Plans to expand an Ebbw Vale special school have moved a step closer as a second consultation has been given the green light, despite a request for more information by Estyn.
An initial consultation by Blaenau Gwent council found that 82 per cent of people supported plans to increase Pen y Cwm Special School by 55 pupil places from 120 to 175.
Now the council will move to the statutory notice stage, where formal objections to the plans can be made.
However, Estyn – Wales’ body for inspecting education facilities – said more information was needed on how the plans would benefit pupils.
Estyn’s response in the initial consultation says: “It has not however demonstrated clearly enough how the council will remodel the existing learning environment to create additional classroom spaces and associated facilities that will fully benefit the quality of provision for current pupils.
“Our opinion is that the proposal does not provide enough information for us to evaluate whether the current standards of education and provision in the area will at least be maintained or improved.”
The council said there would be some internal remodelling of the existing school site, which includes the former Integrated Children’s Centre (ICC) and the Ebbw Fair Primary School staffroom and shared area.
The report says: “The former ICC which is situated on the first floor of Pen y Cwm School, is not currently suitable in facilitating the delivery of teaching and learning.
“The proposal seeks to transform this area into a post-16 base, inclusive of a common room and life skills area, which will in turn free-up additional classroom space for secondary pupils on the first floor.
“In addition, it is planned for Ebbw Fawr staffroom and the shared bistro area, to be occupied by Pen y Cwm to compliment the Post 16 provision, whilst also creating a more extensive and dedicated area for the growing numbers of staff.”
The ground floor of the building will be “transformed to create additional primary classrooms” and the soft play space will be relocated from the first floor to the ground floor.
The council would also develop a long-term plan to increase capacity to meet future demand.
In total, 11 survey responses were received with the consultation, with nine in favour, one partially supporting the proposals and one against it entirely.
A previous report on the proposal says: “Should nothing change, the local authority will be unable to meet the needs of all learners particularly those with profound and multiple learning difficulties within Blaenau Gwent.
“Therefore, they would need to be placed out of county at significant additional cost, outside of their community and with increased travel time.”
Currently the council has 20 additional learning needs pupils that are educated out of the local authority area, costing £896,000.