11/30/2022

Wales News Online

Local & National News for Wales

Extra money could be coming for plans for new special school in Rhondda Cynon Taf

EXTRA money could be on the way for a new special school planned in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

A report approved by the council’s cabinet on Monday, September 26, recommended asking the Welsh Government to consider increasing the funding available for the special school, which would be the fifth in RCT.

The council will submit a request to the Welsh Government for an increase to the agreed capital funding to create the school under the Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme (formerly 21st Century Schools).

Costs for this project have increased from an estimated £35m to £53.3m and the council said it exceeds the remaining funding available within the Band B allocation.

The council has put this down to challenges like the rising cost of construction materials, increased global demand in the construction sector, the impact of the Covid pandemic, logistics issues and the invasion of Ukraine, as well as the resulting cost increases of a number of Band B projects.

Current estimates suggest the council needs to increase the capital funding for the project by £32.3m, which will increase the overall investment programme to £284.5m, with Welsh Government contributing up to 75% towards this.

The cabinet report said revenue costs will increase with the expansion of special school provision and this is expected to be around £3.3m.

Council reports in February and October last year highlighted the pressures faced by special schools in RCT as the number of pupils is increasing on an annual basis.

The latest cabinet report said data shows demand on provision is significant and this pressure will continue to rise.

The proposal is that the new school will accommodate up to 200 pupils.

There are four special schools with a total of 678 pupils in RCT – Maesgwyn Special School in Cwmdare, Park Lane Special School in Trecynon, Ysgol Hen Felin in Ystrad and Ysgol Ty Coch in Tonteg, which includes a satellite base at Buarth-y-Capel, Ynysybwl

The report said there has been a consistent rise in the number of pupils at Ysgol Hen Felin, which now stands at 208 and Ysgol Ty Coch, which now stands at 222.

It said additional pressure comes from the increasing complexity of needs of pupils and the staffing numbers needed to meet them. It also said transport provision and costs would need to be considered as part of the proposal.

The October 2021 report said the council would carry out an appraisal of
a number of potential sites to judge which, if any, would be suitable for a special school.

Several sites were identified and these were judged against factors including size, ownership and location.

But the latest cabinet report says more work is needed to ensure the best possible site is chosen.

It says previous reports also described the limitations of each school site, and the conclusion was that all opportunities to significantly extend and increase capacities have been explored and, where possible, carried out.

It said it was acknowledged that “options and alternatives to expand the existing sites have been exhausted and the only feasible alternative is to build a brand new provision on a new site, significantly growing the special school provision within the county borough and increasing the number of special schools from four to five”.

It said the new school would enable the council to meet the needs of pupils who need access to highly specialist therapeutic facilities, equipment and resources and ensure the council successfully delivers on its statutory obligations under the Additional Learning Needs and Education Tribunal (Wales) Act 2018 (ALNET Act).

Councillor Maureen Webber, deputy leader of the council, said there are increasing pressure and demands, children with more complex needs and limitations on school sites.

She said the council knows there are going to be challenges with funding and the increased costs but she thinks it’s “pleasing” that Welsh Government will contribute 75% towards increased costs.

Cllr Webber also highlighted that the number of pupils had increased by 78 in less than a year, which she said is “quite significant.”

The opening of a new special school will be subject to a statutory school
organisation consultation and further work to develop the proposal will need to be done, the report said.

If permission is granted, a consultation document will be brought to cabinet to seek approval to start the consultation process.

A further report will be prepared with feedback from the Welsh Government, the conclusions of the site appraisal and a proposed consultation document for consideration.

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