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Planned new RCT special school costs soar by almost £20m and could need additional funding support

PLANS for a new special school in Rhondda Cynon Taf to deal with current pressure on places could need extra funding.

A report set to go before the council’s cabinet on Monday, September 26, recommends asking the Welsh Government to consider increasing the funding available for the new special school, which would be the fifth in RCT.

If cabinet members agree, the council will submit a variation to the approved strategic outline programme to the Welsh Government to request an increase to the agreed capital funding to deliver the school under the Sustainable
Communities for Learning Programme.

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 says 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 in RCT currently, including 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

Currently there are 678 pupils at the four special schools in RCT which is up from 617 in 2021-22, 574 in 2020-21, 577 in 2019-20,  562 in 2018-19, 543 in 2017-18 and 539 in 2016-17.

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 transport 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).

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 to develop this proposal is granted, a consultation document will be brought to cabinet to seek approval to commence the consultation process.

If agreed at cabinet on Monday, 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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