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Smallest school in Rhondda Cynon Taf could be closed

Rhigos Primary School (Pic: Google Maps)

THE COUNCIL is considering closing the smallest school in Rhondda Cynon Taf because the number of pupils joining is falling.

Rhondda Cynon Taf’s cabinet will consider approving a consultation into proposals to close Rhigos Primary School and to extend the catchment area of Hirwaun Primary School to incorporate the current catchment area of Rhigos Primary School.

The proposal would see pupils move from Rhigos Primary School to Hirwaun Primary School subject to parental choice.

The report to cabinet for Monday, September 18 said that the number of pupils joining Rhigos Primary School has been in steady decline and pupil numbers are 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 the school and impact children’s education in the future.

“The school budget with a diminishing income will 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.”

It said that this proposal will “extend and expand upon the positive outcomes delivered through Welsh Government’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.”

Rhigos Primary School has a capacity of 65 places and is the smallest school in RCT with three classrooms with pupils from nursery to year six.

The report said that the overall school site is graded as C for condition and C for suitability, where A is the highest and D is the lowest performing building respectively.

The buildings are said to be in poor condition with significant refurbishment work required.

The backlog maintenance cost for the school is £184,790 but this does not include costs for further improvements to enable the school to meet 21st Century Schools standards or to become energy efficient, the report added.

The council said that the site itself and the school building does not comply with the Equality Act 2010 given the inaccessibility of the site and that the location of the school, in a residential area, makes drop off and pick up times challenging, with inadequate parking and turning arrangements available for parents.

Currently there are 54 statutory age pupils at the school and pupil numbers are projected to drop by 33% in the next five years and of the 54 statutory aged pupils, eight live out of catchment.

The report said there is very little house building planned in the school’s community area to help grow the birth rate which means that in-area demand for places at the school will remain low.

In 2019, Rhigos Primary School was judged by Estyn as good in all inspection areas.

The report highlighted that Hirwaun Primary School has recently had a new £9.6m school built through the Welsh Government’s Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme.

The school opened its doors to the English medium pupils previously attending Penderyn Community Primary School in September 2021 and the report said it is a fully accessible school building which wholly complies with the Equality Act 2010.

Hirwaun Primary School has a capacity of 394 pupil places and the council said that data shows that the pupils currently attending Rhigos Primary School can be easily accommodated within Hirwaun Primary School.

The report said the wider site at Hirwaun Primary School has also been greatly improved with external teaching, learning, sports and recreation facilities and improvements to on site and off site traffic management.

In 2019, Hirwaun Primary School was judged by Estyn as needing significant improvement but after a 12 month monitoring period Estyn judged that the school had made significant progress and removed the school from the list of schools requiring significant improvement.

The report said that all pupils currently living in the Rhigos Primary School catchment area will be eligible for home to school transport to Hirwaun Primary School and costs will be met by the council.

The council said that if the proposal goes ahead, it will actively explore with residents potential alternative community uses for the school facilities as it said it’s conscious that the possible closure will be a loss to the village.

The council said: “There will be no capital funding implications should the proposal go ahead and revenue savings accrued from the closure will be reinvested into supporting children’s education in Rhondda Cynon Taf.”

It also said that “financial projections show that progressing with the proposals will have a positive impact upon the budgetary position of Hirwaun Primary School.”

The report also said that this school is within the catchment of the Welsh medium provision at Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Penderyn, and pupils will be supported by the council’s Welsh language immersion team if they want to move from English medium to Welsh medium to continue their education.