Agenda item

Pre-Decision Scrutiny - Strategic Schools Improvement Programme - Proposal to Establish An English - Medium 3-11 School to Replace Alltwen, Godre'rgraig and LLangiwg Primary Schools (enclosed within Cabinet Papers)


Officers provided a brief overview on the report outlined within the circulated agenda. This included an outline of the process and options available to Cabinet when considering the report.


Members of the scrutiny committee first considered the consultation process. Members referred to the risk outlined within the report concerning the staff and community resisting any change to education as a result of any decision made. Officers advised that the Risk Assessment contained mitigations around this and officers also emphasised their knowledge and experience in delivering school reorganisation across the borough.


Officers confirmed that there were 13 different face to face meetings with various representatives from the community. There was also one face to face public meeting and one online public meeting. Members had been provided all the consultation responses received. Where possible, the consultation report had outlined facts and evidence to respond to comments received.


It was confirmed that the political aspects of any correspondence that was sent out during the consultation period, had nothing to do with officers.


Officers outlined that the intention of consultation was to assist with shaping a proposal and to ensure that officers have thought of everything to assist with formulating recommendations for Cabinet to consider. From officers’ experience, the majority of consultation responses usually received are against a proposal.


It was confirmed that the £14.7million capital grant from Welsh Government has been ring fenced for school reorganisation within Neath Port Talbot. However, members could not determine where this money could be spent if the proposals were not agreed by Cabinet. A further satisfactory grant funding application would have to be made to access any money from Welsh Government.


As part of the process, officers are obliged to undertake a community impact assessment. It was undertaken and included as part of the consultation documentation. That concluded that there was very little use of the schools by the community. The use that is being made by the community is mainly by parents or family groups. It was confirmed that new schools are obliged to have properly considered and thought out community access. Members were concerned that the new facilities would not be within the same communities that they are currently situated.


With regards to the playing fields, it was confirmed that the new site does have sufficient room for the school and to maintain the current number of playing fields. Further that they would be compliant with requirements of various sports.


Welsh Government are keen to promote community use of new school provisions. It would be incumbent on the governing body of the school to ensure that this happens.


Officers outlined that the LDP is currently undergoing a review. The LDP has to ensure that sustainable communities are delivered going forward and has to be aligned with various other policies and strategies. It was acknowledged that the site identified for the potential new school is a difficult site. However, a long list of sites was considered prior to this one being agreed and the identified site was the most acceptable, including access to public transport and walking and cycling routes. Specific issues in relation to the planning of the site, would be fully considered at the planning application stage.


Members expressed their concern at the pupil numbers identified for the new school .The numbers of the three schools amalgamated together do not meet the numbers required for the new school.  Members queried how these figures were arrived at. Officers confirmed that the proposal outlines the number of pupils that could claim a place within the catchment. It does not include Welsh medium schools. Further there are no intentions to close any other schools within the Swansea Valley. The number includes future planning, future developments and the number of pupils that could claim a place within the catchment area.


It was noted that over the last 10 years, the number of pupils attending schools in the Swansea Valley has increased by 160.

Members specifically questioned the safe routes to school plan in relation to Alltwen. Officers outlined the route from the current Alltwen Primary School site down to the proposed site of the new school. Officers confirmed that should the proposal proceed then every pupil accessing the new school would have their safe route to school individually assessed.


Relevant detailed traffic management plans would be undertaken as part of the planning process, not as part of the current process. However officers were confident that it would be only require minor highway works to be undertaken should the proposal progress. A survey has been undertaken to determine the current existing transport in the area.


Members raised concerns with industry capacity issues for the required home to school transport. Officers advised that currently it was only planned for one extra bus to be required, therefore this should not be an issue.


Officers outlined how the school could ensure that children accessing the transport could still attend after school clubs. This would be a decision for the school governing body on how this was managed.


Members were concerned that unless a child was in full-time education then they could not access home to school transport and this could ultimately result in a decline in the number of children attending nursery. Welsh Government policy sets out that transport does not have to be provided for nursery children, however officers confirmed that members could look at the NPT policy if they wished to do so.


It was noted that active travel is a priority of Welsh Government and there is ongoing investment with regards to it in terms of bidding for the funding. There is ongoing work being undertaken by the authority to assess active travel routes and ensure that the community have maximum access to suitable routes.


Members expressed their concern that there were no exact costings with regards to changes to highways in response to the proposal. Officers advised that they are experienced at delivering schemes within the funding envelopes that are in place. It was agreed that both Welsh Government and NPTCBC contributions would have increased since the original case was put together in 18/19.


Officers advised that they were satisfied that the highway network could accommodate the increase in volume of traffic. However, officers informed that they did not know the exact costings for any highway works and if any further amendments would need to be made to highway plans.


Officers confirmed the two biggest factors that determine the standard in a school are the quality of leadership and management in a school and the quality of teaching. As a general rule, there are better quality applicants for larger schools than smaller schools in terms of headship.


Members were reminded that Estyn were a statutory consultee with regards to the proposals. Their comments indicated that the standards across the schools would at least be maintained, if not improved.


Members were informed that if the proposals were approved a shadow governing body would be formed. This governing body would appoint a new Headteacher for the school. A structure will then be agreed for the school. The local authority will then ask the shadow governing body to take a decision to ring fence all the jobs in the new school from the existing staff at the schools.


It was confirmed that Welsh Government would fund significant remodelling of schools, in addition to new builds. However, any business case would need to satisfy the 5 case business model and also the BREEAM standards. 


Members considered the Welsh Language impact assessment. There are 13 impacts identified. There are mitigations identified in the assessment. Officers noted that it is an assessment only and not documented facts. The assessment considers the proposal as a whole and identifies potential impacts – both positive and negative. Many of the identified actions have also been input into the WESP.

Welsh language primary schools are still experiencing low transfer numbers. Members were concerned the proposal will have a further negative impact on pupils attending Welsh medium schools.


Officers confirmed the proposed school projected numbers was based upon the current numbers from the three schools and the pupils in the catchment area for the proposed schools.


Officers confirmed that pupils can travel across border to attend schools outside of NPT. Officers confirmed if they were able to put an ASD provision into the current schools, this would have been done already. If the proposal falls, a suitable provision will need to be sourced elsewhere within the county.


Members considered the new swimming pool which is part of the proposal. Members queried if the proposal falls, what are the consequences for the three schools and the swimming pool moving forward?


With regards to Alltwen and Llangiwg, the schools will continue to remain open and they will be maintained as all current schools are within the current maintenance budget and programme. With regards to Godre’graig, advice will need to be given with regards to how to proceed, including provision for a new school and business cases to be drafted. Officers confirmed it will be very difficult to secure capital funding for a new school. In terms of the swimming pool, this would not be funded by Welsh Government. There is possible grant funding available from Sports Wales, up to £300,000 however the potential cost of a replacement pool would be £13million at this time. Officers confirmed the pool will close in two years’ time, at the longest.


Officers outlined the current state and potential maintenance of the swimming pool.


Following scrutiny


A recorded vote was proposed and seconded and agreed.


The recommendation as outlined on page 36 of the Cabinet report was proposed and seconded.


For: Cllrs C.Clement-Williams, M.Crowley, C.Galsworthy, R.Jones, R.Mizen, S.Paddison, S.Pursey, P.Rees, S.Renkes, S.Reynolds, D.Whitelock,


Against: Cllrs T.Bowen, W.Carpenter, N.Goldup-John, J.Henton, C.James, J.Jones, C.Lewis, C.Phillips, R.Phillips, A.Richards, P.Rogers, M.Spooner, D.Thomas,


Abstain: M.Caddick.


Following scrutiny, the recommendation was not supported to Cabinet.