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Proposal to transfer Rhigos pupils to the new Hirwaun Primary School

RCT’s Cabinet will consider proposals and recommendations put to them by Council Officers to close Rhigos Primary School and transfer pupils to Hirwaun Primary School – with a decline of pupil numbers in Rhigos projected to continue, and the old school buildings requiring significant works.

On Monday, September 18, Cabinet could agree to consult residents on the proposal, which would also require the catchment area of Hirwaun Primary School to be increased to include Rhigos. Parents also have the option for their children to continue their education at Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Penderyn, with support from the Welsh Language Immersion Team.

Members could agree to an initial consultation from October 2 to November 17, under arrangements outlined in the School Organisation Code. If agreed following the consultation, the changes could be made in September 2024.

A report to Monday’s meeting noted there are only 54 statutory age pupils at Rhigos Primary School, seven of which live outside the catchment area. Pupil numbers are forecast to fall over the next five years, affecting the school’s financial viability and having a negative impact upon children’s education.

Rhigos Primary is the smallest school in Rhondda Cynon Taf, with a capacity of 65 pupils. Children are taught in just three classes across eight year groups. The original school building is more than 100 years old, while the school uses two 1960s extensions for toilets, a hall built in the 1980s, and a 1950s classroom block (accommodating the nursery) that has reached the end of its design life.

The school is graded at ‘C’ for condition and suitability (on a scale where ‘A’ is the highest rating and ‘D’ is the lowest). Major refurbishment is required to address a £184,790 backlog of maintenance – while additional investment is needed to reach 21st Century Schools standards and become energy efficient. Furthermore, the school building does not comply with the Equality Act 2010.

In contrast, Hirwaun Primary School is one of the most modern primary schools in the County Borough and has some of the best facilities, having been delivered in 2020 thanks to a joint £9.6m investment with Welsh Government’s Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme. It is a fully-accessible school, and pupil numbers from Rhigos Primary School could be easily accommodated.

Councillor Rhys Lewis, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council’s Cabinet Member for Education, Youth Participation and the Welsh Language, said: “This proposal has been brought forward to ensure pupils at Rhigos Primary School continue to receive a high-quality education in the future. The Council has a statutory duty to ensure all of its schools maintain an efficient and effective provision. Remaining inactive and allowing the number of surplus places in Rhigos to remain high will affect the school’s future financial viability.

“Hirwaun Primary School has received a state-of-the-art £9.6m building, and the proposal would enable more pupils to benefit from the excellent facilities. This is in contrast to Rhigos Primary School’s aging buildings, which require major maintenance and additional investment to bring them up to 21stCentury Schools standards. Pupils moving from Rhigos to Hirwaun would benefit from much-improved opportunities and extra-curricular activities, and would also be taught with more pupils in their own year group – as opposed to small mixed year groups.

“It is important to add that all pupils who live within the Rhigos Primary School catchment area would be eligible for home to school transport to Hirwaun Primary School should these proposals be progressed. All extra costs of the proposal would be met by the Council.

“On Monday, Cabinet could agree to a public consultation over the proposal to close Rhigos Primary School and to transfer pupils to Hirwaun Primary School, which would include formally increasing its catchment area. If agreed, the consultation would run for six weeks from October 2, and all feedback would be compiled into a further report for the future consideration of Cabinet.

“If the proposal goes ahead next year, the Council acknowledges that there will be a loss to the village of Rhigos and will commit to actively exploring any alternative community uses for the existing buildings or the site. These options would be developed with residents, and Cabinet would formally consider how to proceed following a thorough consultation with the community.”