Proposal for new special school to progress to consultation stage

Written by on 29th June 2023

Cabinet has received an update on the process of creating a new special school for Rhondda Cynon Taf, to respond to current and projected capacity pressures. A statutory consultation was agreed to begin the next stage of the formal process. 

At their meeting on Wednesday, June 28, Cabinet Members considered a report which seeks formal approval to begin the required consultation with key stakeholders to establish a new 3-19 special school. The consultation will take place between July and September 2023, and the feedback that is received will be collated and presented in a future report to the Cabinet.

Previous reports to Cabinet have highlighted the pressures that local special schools face, as learner numbers are growing and their needs become more complex. Since February 2021, learner numbers have grown by 94 pupils. There are now 670 pupils across the special schools at Maesgwyn Special School in Cwmdare, Park Lane Special School in Trecynon, Ysgol Hen Felin in Ystrad, Ysgol Ty Coch in Tonteg and Buarth y Capel in Ynysybwl.

All options and alternatives to expand the existing school sites have been explored and undertaken, and the only feasible alternative is to build a new 3-19 special school on a new site. This would help better meet and manage the demand for places, and reduce the need for Out of County placements for learners. A new school would ensure the Council can deliver its obligations under the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act.

Councillor Rhys Lewis, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Youth Participation and the Welsh Language, said:

“Cabinet has received the latest update on the process of creating a new 3-19 special school for Rhondda Cynon Taf – which would represent a £53.4m joint investment with Welsh Government. Members have agreed to progress the process onto the next statutory phase, which will see key stakeholders consulted in the months ahead.

“Officers have in recent months carried out a thorough process to assess how best to respond to the growing demand on our special schools. Cabinet received an update on the latest data-gathering analysis in September 2022, which showed an increased number of learners with complex needs who require support and higher staffing ratios. This was evidenced across the board, and it was particularly seen at Ysgol Hen Felin and Ysgol Ty Coch.

“Important work has been undertaken to maximise each existing school site. A new building was provided at Ysgol Hen Felin – while Ysgol Ty Coch, Park Lane and Maesgwyn have, or are in the process of being, remodelled. Buarth-y-Capel has also been extended. It is clear there are limitations at each site, and that creating a brand new 3-19 special school would help relieve capacity pressures. It would also reduce the need for independent and Out of County placements for our young people.

“The proposed new school has the support of Welsh Government in Band B of its Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme. The Council has an excellent track record of creating modern school environments via this funding avenue – providing first-class facilities that our young people deserve. The new 3-19 special school for RCT would include enhanced access to specialist facilities, equipment and resources, and would be able to meet all needs.”

The Council has previously made a successful bid to Welsh Government to include a new special school within its Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme funding (Band B). The Council will therefore receive a 75% contribution towards the total project costs. This process has recently included a successful variation of costs to the approved Strategic Outline Programme.

The new school’s location has been thoroughly considered via a site appraisal process, and the preferred option is The Pavilions site in Clydach Vale. It was the most suitable site and met all required criteria – as it provides an adequate site area, has satisfactory access and is a viable development opportunity.

In May 2023, Cabinet considered a draft strategy that set out proposals for the future makeup of the Council’s office space – and under this strategy it was highlighted that The Pavilions site would be vacated and become available for development.

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