PLANS to close Rhigos Primary School and move pupils to Hirwaun Primary School have taken another step forward despite objections from hundreds of people.
The proposals went before cabinet again for it to consider feedback from the consultation and move it to the next stage of the process.
Nearly 95% of people who responded to a consultation on plans to close the school said they were against the idea.
There has been a campaign against the closure from parents and members of the community who have held protests and say it would mean the loss of the heart of the village.
Of the 239 responses to the consultation, 226 (94.5%) said they were against it, with the Save Rhigos Primary School action committee carrying out three separate petitions which have been signed by a combined total of 1,823 people.
The proposal will now progress to the next stage of the consultation process, with a statutory notice issued which will trigger the start of the objection period.
The reasons for the proposals
In September, cabinet agreed to consult on the proposals to close the school and transfer pupils by no later than next September because the council “has 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 are well placed to deliver high-quality education”.
Other reasons for considering the move include that Rhigos is RCT’s smallest school and the number of pupils joining it has been in steady decline, with numbers forecast to continue to fall in the next five years.
The council also says: “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 says the aim is to “continue to effectively manage the education provision available in the Cynon Valley area of Rhondda Cynon Taf. The proposal would extend and expand upon the positive outcomes delivered through the WG’s Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme, enabling more pupils to benefit from this significant investment which has included the provision of the new Hirwaun Primary School building”.
The feedback from the consultation
Some of the concerns raised in the consultation included the pupils being lost in a school the size of Hirwaun Primary School, the condition of the building in Rhigos in terms of what work has been done and how much money has been spent there, and concerns over the impact on the community.
They also raise concerns about educational outcomes, pupil numbers and capacity, why Rhigos isn’t designated a rural school, and transport and travel issues in terms of active travel, cost and carbon footprint.
Other concerns include the impact on pupils, the impact on staff and the consultation process itself.
They also raised questions around the support for pupils with additional learning needs, nursery provision, and access to after-school clubs and breakfast clubs.
The cabinet report said Estyn considered the proposal was likely to at least maintain the standard of education provision and outcomes for pupils in the area and the “local authority has set out a clear rationale for its proposal. It outlines strongly the many advantages of closing Rhigos Primary School, with all pupils transferring to Hirwaun Primary School”.
The council said there would be no capital funding implications should the proposal go ahead, and revenue savings from the closure of the school would be reinvested into supporting education in the county borough.
It said all pupils in the Rhigos catchment area would qualify for home to school transport to Hirwaun and that progressing with the proposals would have a “positive impact” upon the budgetary position of Hirwaun Primary School.
Why people are against the proposals
But Councillor Adam Rogers, Plaid Cymru councillor for the Hirwaun, Penderyn and Rhigos ward, said the fact that 94.5% of those who responded to the consultation were against it should be a “clear message” to cabinet.
He raised residents’ questions and concerns about the cost of potentially having to rely on public transport, the condition of the building and how much had been spent on it and the cost of home to school transport.
Cllr Rogers said Rhigos Primary School was in the “perfect location” for pupils and urged the council to let them keep doing what they loved, whether it be walking, scooting or riding their bike to school, adding that emissions were harmful to the environment with plenty of vehicles already on RCT’s roads.
He also said that one of the three petitions was focused on parking issues on streets around Hirwaun Primary School and that there were safety concerns.
He said: “Too often, residents of RCT say that council consultations are a waste of time and a done deal. As cabinet members you represent us all and you have the opportunity today to act on what the 239 respondents have expressed.”
The chair of governors at the school, Mairwen Evans, said the sheer volume of objections should be a cause for concern for all cabinet members as decision makers and said it was real evidence of the impact of this proposal on the community of Rhigos.
She added that there would be “significant issues” in terms of equity of access for children and the community due to unreliable public transport, meaning they’d have to travel by car if they had one and travel out of the community.
She said they already had excellent community engagement at the school and that they would lose the community cohesion that the school supported, the health and wellbeing benefits of being able to walk to school and the whole village would lose the social interaction.
She also said that the proposal failed to consider the many benefits of small rural schools and the negative impacts of closing them.
The views of the cabinet member for education
The cabinet member for education Councillor Rhys Lewis said: “It is clear from the consultation responses that there is a passion in the community of Rhigos for the future of our young people and their prospects during their educational journey.”
He said the council shared in that passion and strove daily for the best educational outcomes for young people.
Cllr Lewis said thorough scrutiny had taken place on the proposals and that the consultation process had been fair and accessible.
He said the council had a duty to monitor and keep under review the number of surplus school places to ensure schools were able to deliver high quality education for young people and that not to do this would be a dereliction of their duty.
He said he was encouraged by Estyn’s consultation response and said that Hirwaun Primary offered the very best of 21st Century Schools facilities.
He said: “I am content that the rationale put forward by officers have addressed the views and concerns raised by the consultation and is sound and based on robust evidence.”