Home » Councillors of Rhondda Cynon Taf vote not to reconsider closure of Rhigos Primary School
Education Politics Rhondda Cynon Taf South Wales

Councillors of Rhondda Cynon Taf vote not to reconsider closure of Rhigos Primary School

Rhigos Primary School (Pic: Google Maps)

THE CLOSURE of Rhondda Cynon Taf’s smallest school has taken a step closer after councillors voted not to refer it back to decision makers.

The proposal is to close Rhigos Primary School with pupils transferring to Hirwaun Primary by no later than September, 2024.

Cabinet’s decision in December to take the proposals to the next stage, which would trigger the start of the objection period, was the subject of a call-in by some councillors opposed to the move.

But a special overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday, January 11, voted against sending it back to cabinet.

There has been a campaign locally against the closure and during the consultation 226 of the 239 respondents (94.5%) said they disagreed with the move.

Councillors Danny Grehan and Adam Rogers of Plaid Cymru and Sam Trask of the Conservatives have signed the call-in.

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Their reasons for calling in the decision included that there was a need to consider the negative impact of the proposal for pupils and the wider community of Rhigos, especially in line with the requirements of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 which requires RCT Council to think about the long-term impact of decisions on communities to prevent consistent issues such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.

They also said there was a need to fully respect the right of the child to have their voice heard, taken seriously, and acted upon, and to fully consider aspects of the proposal which were contrary to the aims of another proposal currently being consulted on. They also claimed the decision to proceed relied upon incomplete, out of date data.

They added that there was a need to consider the merits of alternative options put forward by the consultees, and alternative options to address surplus places and that there was a need to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the potential impact of the decision both positive and negative.

They also said that the feedback from the education and inclusion scrutiny meeting held on December 14, 2023, was not included within the cabinet report nor attached as an appendix prior to the decision being made, and therefore was not available for public scrutiny and response.

Why councillors are concerned about the proposals

Cllr Sam Trask said the decision was made based on “incomplete and out of date information” and raised concerns about people having to use unreliable public transport and it costing more for children to access things like breakfast clubs.

He said it would force children to rely on home to school transport, cars or poor public transport. The building was “safe and well maintained”, he added, and it had received significant investment.

Cllr Trask also said that it went against encouraging active travel and would have an impact on the environment with more cars on the road in Rhigos which would bring challenges to the community.

Councillor Adam Rogers said referring it back to cabinet would give them the chance to consider everyone’s views.

He said the core aims of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child were not being followed, adding that it was important Rhigos children had equal access to things like breakfast clubs with their Hirwaun peers.

He said there were “lots of unanswered questions” and that there were other options as closing it would be “irreversible”, adding that they needed a property condition survey.

Councillor Danny Grehan said the Well-Being Act was not considered properly and that they “should’ve given more consideration to negative effects.”

He also said children would find it difficult to socialise because of the distance and transport problems and that the “heart of the village” would be lost in terms of the social aspect.

Cllr Grehan also asked if this was encouraging more people to use private cars and mentioned the benefits of having a small rural school, saying that the proposal failed to take into account the impact of closing a small rural school.

He said: “Taking a school from the village goes against all the policies we have in terms of encouraging more healthy, more inclusive communities” adding that they had a responsibility for the current generation and future ones.

He said: “The council are hearing but they are not listening. It’s a very sad situation to be in. They are not listening to the children themselves. They are happy where they are. Unfortunately, the Labour party knows better.”

Councillor Karen Morgan, Plaid Cymru, said there was a difference between sharing information and actually acting on it. She said: “There are still too many unanswered questions.”

She said they should have due regard to the positives and negatives and that Rhigos Primary School gave them the opportunity to look at things differently.

She said there was a risk that they cherry picked to support the argument they wanted to make and that there was a duty for cabinet to reconsider, adding that 94.5% of respondents objected to the proposal.

Labour members explain why they back the proposal

The cabinet member for education, Councillor Rhys Lewis, said that it was clear that there was passion in Rhigos for the future of young people and their prospects and said it was something the council shared and that it strove for the best educational outcomes for its young people.

He said they were under direction from Welsh Government to review surplus places and said, “not to do that would be a dereliction of our duty.”

He said: “Cabinet have fully scrutinised the proposal at every stage and have challenged the rationale. I am confident that the data and the rationale are robust and accurate.”

He also said he thought the consultation had been “fair and accurate.”

Cllr Lewis said: “It certainly isn’t an easy decision to make. Nobody goes into local politics to close local schools unless there is sound rationale. The easy decision would be to fail to act.”

He also said that Hirwaun had the very best facilities.

Councillor Ros Davis, Labour, said she was “totally sympathetic” to the concerns and said it was “important that RCT makes the right decision.” She added: “It’s a really difficult decision for the council but probably the proposal is the right one.”

She said it was about ensuring that they future proofed education for generations to come.

The rationale given by officers

The rationale for the decision given by the council was that it had a “statutory duty through its approach to the organisation and leadership arrangements of schools to maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of provision to ensure that all schools were well placed to deliver high quality education that met the needs of the community and made best use of public funding.”

It said that Rhigos Primary School was RCT’s smallest school and the number of pupils joining it had been in steady decline and pupil numbers were forecast to continue to fall in the next five years.

It said that: “Allowing surplus places to remain high through inaction would directly and negatively affect the future financial viability of Rhigos Primary School and impact children’s education in the future. Rhigos Primary School’s budget, with a diminishing income, would have less money for staff salaries, curriculum activities, equipment, running costs and maintenance of the school estate and would therefore struggle to maintain their current good education offer.”

The council said that the proposal would extend and expand upon the positive outcomes delivered through the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme, enabling more pupils to benefit from this significant investment which had included the provision of the new Hirwaun Primary School building.

The decision to publish a statutory notice triggering an objection period will now take effect.