Agenda item

Proposal to Consult on Pen y Cwm Capacity increase

To consider the report of the Corporate Director of Education.


A Member referred to a conflict of interest as some Members of this Committee were also Members of the Planning, Regulatory & General Licensing Committee.  The Director of Education said that, in his opinion, there would not be a conflict of interest as the discussion would cover the potential for remodelling of the current Pen y Cwm School building but would not focus on details from a planning perspective and felt that Members could engage and offer their views and opinions around the proposal. 


Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education which was presented to seek the views of Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee, in relation to the proposal to extend the capacity of Pen y Cwm Special School from 120 to 175 pupils, accommodating the demand for places. Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee will be a statutory consultee, should proposal to proceed to consultation be granted by Executive Committee.


The Director of Education introduced the report and highlighted the main points contained therein. 


The Director of Education highlighted an amendment in the report to paragraph 2.13 in that the consultation is to conclude on Sunday 6th June 2021, not 6th May as identified in the report.


A Member enquired regarding additional staff if the school reached its fully capacity.  The Director of Education said any additional staffing implications could be dealt with in the potential differential between the current budget and the proposed budget, which would be an additional £575,000, dependent upon the needs of learners, that component of budget would potentially need to fund additional staff to support learners in the setting.


A Member raised concerns regarding the small number of out of county placements being accommodated.  The Education Transformation Manager said that the initial review had been undertaken by the Inclusion team, however, a more detailed review would be required going forward.  Out of county placements were determined upon the needs and circumstances associated with each individual pupil and upon the initial review it was anticipated that the maximum number, at this point in time, that could be brought back into the Local Authority was 5.  Where there was capacity and the individual pupil’s needs could be met within the Local Authority then the team would look to bring more out of county placements back to the Local Authority.


In relation to capacity the Director of Education informed Members that in the short term capacity was 175 pupils, phase 2 would consider the more medium to long term arrangements and the potential to further increase capacity in subsequent years.


A Member enquired if the capacity of 175 pupils would be sufficient in the near future or would the school be oversubscribed again with the increase in the number of ALN pupils.  The Director of Education said the focus was on dealing with demand in the foreseeable future, but moving forward capacity at the school would need to be reviewed as part of phase 2.  The Education Transformation Manager added that the focus was on immediate priorities and addressing the work that the school had already undertaken around reconfiguring the teaching and learning environment.  With regard to increasing capacity for the school in line with potential future demand, there were a series of options being considered such as potential expansion or extension of the school, or satellite locations with schools with sufficient capacity to accommodate this.  She reiterated that the focus was on addressing short to medium term issues which had occurred as a result of the increases in demand that were currently projected, then looking at long term with a sustainable and best solution for Pen y Cwm.


In relation to the building suitability categorisation, the Education Transformation Manager explained that one key factor to achieve an A categorisation, would be that capacity would need to be extended as the school was currently over-subscribed and not offering the level of provision that was offered previously, as some specialist areas, such as technology and art areas, had been reconfigured to be used as teaching and learning spaces as opposed to being used as specialist areas.  She confirmed that if the proposal to increase capacity at Pen y Cwm School was approved the building suitability categorisation would change to A.


A Member referred to the 20 out of county placements and enquired what issues prevented Pen y Cwm School taking more of these placements.  The Education Transformation Manager explained that this fell under the Inclusion team’s remit, but one potential barrier could be regarding Children Looked After who may require out of county placements due to their individual circumstances. The Directorate were committed to a full review of those pupils’ needs and if their needs were associated with facilities, capacity or something that could be developed more locally then that would be taken forward.


In response to a Member’s question regarding capital costs circa £250,000, the Director of Education clarified that there were capital costs associated with the remodelling, however, these would be funded via Welsh Government grants that had been allocated so there was no direct impact upon the Council’s capital programme.


The Chair enquired regarding how Health & Safety considerations would be managed in relation to pupils, staff and contractors whilst the remodelling work was being undertaken.  The Director of Education said that most of the significant remodelling works would be undertaken outside of the times when learners were present, but this could mean an extension to the contract period post September 2021.   The Education Transformation Manager said that a Project Management team would be established to oversee the construction phase, working closely with the school and the contractor.  Works would be phased accordingly with the bulk of the works taking place in areas which were not currently used from a teaching and learning perspective.  The works taking place in the main body of the building, that could potentially affect learners, could be undertaken outside of the school opening times.  This could mean a slight extension to the contract, the Project Management team would liaise very closely with the school regarding temporary management solutions to minimise disruption to learners.


The Chair commented that with the increased capacity at the school had parking issues been considered.  The Education Transformation Manager said that a transport impact assessment would be undertaken to look at the associated implications.  The majority of pupils were transported to the school and the majority of pupils on the waiting list would also require home to school transport.   Consideration was being given to reconfigure home to school transport by age as opposed to area.  The school was looking to consult upon changes to session times i.e. primary pupils brought in separately to secondary and post 16 pupils to ensure a more efficient flow of traffic to the site.  During Covid changes had been made to the regulations around the school days and school session times which had allowed the school to pilot the potential changes to session times, as this had worked well for the school they would look to take this forward subject to consultation.


The Chair suggested that an appropriate representative from Pen y Cwm Special School be invited to attend and engage in the consultation session.  The Director of Education confirmed that a representative from the school would be invited to participate in the consultation session.


The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and endorse Option 1; namely that the report, associated document and course of action be accepted.

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