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Cabinet to consider new major 21st Century Schools proposals

YGG Aberdâr. Credit: RCT Council

RCT Council could develop several significant 21st Century Schools projects thanks to an additional £85m in funding from Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools and Colleges Programme – including the potential for a new special school, and improved facilities in Llanharry, Cymer, Glyn-coch, Penrhys, Llantwit Fardre and Talbot Green.

On Monday, October 4, Cabinet Members will consider an update on the revised 21st Century Schools Strategic Outline Programme (SOP), which was recently approved in principle by Welsh Government. It outlines that the Council’s allocation has increased significantly from £167m to £252m, making an additional £85m available to transform schools through Band B of the 21st Century Schools and Colleges Programme.

It will help further deliver key commitments – including improving special school and Welsh language provision, delivering further 21st Century facilities, and increasing local community facilities as part of these developments.

The Cabinet report outlines a number of new 21st Century Schools projects which could be developed utilising the £85m funding, including:

  • Ysgol Llanhari – to modernise and replace the majority of the school’s existing buildings.
  • Ysgol Cwm Rhondda – creating a new 3-19 all through school by remodelling and modernising the existing site, or building a brand new school on an alternative site.
  • A new English medium primary provision for Glyncoch – to replace the two existing schools, subject to statutory school reorganisation consultation and decision-making processes.
  • A new special school – to cater for the increased demand for the Council’s special school provision.
  • Penrhys Primary – a new 21st Century school.
  • Maesybryn Primary (Llantwit Fardre) – a new 21st Century school.
  • Tonysguboriau Primary (Talbot Green) – a new 21st Century school.

The report recommends that Cabinet formally approves development of the revised Programme, and agrees to receive further updates on these projects as they progress through Welsh Government’s funding approval processes. Any statutory consultation required will be undertaken in accordance with the School Organisation Code 2018, while the Council’s financial contribution to each project will be reported to Full Council for approval in due course.

Special school proposal

Cabinet will also consider a separate report which provides more detail on the above proposal to build a new special school within Rhondda Cynon Taf. It will help relieve pressures across existing special schools, including projected further rises in pupil numbers along with the limitations of current school sites.

It follows Cabinet’s agreement in February 2021 for a detailed review of the County Borough’s special schools, with the intention of bringing forward future investment proposals to improve current provision and meet growing demand.

The updated report confirms that pupil numbers have further risen to 600 in September 2021 (up from 577 last year and 483 in 2013/14) – and it seems inevitable that pupil numbers will continue to grow. The report adds that there is also likely to be a future increase in the complexities of the learners’ needs.

The report concludes that the only feasible alternative to meet pressures is to build a new special school – increasing the number in Rhondda Cynon Taf from four to five. It would be a highly-specialist 21st Century special school environment with access to therapeutic facilities, equipment and resources. An appraisal on several potential sites for the new school is in its final stages.

Councillor Joy Rosser, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Education and Inclusion Services, said: “Cabinet will shortly consider a report outlining a series of very exciting proposals to further invest in 21st Century Schools facilities. This has been made possible thanks to Welsh Government’s approval of its Strategic Outline Programme, allocating an additional £85m to Rhondda Cynon Taf from the previous position.

“The Council already has a number of completed and ongoing schemes in Band B of the 21st Century Schools and Colleges Programme. Hirwaun Primary’s new £10.2m building has been delivered, while £12.1m and £4.5m projects started on site at Ysgol Rhydywaun and YGG Aberdâr this summer.

“We are also progressing several future schemes which have been previously confirmed. A planning consultation has commenced for a new Welsh Medium school in Rhydyfelin, and detailed design is nearing completion for three new primary schools funded through the Mutual Investment Model – at Pontyclun Primary, Penygawsi Primary and Llanilltud Faerdref Primary. The creation of all through schools in Pontypridd and Hawthorn are also being progressed, alongside a new sixth form teaching block at Bryncelynnog Comprehensive.

“The further rise in 21st Century Schools and Colleges funding provides an exciting opportunity for more learners to benefit from state-of-the-art facilities – and Cabinet will soon consider proposals relating to existing schools in Llanharry, Cymmer, Glyncoch, Penrhys, Llantwit Fardre and Talbot Green.

“The plans for Ysgol Llanhari and Ysgol Cwm Rhondda would deliver significant upgrades to facilities, while allowing more learners to be taught through the medium of Welsh – as we continue to work towards outcomes in the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan. The proposals would also bring much-needed 21st Century school and community facilities to Glyncoch, and to Penrhys Primary, Maesybryn Primary and Tonysguboriau Primary.

“Proposals to invest in a new special school for the County Borough, would respond to current capacity pressures across our four existing special schools and provide a new facility to accommodate projected further demand in the years ahead. The new school would also allow a review of existing catchments and options for realignment, undertaken alongside a review of existing special school provision, both in and out of the county, so learners with the most significant Additional Learning Needs can access the best possible provision.

“All of the proposed schools would, if agreed, also help us deliver our Climate Change targets and commitments – delivering brand new buildings which are BREEAM accredited and net zero carbon in operation. These proposals intend to put schools at the heart of our communities, while building on the Council’s excellent track record of delivering 21st Century facilities for pupils.”

Since receiving approval in 2017, a number investment projects have been progressed including:

  • The transformation of Hirwaun Primary has been completed;
  • 21st century School enhancements at YGG Aberdar and YG Rhydywaun are progressing well;
  • Planning consultation has commenced for a new Welsh medium school in Rhydyfelin;
  • Detailed design is nearing completion for 3 new primary schools funded through MIM, for Pontyclun Primary, Penygawsi Primary and Llanilltud Faerdref Primary;
  • The creation of 2 all-through schools is progressing in Pontypridd and Hawthorn; and
  • The new 6th form teaching block and significant improvements to Bryncelynnog Comprehensive School are at the design stage and form a part of the wider transformation of education delivery in the greater Pontypridd area with an investment totalling over £55m.