Having talked about education in Euskara (the Basque language) last week, I thought I should balance it by talking about some developments in Welsh-medium education.
One year delay in Vale of Glamorgan
I mentioned the Vale of Glamorgan's plans for expansion of WM education here in November. I praised VoG for taking the initiative in both surveying demand properly and coming up with a good set of proposals in the form of starter schools. So I was rather disappointed to read their official consultation document, and find that they have had to put those plans back by a year. Instead of starting these new schools in September 2010, they are now proposing to launch them a year later.
The demand for Welsh-medium schools has increased substantially in the past three years to the extent that current demand now exceeds capacity; this is especially the case in Barry and the rural Vale.
To confirm future demand for Welsh medium education a survey was undertaken during July and August 2009 of parents with children under three years of age living in the Vale of Glamorgan. The survey revealed that, of those who responded, 26% are very likely to require a Welsh medium school place for their children. The survey highlights an unmet or latent demand for Welsh medium education. This is due to the existing distribution of Welsh medium primary schools across the Vale and the travel distances involved to access these schools, especially Ysgol Iolo Morganwg in Cowbridge.
Analysis of Welsh medium demand for September 2010 indicates a shortage of places throughout the Vale to accommodate parental demand for Welsh medium reception school places. The Council, therefore, is in danger of not meeting its statutory obligations.
Ysgol Iolo Morganwg serves the rural vale including Llantwit Major. There is insufficient capacity to accommodate the anticipated demand for Welsh-medium reception school places for September 2010 onwards from those resident within the school’s catchment area. Around 40% of children attending Iolo Morganwg (66 children) live in Llantwit Major and the surrounding area and receive free school transport to Ysgol Iolo Morganwg costing the authority in the region of £115,000 per annum.
Due to the length of the statutory processes required by the Welsh Assembly Government including the need to undertake proper and reasonable consultation when proposing the establishment of new schools, we will not be in a position to open new schools in September 2010 as originally planned. The opening dates for both new schools will be set at September 2011.
The reason they have given is that the statutory procedures they have to follow are so complicated that they cannot act as quickly as they had hoped to. I don't want to engage in any finger pointing because I don't know the full circumstances. My main reaction is simply disappointment.
It's almost certainly too late to do anything differently in terms of formal procedure now, but there are still immediate issues to be dealt with; namely that there will be parents who want WM education for their children this coming September. These can't simply be turned away. Therefore it looks to me as if VoG are going to have to find one or two more temporary classrooms for their existing WM schools.
But if VoG wanted to be more proactive they might well look at what Cardiff did in a very similar situation last year ...
Ysgol Gabalfa, Cardiff
Cardiff planed to open a new WM starter class in Gabalfa Primary School in September last year. The existing EM school had a large number of surplus places so it made perfect sense to put it there, especially to relieve pressure on Ysgol Melin Gruffydd, about a 1km to the north, which is full to bursting and with no room to expand.
But as it happened, even though Gabalfa was quite happy with the arrangement, there were still the same drawn out formal procedures to go through (if there is even one objection, the matter has to be referred to the Assembly) and these simply could not be completed in time for September 2009. Therefore the Education Minister in the Welsh government gave permission for it to happen in September 2010 instead.
But this is where Cardiff got clever. When it was obvious that the decision would be delayed they could have just let things rest for a year, but instead they went ahead and set up the starter class. However they did so not on the basis of it being a new starter stream, but as temporary accommodation for Ysgol Melin Gruffydd ... which just so happened not to be on the Melin Gruffydd site.
So the question is, Why can't VoG do exactly the same? Some of the new starter schools they propose will be on land that is currently part of other schools, so it might well be possible to go ahead anyway but with the temporary accommodation "technically" being part of the existing school. I'm not saying it can be done, perhaps there are insurmountable difficulties, but I am suggesting that someone tests the water to see what's possible.
Meanwhile, the good news for Gabalfa is that Cardiff Council have now decided [details here] that they want the starter class to become a permanent WM school. As we can see in the picture above, Gabalfa Primary has separate Infants and Junior blocks, and the intention is to convert the Infants block (top right) into a 1FE WM school, leaving the Junior block (top left) as a 1FE EM school. The building in the foreground is a special school. One of the good things about this plan is that the site has an abundance of open space, so in future there would be room to expand the WM provision as the demand for WM places increases.
Ysgol Glan Morfa, Cardiff
At the same meeting, Cardiff also decided that they want to increase the age range of Ysgol Glan Morfa in Splott from 4-11 to 3-11, i.e. to incorporate nursery provision [details here]. Cylch Meithrin Gwaun Sblot are providing a nursery in the school on a non-statutory basis, but if the Local Authority step in it will provide a more solid core service, enabling the Cylch Meithrin to use its resources to provide an extended wrap-around service.
Of course these positives in Cardiff still leave a number of more long-standing problems in the city such as the Whitchurch reorganization and the future of Treganna/Lansdowne. The second of these is in Leighton Andrews' intray, and what he does with it should provide us with an idea of whether he'll prove to be any good at his new job.