUBLICLY withheld document recommending the closure of three Vale primary schools and other changes, has been published this week.

Chairman of the Vale Council lifelong learning scrutiny committee Cllr Nic Hodges authorised the authority’s legal department to release the previously concealed Vale of Glamorgan School Places Review after the committee decided in June last year the public should have access to its findings.

A Barry & District News Freedom of Information request, to obtain the report, was last year rejected by the Vale Council on grounds it would not be in the “public interest” at the time.

Vale Council leader Cllr Neil Moore told full council at its meeting in December it had no plan to publicise the report and would “deal with it” if published.

The report recommended the closure of Oak Field, in Barry, and Llanfair and Llancarfan primaries, but a report “leak” enabled campaigners to win the battle to retain all three schools.

The report also included recommendations to reduce capacity at Colcot primary to 210, with £4.5million estimated as needed for building improvements, expand capacity at Ysgol Gwaun Y Nant, in Gibbonsdown, and Gladstone primary to 420, amalgamate High Street primary with the new Waterfront school, and rebrand Palmerston Primary – as part of the school re-organisation programme.

In relation to Oak Field, the report stated the school should close in July this year and pupils re-allocated to Palmerston and Jenner Park primaries.

It stated: “The anticipated cost saving that the closure of the school could achieve is £229,000 per annum, net savings will be reinvested in schools. This excludes redundancy costs arising from the closure of the school.”

Vale Council cabinet members considered a revised report, put before them, and the closure-threatened schools remained open.

Scrutiny committee chairman Cllr Nic Hodges said the multi-party panel had visited 30 schools taking to head teachers, governors and staff, considered figures and assessed building states, before agreeing to send to cabinet.

He said: “Following the leak of a small part of the report cabinet largely ignored the report and effectively refused to receive it. The report was made to aid cabinet and satisfy the Welsh Education Minister who was calling for action over excess school places that were a financial drain on scant educational resources. It was also an attempt to improve school buildings and rationalise redundant excess buildings. We also attempted to ensure as closely as possible that pupils would be largely educated in their own home communities.

“The report was also compiled under the understanding that it would be a largely cost neutral exercise with any savings being reinvested into schools.

“We did not imagine that nearly £3 million would be found to build a new primary school that currently had over 50% spare places as this seemed totally against the minister’s instructions.”

A Vale Council spokeswoman said it had initially been the scrutiny committee’s decision to keep the report confidential, but the committee “later changed their recommendation to release the report at this time”.

She said: “The council cabinet has now published its school re-organisation proposals affecting schools in Barry. The proposals include the principle of creating a co-educational secondary school on two sites to replace Barry and Bryn Hafren secondary schools, the expansion of Gwaun Y Nant primary school, investment at Colcot primary school, the rebuilding of Oakfield School and changes to some primary school catchment areas. In due course proposals for the expansion of Ysgol Bro Morgannwg and a new school at the Waterfront will be considered. No further proposals affecting schools in Barry are being contemplated.”

She added: “The comments of the chairman of the lifelong scrutiny committee in relation to the cabinet’s proposal to expand Gwaun Y Nant primary school and build a new Oak Field primary school, is irrelevant as those proposals were not being considered at the time his scrutiny committee produced their report.

“In relation to his comments that the proposals seem to him to be against the previous Welsh Government Minister’s instructions are not in the cabinet’s opinion contrary to that instruction, if you take into consideration all the other issues recently agreed by Cabinet, including the changes to the catchment areas.”

For details, visit

http://www.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/en/our_council/council/minutes,_agendas_and_reports/reports/scrutiny_ll/2013/13-01-21/School-Places.aspx

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