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Why Rhondda and Tonyrefail school plans are wrong

October 3, 2014 10:00 AM

Addressing the Cabinet meeting on Thursday 2nd October RCT Welsh Liberal Democrat Campaign Manager Karen Roberts said:

I have been a Governor at Tonypandy Community College for around 17 years, and have been Vice Chair for at least half of that time. I finished my education at Mid Rhondda Comprehensive as it then was and both my children were educated there. My sister worked at Tonypandy Primary and my cousin at Penygraig Infants so I know these schools fairly well. They are good schools and important centres of their communities.

My comments today are in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the College or the Governors who have not yet met to discuss any of this.

With regard to through schools - I do not believe that there is a case for 3 to 16 / 18 schools. It is far too wide an age range to amalgamate on to one site and under one Headteacher.

It is a frightening enough step for many young children going to school with 10 and 11 year olds, they are not ready to face the noisy atmosphere of a Secondary school. Suggestions that they are to be segregated are not enough, there is insufficient space to allow for a great degree of segregation at Tonypandy and Porth.

Indeed the report mentions shared sports facilities - now quite apart from being a timetabling nightmare how can this ensure segregation?

Educationally, although some people seem not to appreciate the fact, early years education is a specialised subject. It is where the foundations are laid and the school management needs to understand that. There is a vast difference between nursery education and key stages 4 and 5. Yet the proposal is that one Head covers the whole school.

Inequality - One of the arguments put forward is that the pupils in the Primary schools who are amalgamating with Secondaries would benefit from the increased facilities there. Yet what about the other feeder schools? If there are such benefits to be had then those who are not part of this brave new world will surely be losing out.

Losing our sixth forms - I fully appreciate the difficulties that have been encountered in providing sixth form education and the financial difficulties including transport costs. However, removing sixth forms from three of our Secondary schools on an apparent ad hoc basis is not acceptable.

All the arguments I favour of keeping sixth forms in schools were well aired when the Council first tried to remove them several years ago. Having a sixth form enriches the life of a school and enables younger pupils to learn a great deal from the older ones. It also gives the opportunity for those sixth form students to be mentors and guides for younger children and adds to their own experience.

More inequality - The proposal will see a two tier system exist in the affected schools. Whilst there are many very good Secondary school teachers who are content to teach only up to GCSE level then there are also those, particularly those with ambition to progress further, who want to be able to teach A level as well. There is a very real danger that schools without sixth forms would lose some highly skilled staff and find it difficult to recruit. This could be especially damaging in the core subject areas.

A proportion of students stay on because they are attracted by other non-academic things that schools have to offer, such as sports academies. They would not travel to another school to study. But then this is in line with the dictat coming down that says they all have to study a minimum number of A levels. It is indicative of a culture that cares more about tick boxes and data than students.

Transport - There is a worrying paragraph in the draft consultation document which says:

Many local authorities across Wales have reviewed the discretionary elements of their Home to School Transport Policy and often only provide the statutory minimum transport provision or require a contribution from post 16 learners to the cost of their travel. As with other local authorities, Rhondda Cynon Taf's policy may be subject to review in the future. Clearly, if the Council's Home to School Transport Policy was to change in the future this could impact on the views of the consultees of this proposal to reorganise primary schools, secondary schools and sixth form provision in the Rhondda and Tonyrefail. In providing feedback, consultees may wish to consider the impact such a change could have on their response to this consultation

If this is the case then there would be a totally inequitable situation where many students would have to pay to travel to 6th form at Treorchy or Tonyrefail. Some could simply not afford it. So students who would have chosen to continue their education in school will instead leave.

Specific issues for Tonypandy - Tonypandy Community College, or Mid Rhondda Comprehensive as it was when built, was built in the wrong place. Half way up a mountain on a site where poor drainage has led to considerable problems with regards to the outdoor sports facilities and which is inaccessible in inclement weather.

The new road from the Barratt site has eased the problems slightly but there is still an issue over traffic on the site.

Infant school children need to be taken to school and collected at the end of the day. The cannot simply be dropped off in a few seconds as can secondary pupils. Parents need to park, and the site cannot accommodate the extra volume of cars.

Junior school pupils often get their first taste of independence walking to school, but I suspect far fewer will be allowed to walk here.

And what of those who don't have a car? What about the poor mother with a three year old and another child in a buggy who has to walk to school? How are they supposed to get there?

There has been a major drive to increase attendance but moving primary schools to the Tonypandy College site will certainly not encourage those parents whose children are frequently absent or late to make sure their children attend.

I look forward to seeing the equality impact assessment as there is a great degree of disparity in this plan. This is a Unitary Authority - Rhondda, Cynon and Taff Ely. If these proposals are good enough for one area then they are good enough for all.

These proposals are ill thought out. They are an exercise in money saving and number crunching rather than a consideration of what is best for our children and will do nothing to improve the standards of education in the area.