The Council's Cabinet received an update on proposals to build a new special school in Rhondda Cynon Taf. The school will significantly help relieve existing capacity pressures and prepare for further demand for school places in the future.
A report to Monday’s Cabinet meeting presented an updated data set highlighting increasing pressures on four existing schools (Maesgwyn Special School, Park Lane Special School, Ysgol Hen Felin and Ysgol Ty Coch).
Cabinet Members agreed to an adjusted funding programme being submitted to Welsh Government. This new funding programme reflects new expected costs, while Cabinet Members also agreed to receive a future report outlining conclusions of an appraisal process for the school's location.
Previous reports to Cabinet have highlighted the pressures local special schools face as learner numbers increase and presenting needs become more complex.
There are limitations at each school site but work to increase pupil places has been completed. A new modular building is in use at Ysgol Hen Felin, and remodelling works at Park Lane Special School, Maesgwyn Special School and Ysgol Ty Coch have also been recently undertaken. Ysgol Ty Coch's satellite base, Buarth-y-Capel, has also recently been extended.
Monday's Cabinet report noted that a new special school, creating a 21st Century environment, would provide additional future capacity to meet the needs of learners. This would include enhanced access to specialist facilities, equipment and resources.
The report added that 678 learners are now accessing local special schools in September 2022, an increase of 78 in the past year.
The data also shows increased learners with complex needs requiring support and higher staffing ratios. Learner numbers and complex needs are increasing at all schools, particularly at Ysgol Hen Felin and Ysgol Ty Coch.
The updated data supports the proposal to create a fifth special school in Rhondda Cynon Taf for up to 200 learners. The latest Cabinet report says that further activities are now required in the site assessment process for the school to ensure the best possible site is secured.
Following agreement by Cabinet on Monday, the outcome of this process will be reported at a future meeting, alongside feedback from Welsh Government. It will also include details about the statutory consultation needed to create the new school.
The report added that a new school may provide opportunities for strengthening partnership working. This will help support children and young adults who need residential or respite care, some of whom currently receive this outside Rhondda Cynon Taf.
It also provided an update on the latest financial projections for the new school, noting that the Council has already made a successful bid to Welsh Government to include a special school within the Band B Strategic Outline Programme (SOP). This is part of the Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme, contributing 75% of the total project costs.
Due to several external factors, from rising materials costs to global pressures on supply chains, project costs have increased and have exceeded the funding available. Cabinet Members agreed to the report's recommendation for the Council to request an increase in its Band B funding package by submitting a formal request to Welsh Government.
Councillor Rhys Lewis, Rhondda Cynon Taf Council's Cabinet Member for Education, Youth Participation and the Welsh Language, said: "Cabinet first agreed on initial proposals to create a new special school in October 2021, and since then, officers have completed further work to progress the proposal.
"The report to Cabinet on Monday provided the latest information and data on the future requirements and set out steps to create a fifth school, accommodating up to 200 pupils.
"Despite significant recent investment to create extra places in our existing schools, it is clear that further provision is needed. Pupil numbers have grown by 139 over six years, while the complexity of learners' needs continues to increase.
"The Council must fulfil its statutory duties to its special school provision. A new school would also help to ensure that the requirements of the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 are met.
"The proposed new school would help provide highly-specialist placements to meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable learners. It will allow them to benefit from specialist teaching, equipment, resources, therapies and medical intervention – in a 21st Century environment that our young people deserve.
"The proposal does present some financial challenges due to the current global circumstances and construction industry pressures. However, risks are attached to not acting now to increase our special school provision in Rhondda Cynon Taf.
"On Monday, Members agreed to the Council submitting an updated Strategic Outline Programme to Welsh Government to increase the current level of investment reserved for the proposals. Conclusions from the site assessment process and a proposed consultation document were requested to be reported to Cabinet in due course."
Posted on 30/09/2022