Controversial Garw Valley school plans submitted

As you might remember (School shake up planned for Garw Valley), Bridgend Council (BCBC) have put forward plans for a “two-schools, one site” campus in Betws, replacing Betws Primary – which was partially destroyed by fire in June 2012 – and the dilapidated Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Cwm Garw in Pontycymer.

The reason for a complete Betws Primary replacement is that even the parts unaffected by the fire (the infants section) are in a poor state of repair. Betws also remains one of Bridgend county’s most relatively deprived areas, and the new school will include upgraded community facilities.

The reasons for moving YGG Cwm Garw to Betws are two-fold. Firstly, the current school is an outdated and cramped Edwardian building which doesn’t have any playing fields. BCBC say it would be uneconomical to improve the building as is.

Secondly, YGG Bro Ogwr in Brackla is over-subscribed as many parents in the “Valleys Gateway”(Sarn, Tondu, Bryncethin) send Welsh-medium students there. This problem has been further exacerbated by general increasing demand and new housing developments like Parc Derwen (Coity), Pentre Felin (Tondu) and Parc Tyn y Coed (Sarn). It’s thought that moving YGG Cwm Garw closer to the “Valleys Gateway” will accommodate demand in the central area of Bridgend County whilst also reducing pressure on YGG Bro Ogwr.

The new school will be built at the current Betws Primary site, just off the main road through the village, which will be upgraded to include traffic-calming measures. It’s been suggested the two schools may have staggered opening and closing times to reduce congestion.

The school itself will consist of two separate wings – one for English-medium, one for Welsh-medium with a shared building in between (kitchens). Each school will also have their own outdoor teaching spaces, but will share nearby woodland and playing fields.

The English-medium school will be constructed first, and is set to open in September 2016 with a capacity for 394 pupils. After that, the current school buildings will be demolished, and construction will begin on the Welsh-medium school, which will open in September 2017 with a capacity for 379 pupils.

It’s interesting to note that the capacity figure in the design and access statement (pdf p31) for the Welsh-medium school is much greater than first proposed in 2013 (which was around 250 places).

The reason for the big increase in capacity is unclear at the moment, but it hints that either BCBC predict a significant number of pupils attending YGG Bro Ogwr may transfer, or they’ve judged that demand for Welsh-medium education in the area may be greater than anticipated.

A Llangeinor-shaped spanner in the works

The plans for the new school originally included a merger between Betws Primary and Tynyrheol Primary in nearby Llangeinor – which were set to merge in September 2015. Due to a legal challenge from parents of Tynyrheol pupils, those plans have been thrown into jeopardy.

In December, the High Court ruled that a judicial review was appropriate on grounds that BCBC failed to comply with the Welsh Government’s School Organisation Code, which is a direct result of the School Standards & Organisation Act 2013. Reports in the Glamorgan Gazette also suggest that BCBC’s claims of improvements to education standards weren’t backed with appropriate evidence.

Suzy Davies AM and Byron Davies AM (both Con, South Wales West) have been critical of how BCBC have handled the proposed merger from the start, with Suzy quoted as saying the consultation process was “fatally flawed” and also accusing BCBC of taking a “slovenly approach”.

The proposed capacity still leaves more than enough room to amalgamate both schools, though Tynyrheol’s future wasn’t mentioned in the planning statements. I don’t know if that’s a sign of BCBC’s confidence that the courts will rule in their favour or not.

There’s potentially a serious problem here. If campaigners in Llangeinor win, and Tynyrheol Primary remains open because of BCBC’s blunders, then there’s a risk the new English-medium school in Betws will end up significantly over-capacity and it may be hard to justify the project in its current format.