Friday, February 20, 2015

My response to Rhondda schools proposals - inconsistent, unequal and unfair

This is a copy of my response to the current consultation regarding plans to reorganise Rhondda and Tonyrefail schools, proposals which in my view are totally inappropriate.
I have just sent the following in hard copy to the Director.  You have until 27th February to make your views knows.

I am already a signatory to the response put in by former staff and governors on behalf of the Save Our Rhondda Schools campaign group and fully endorse all that is contained in there.  As Vice Chair of Governors at Tonypandy Community College I would like to add some specific comments relevant to the Tonypandy proposals.  I must emphasize that these comments are in no way intended to be taken as the views of the Governing Body but are personal.

I fully understand the problems surrounding sixth form education and the small classes which result in some considerable disruption for some of our young people.  I do, though, have a number of concerns regarding the proposals for dealing with this.

  • The creation of two what are being called “centres of excellence” by implication suggests that the other schools in the area will not be excellent. More parents may be likely to send their children to Tonyrefail or Treorchy at age eleven as a result.  Although I realise this will be limited by the number of available places at those establishments it could affect our numbers and therefore our budget and our ability to deliver a full and varied curriculum.
  • The very disappointing results of the recent Estyn inspection and the inclusion of the College in the red band under the new grading system will not help our cause in relation to the above.
  • Some of our senior and more able members of staff may well start looking for posts elsewhere as they will not have the opportunity to teach A level courses if these plans go ahead – certainly not at TCC.   Recruitment will also, I believe, be affected.  This will affect our results and our ability to make the necessary improvements.
  • If free transport for those over 16 is removed at a future date by the Council then youngsters outside of the immediate Treorchy and Tonyrefail areas will be hugely disadvantaged as they will have to pay to travel to school.  Many may not be able to afford this.

The case for 3 – 16 / 18 schools has not been proven in my view, and during the consultation and engagement sessions I have heard nothing to alter this opinion. I served for many years as an Infant School Governor at Cwmclydach and have a fair understanding of early years.  The approach between that and secondary school education is poles apart.

The line coming from the Council constantly appears to be nothing more than a nod in the direction of other schools which have a combined primary and secondary element.  Llanhari and “schools in Ceredigion.”

YG Llanhari is a totally different scenario set up under different circumstances.  The layout cannot be compared with what is on offer at Tonypandy or indeed Porth.  There is plenty of room for the buildings to be completely segregated and sufficient space outside for play areas suitable for various age ranges.  Educationally it has not been established long enough to assess the benefits or otherwise.  The same applies to schools in Ceredigion.

The transition argument is moot as not all schools in the catchment area will be included in this new “super school.” There will still not be a single standard applied across all pupils, and I would suggest that it would make transition more difficult for pupils in those schools left out of the plans. They will be coming to a school where half of year 7 will already regard the school as “theirs” and those from Cwmclydach, Llwynypia and elsewhere could be left feeling they are outsiders.


The positioning of Tonypandy Community College is not ideal as it stands – the school should never have been built there in the first place, half way up a mountain where the drainage is terrible and the wind howls around, a site which is one of the first affected by snow and ice. To make the changes suggested at this location is a nonsensical idea.

  • There will be a huge increase in traffic going to and from the school – this is inevitable and all your talk of how parents should take responsibility for their children’s safety and not take them to school by car will not make one iota of difference.  They will do it, and given the location who could blame them.
  • Infant school parents need to park and escort their children to the classroom door – there will be nowhere near sufficient parking spaces and this will lead to chaos.
  • Residents on the hill leading up to the school and through Llewellyn Street have had to put up with excess traffic for years.  The road through Gelli Faelog should have relieved some of that, but now you propose to increase it again. 
  • There was talk at one of the exhibition sessions of a new road at the top of the hill and a way one system but this will not make any significant difference and in fact will only inconvenience residents of Llewellyn Street even more.
  • Those at Gelli Faelog say they were told the access road was for buses only, but a large number of cars also use it bringing traffic problems there.
  • Again it was stated at the exhibition in Ystrad and elsewhere that there would be segregation with secondary pupils using the Gelli Faelog entrance and primary pupils using the Llewellyn Street access. What of parents with pupils in both sectors?  Where is your segregation then?  Also how to you propose to stop pupils who walk to school from using one entrance or the other? Surely you cannot expect them to walk around the school from an entrance that is closer to their home?
  • The school is too far away from the community to enable the primary (and particularly infant) pupils to integrate and feel part of their community.  An Infant school staff member pointed out to me that they take their children to the park as part of the “forest schools” initiative, they write letters with them and take pupils to the post office to buy stamps and post them, they take part in events at the local church at Christmas.  All these activities would be impossible if they had to walk the children up and down that hill to the current TCC location.


There has been much talk of “21st Century” facilities, yet it is difficult to see what you intend to achieve with regard to this.  Indeed the fancy artist impression videos on display at the Rhondda Sports Centre showed only that there would be tables and chairs in the classrooms which is hardly an innovative idea.

The primary school pupils would lose the comparatively large amounts of open space they have for children to play at the moment.  There is simply not the space at the TCC site to accommodate equivalent facilities.

There has been talk of shared gym and science facilities, but the requirements are far different across the age ranges involved here.  It would also be a timetabling nightmare.


One of the things that angers me most about the proposals is the inequality of provision which will be brought about.

  • Not only is this idea not being implemented across the County Borough (and if the plan is that it should be then you should be preparing people now) but it is not being implemented with any consistency within the Rhondda and Tonyrefail area.
  • The scheme will produce two 3 – 16 schools, one 11 – 16 school, one 11 – 19 school and one 3 – 19 school. That is inconsistent, unequal and unfair and I believe undermines many of your own arguments for why these changes should be made.
  • At Tonyrefail there will be a brand new school with plenty of open space and segregation of buildings. It is perhaps not unsurprising then that Tonyrefail parents have apparently not been so against the plans
  • Treorchy will remain unchanged except for the addition of extra sixth form pupils, yet appears to be in line for considerable highway enhancements.
  • At Porth and Tonypandy we actually lose space.  Yes we will have some space left by the removal of the sixth form, but currently at TCC we have a number of pastoral care areas for example. We have rooms where those needing extra support can go, and places where we can address the needs of some more disruptive pupils.  Will there be room to retain these or will the figures merely be worked out on a baseline pupil per square metre basis?
  • As stated earlier I have a concern that many staff will not want to teach in what will inevitable be seen as the second rate schools in the valley.  Our recruitment problems are severe enough in some subjects now, this will not help.
  • Again, as mentioned previously, many sixth form pupils may find themselves unable to access courses at Treorchy or Tonyrefail because of prohibitive transport costs.  Some of our less confident pupils will also be put off by the idea of going to a new school where they will be joining others who have spent all their secondary school time there. What is the future for these pupils?
  • The “centres of excellence” being created will want excellent pupils to keep up their results and ensure all the correct boxes are ticked.  They will not be so amenable to those who want to study less than 3 or 4 A levels or who are incapable of getting top grades.  Again that begs the question what is the future for those pupils who cannot make that grade?


From a financial point of view I am very wary of the figures being quoted.  We keep being told that nothing is finalised, that the plans that have been on display so far are merely “concepts.”  If that is the case I find it difficult to see how the cost being talked about is anything more than a “concept.”

Indeed from your own Strategic Outline case, a copy of which I obtained under FOI from Welsh Government, it states:

(3.123) The major constraint is managing the expectations within the capital funding limit of £75 million, given that the costs of construction and associated infrastructure can vary considerably over the life of the Project.

Given the financial situation that this and other Local Authorities find themselves in at present then this would seem to be an extraordinary risk to take with taxpayers’ money when the benefits are far from certain and the obstacles substantial.


Yours sincerely

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Democracy the Labour way – Council chaos shows cracks.

It has not been a good week for Labour in South Wales.  Quite apart from the usual health stories which indicate yet again that the Welsh Labour Government cannot run a bath let alone a country there have been some very interesting spats in a couple of Labour controlled Councils.

First to surface was news of six Councillors being suspended from the ruling group on Bridgend Council.  Their crime?  They did not vote with the rest of the group in favour of a merger with the Vale of Glamorgan.  The real irony of course is that the Labour Minister for Public Services turned down the proposal anyway. 
Then hot on the heels of that came news from Cardiff where there are some difficult budget negotiations ongoing.   There rebel Labour Councillors have been working with opposition members to come up with alternative budget proposals.  Wales Online reports:

Labour group whip Garry Hunt has warned potential rebels of disciplinary action in an email which says:

“Non-adherence to the whip in a budget vote which threaten the passing of a budget is likely to lead to significant suspension from the group.”

Coun Hunt adds: “Peter Wong, chair of the local campaigning forum, has been in touch….(he) has asked {Welsh Labour General Secretary} Dave Hagendyck to co-author a letter to all current Labour councillors reminding them that any unwise actions on their part could lead to problems with them being re-selected for the 2017 elections.”

This is of course the way of Labour Councils everywhere – put your hand up in the air when you are told or else.  Independent thought is not allowed, acting in what you consider to be the best interests of the people you are elected to represent is definitely frowned upon.  Labour Councillors are expected to toe the line.  The open threat is there otherwise – not a chance of getting reselected.

All credit to the Councillors concerned for having the guts to rebel, but what I fail to understand is why they continue to remain with a party that obviously has so little regard for democracy.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Getting back to a bit of ranting - lay off my school

A request from the National Library of Wales to archive this blog reminded me that I haven't actually used it for some time.

However, there is quite a bit going on at the moment worthy of a good rant and as our website isn't really the place to get overly heated - I'm back.

Why am I need of a good rant?  School reorganisation that's why.  The idiots at RCT Education department have now come up with a new idea to create 3 to 16 schools in the Rhondda. Not everywhere, just a piecemeal approach.

Their plans will create two 3 to 16 schools, one 11 to 16 school, one 11 to 19 school and one 3 to 19 school.   Nothing like equality of provision is there?  It will mean some primary schools in the catchment area of Tonypandy Community College and Porth County Community School will close and be part of a new "super school" (yes they are using that term) whilst others stay as they are.

They say they will create two "centres of excellence" at Treorchy and Tonyrefail where sixth form education will continue. This suggests the other schools will be less than excellent.

The whole scheme is full of holes and the inequality of provision they intend to create unbelievable. I suppose this is what happens when an accountant is made Director of Education.