Review into current special school provision agreed by Cabinet
Written by Gavin on 4th March 2021
Rhondda Cynon Taf Council Cabinet Members have agreed for a detailed review of Rhondda Cynon Taf’s special schools to be undertaken – with the intention of bringing forward future investment proposals to improve current provision and meet growing demand.
A report to Cabinet on February 25 presented information from a recent data-gathering exercise, and recommended that a review is undertaken to address demand for additional special school places. The process would also acknowledge the statutory duties of the Council to keep specialist provision under review and to deliver the requirements of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018, which is expected to be implemented from September 2021.
The special school sector has seen a growth in pupil numbers in recent years. In January 2020, there were 577 learners attending four local special schools – Maesgwyn Special School and Park Lane Special Schools in Aberdare, Ysgol Hen Felin in Ystrad and Ysgol Ty Coch in Tonteg (plus Buarth y Capel, a satellite base of Ysgol Ty Coch).
The report highlights the growth in special school numbers over a 7-year period. A total of 480 learners accessed special schools in Rhondda Cynon Taf in 2012/13.This had increased to 577 by 2019/20. Ysgol Ty Coch has seen a 26% increase in learners since 2016/17 and more learners are now also attending Ysgol Hen Felin with a 10% increase. The report also analyses the four current school sites – outlining their restrictions, recent investment and potential for expansion.
In response to the current capacity pressures, the Council has undertaken numerous actions to address this issue and minimise demand for out of county placements. This has included extending buildings, partnering with Coleg y Cymoedd, repurposing specialist classrooms and developing off-site provision. The report adds it is inevitable that pupil numbers will continue to grow over the next five to 10 years given the increasingly complex needs of learners attending our special school settings.
There is a commitment to educating children in their local community schools where possible. In 2019/20, 95 children attended out of county or independent special school places at a cost of £2.4m – and the report concludes that some of this funding could be better used to enhance special school provision in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
Having considered the recommendations of the report on Thursday, Cabinet Members agreed that there are considerable benefits to be gained from undertaking a review of all of the County Borough’s special schools. A further report presenting the outcome of this review, including recommendations for potential future investment, will therefore be brought forward to a future Cabinet meeting.
Councillor Joy Rosser, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Inclusion Services, said: “Cabinet has considered the report from Officers, which gives us an insight into the current number of learners accessing our special schools – as well as recent trends which suggest there is likely to be further growth in demand going forward. It also outlines the increasing limitations of our existing school sites, and their potential to be invested in and further developed.
“The Council’s aim is to provide a top-quality provision that meets the needs of all children and young people, which can accommodate the wide range of specialist needs for local learners and avoid the risk of children accessing provision outside of the County Borough. These aims are intended to improve the education outcomes of all our children and young people – building upon the fantastic work that currently goes on in our existing special schools.
“In the wider context, considerable changes are also planned in Wales to introduce enhanced statutory duties for Local Authorities, to ensure the requirements of Special Education Needs and Additional Learning Needs pupils are met. This is expected to come into force later this year, through the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018.
“Having considered all of the information presented, Cabinet agreed that the time is right to undertake a review and explore proposals for change – to enhance our specialist provision here in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Under this approach, 21st Century Schools funding opportunities would be sought for any investment, in which the Council has a very strong track record of successful delivery. I look forward to the outcomes of the review being reported back to Cabinet in due course.”