Councillors have given their support to plans for a new special school in Rhondda Cynon Taf to create more capacity and ease pressure on current schools.
The council’s cabinet backed the proposal at a meeting on Monday, October 4 to increase the number of special schools in the county borough from four to five.
A review has been done into the council’s special school provision and there are currently 600 pupils accessing education across four special schools in RCT.
These are 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 in Buarth y Capel in Ynysybwl.
The cabinet report said there has been a consistent increase in learner numbers in both Ysgol Hen Felin and Ysgol Ty Coch with the former going up from 169 back in 2016/2017 to 191 in September of this year and Ysgol Ty Coch increasing from 137 in 2016/2017 to 185 this September.
A site has not yet been selected and the council is currently in the final stages of an appraisal on a number of potential sites with good outdoor facilities.
The report said it is not possible to disclose potential sites at present as
some are not currently under council ownership and if the proposal is approved it will go through the statutory school organisation consultation.
In terms of funding, the new special school is set to be included in the council’s Band B Strategic Outline Programme (SOP) of the 21st Century Schools and Colleges Programme.
The report said it’s not just the increasing numbers that need to be catered for but it is also the increase in the complexities of the children’s needs and the staffing numbers required to meet need.
The report also said it seems “inevitable” that the number of pupils will continue to grow over the next five to 10 years with options to extend the current sites now limited.
Works to increase the capacity at Ysgol Hen Felin have started and a two classroom building is due for completion by the end of the year.
This will provide much needed additional space at the school site to cater for the additional numbers currently on roll at the school site, the report said.
Further works at Ysgol Ty Coch have been carried out over the summer
holidays with remodelling done to increase the capacity on the
existing school site.
Plans are also progressing to add a building on Buarth y Capel with the objective of increasing the capacity here too.
The cabinet report said the only feasible alternative is to build a brand new provision on a new site, growing the special school provision within the county borough and increasing the number of special schools from four to five.
The report said: “The benefits to the council will include financial benefits in terms of cost avoidance in relation to very costly out of county placements for learners with the most complex medical and health needs.
“By creating a highly specialist 21st century special school environment it will enable the council to meet the needs of learners requiring access to highly specialist therapeutic facilities, equipment and resources required to meet all needs, including complex medical and health needs in the county borough.”
It added that building a new special school will allow a review of the existing
catchments to be done.
The aim of any catchment change recommended as a part of the review will be to free up capacity in the existing special school provision and create additional places, the report added.
Councillor Joy Rosser, the cabinet member for education, said the numbers of pupils at special schools in RCT has risen from 483 in 2014 to 600 this year, an increase of 24%.
She also said that there had been an increase in the complexity of need as well as the numbers of pupils.
Councillor Pauline Jarman, leader of the Plaid Cymru group on the council, said it is “excellent news” that the council is in a position to invest in a new special school.
She said it needs to be located centrally to all three valleys as travel can be a challenge for learners.
She said that the new special school was an “absolute priority.”
Councillor Maureen Webber, deputy leader of the council said they know there are pressures on special schools and they need to increase capacity.