Rhondda and Tonyrefail school plans create inequality - RCT Welsh Lib Dems response to consultation
A consultation is currently under way on proposals from RCT Council to close several primary schools in the Rhondda and Tonyrefail, remove sixth forms from three Secondary schools and create combined primary and secondary schools for pupils 3 to 16.
RCT Welsh Liberal Democrats have submitted the following response:
With regard to through 3 to 16 / 18 schools we are far from convinced of the benefits of such a move and can find no evidence that supports the educational case for such schools. Neither do we believe that a case has been made by Officers which bears testimony to any educational advantage. Indeed if it is such a good idea why are Welsh Government not taking it up and pressing for its implementation across Wales?
The two schools in RCT that operate on a vaguely similar principle are Welsh medium schools and they were set up in very different circumstances. In the case of Garth Olwg it was purpose built and the primary and secondary schools have a distinct identity and do not share the same building. In the case of Tonypandy and Porth there would appear to be insufficient space to allow for a great degree of segregation
It is interesting to note that the proposal to amalgamate a Primary School with Mountain Ash Comprehensive was turned down by the Cabinet in September 2013. Cllr Andrew Morgan was quoted at the time as saying
"My biggest concern was the location and journey to the secondary school. It's safe for savvy teens to negotiate the roads, but the A4059 is a very busy road for parents with one, two or maybe more little ones."
Similar concerns we know are being echoed by parents in the Tonypandy and Porth catchment areas and we hope they will be given equal consideration.
We are particularly uneasy about the inequality that these plans introduce at several levels, both within the schools and catchment areas affected and across RCT as a whole.
One of the arguments put forward is that the pupils in those Primary schools which 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.
We have read and listened to the arguments which say that Secondary schools would then have to improve their transition arrangements with every other school but are not convinced this will be the case. Transition should be a priority for schools now and the Education department should be looking at the monitoring and assessment standards in schools across RCT to ensure there is a greater balance.
The proposal to remove the sixth form from Tonypandy, Porth and Ferndale will see a two tier system exist amongst Secondary schools in RCT. 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 also want to be able to teach A level. In our opinion there is a 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.
Whilst appreciating the difficulties that have been encountered in providing sixth form education and the financial difficulties including transport costs we opposed the removal of sixth forms from Secondary schools when it was proposed in 2009 and certainly do not agree with their removal on an apparent ad hoc basis now.
Provision across RCT should be "equitable" as every consultation document issued by the Council states. This will certainly not provide anything like that. 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.
All the arguments in 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.
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. It is also unlikely that the proposed "centres of excellence" would accept them, in line with the dictat that says they all have to study a minimum number of A levels. It is indicative of a culture that cares more about money, tick boxes and data than students.