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New special school for RCT progressed to next stage

Cabinet Members have agreed to further progress the proposals to create a new special school for Rhondda Cynon Taf by 2026, having considered the feedback received in a recent public consultation.

At their meeting on Monday, October 23, Cabinet considered a thorough consultation report following the consultation period, which ran from July 4 to September 15 this year. The relevant Statutory Notices will now be published following Members’ decision on Monday – to open a new 3-19 special school and to introduce catchment areas for all special schools in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

The Council has brought forward the plans in response to the current and projected capacity pressures across its special schools. Previous reports to Cabinet have highlighted the continuing trend of growing learner numbers, while young people’s needs are becoming more complex. All options to expand the existing special schools have been explored and undertaken.

A report to Monday’s Cabinet meeting noted key details about the consultation activity, which followed the arrangements outlined in Welsh Government’s School Organisation Code – as well as the responses that were received.

Governing body and school staff meetings were held online, while school council meetings were hosted in the corresponding schools – where children and young person versions of the consultation materials and the survey were provided. The Education and Inclusion Scrutiny Committee considered the proposals at its meeting on September 15, and issued a formal response.

Residents could also take part by accessing the consultation materials and a survey on the Council website. An in-person event was held on August 22 at The Pavilions in Clydach Vale – the proposed location for the new school.

The consultation report also includes Estyn’s response to the proposal, and the Council’s subsequent comments. The Cabinet report noted that the overall response to the consultation was positive. The full document is available to view on the Council’s website as an Appendix to Monday’s Cabinet report.

Councillor Rhys Lewis, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Youth Participation and the Welsh Language, said: “On several occasions in recent times, Cabinet has discussed the considerable pressures facing our special schools – due to increased pupil numbers and learners’ increasingly complex needs. With demand only expected to further grow, officers have carried out a thorough process on how best to respond.

“The clear, most-favourable option is to invest in a new school – which will help us continue to meet our statutory duty to pupils with Additional Learning Needs, ensure pupils are allocated places in schools nearer their home, and mitigate the cost of out-of-county and independent placements. As a result, in June 2023, Cabinet agreed for the relevant consultation exercise to be held.

“Cabinet has considered all consultation feedback, and it’s clear there was an overall positive response – with no issues raised by Estyn or the public that the Council is unable to respond to. Some residents who took part in the consultation asked whether the plans included any of our existing schools closing, and it’s important to note that this is absolutely not the case as part of the plans for the proposed new special school. Another key question that was asked was about increased travel distances for families to school – and officers have confirmed that in most cases travel times would actually reduce, with an additional school available as part of our provision.

“Existing home to school transport arrangements will be protected for the pupils living in the areas affected for the duration of their attendance at the school or until they reach the end of that phase. In exceptional circumstances, consideration may be given to transporting siblings to the same school.

“The project itself is a very exciting one, and the preferred option is for it to be located in Clydach Vale. The Council has secured major funding support via Welsh Government’s Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme, through which we have an excellent track record of delivering first-class education facilities for our young people. The school will meet all needs and include enhanced access to specialist facilities, equipment and resources.

“I’d like to thank everyone who took part in the consultation for contributing, and following Cabinet’s decision on Monday officers will progress the project to the publication of Statutory Notices. The Council will keep residents up to date at key landmarks of the project, which will be delivered by 2026.”

The new school will ensure the Council can deliver its obligations under the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act. The Council will receive a 75% contribution towards the total project costs within Band B of Welsh Government’s Sustainable Communities for Learning 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.