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Smallest school in Rhondda Cynon Taf set to be closed

Rhigos Primary School (Pic: Google Maps)

THE SMALLEST school in Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) is set to be closed.

Rhigos Primary School in the Cynon Valley is due to close with pupils moving to Hirwaun Primary School following a decision by the council’s cabinet on Monday, April 29.

There were 1,495 objections to the plan during the public consultation with 1,440 objections received during the objection period in January and February and 55 during the consultation period in October and November last year.

The objections raised issues such as additional learning needs (ALN), admissions, extracurricular activities, breakfast clubs, the building’s condition, the community impact, educational outcomes, pupil numbers, and capacity and rural school categorisation.

They also mentioned transport and travel, the impact on pupils, staff, and parents and carers, finance and effective financial management, alternative options and the legitimacy of the consultation process.

In January, the proposal was “called in” to the overview and scrutiny committee which decided not to refer it back to the cabinet for reconsideration.

The proposals will involve extending the catchment area of Hirwaun Primary School to incorporate the current catchment area of Rhigos Primary School.

The capacity of Hirwaun Primary School is 394 plus nursery and the admission number for pupils aged four into the reception class at the school is 56 with 60 nursery places.

The objection report said pupils will be provided with transport in accordance with the council’s transport policy.

A local councillor explains his opposition to the closure

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Councillor Adam Rogers, Plaid Cymru councillor for Hirwaun, Penderyn and Rhigos, said the community was “shook” by this and that the decision makers had not visited the school or engaged with residents as they should have with no proper consideration on an alternative option.

He said there are growing concerns with RCT’s consultations including this one, charging for childcare before school breakfast clubs and changes to free school transport.

Cllr Rogers said that with a 4.99% increase in council tax residents will be paying more with their school being taken away and services reduced and that Rhigos is further disadvantaged with no housing being planned for the village.

He said breakfast club is well attended and there’s the freedom for children to enjoy extra curricular activities on their doorsteps and mentioned the concerns over the unreliability and cost of public transport in the area.

He said the extra cars on the road would increase pollution and add to traffic problems outside Hirwaun Primary School.

Cllr Rogers said that no decision can be made without the most up to date information highlighting the repair works needed on the Rhigos Primary School building which were based off a 2019 survey with a lot of that maintenance having already been done.

He said the school is a “huge benefit” to the community with excellent teaching and impressive students adding “I really hope that no other community has to go through what Rhigos has.”

He added: “The Labour Party needs to listen to the residents of RCT.”

The reasons why people were against the closure

Public speaker John Morris said the proposal document was nothing more than a “propaganda exercise” to portray the Hirwaun school as being superior to Rhigos.

He said that the children had been ignored by RCT in their “dash for cash” and that the concerns of the village had been “dismissed as groundless.”

He added that most of the building repair backlog mentioned had already been carried out since the 2019 survey.

He said Rhigos children would be disadvantaged by travelling by bus to Hirwaun instead of walking or cycling and that the issue of breakfast club and after school activities would aggravate this situation costing parents extra.

Mr Morris asked the council to explain why parents would want to send their children to a school that is less successful school than the one that they are in and that the council is denying the rights of parents to have a choice in this matter.

He said: “Shame on you RCT. Shame on you if you close this excellent school.”

The chair of the governors at the school Mairwen Evans also spoke at the meeting mentioning the success of the breakfast club which was voted the best in Wales in 2022 and said that with an attendance rate of 93.7% “children want to come to school.”

She mentioned the engagement they have with local and international companies and the importance of after school clubs and activities saying that in a rural community the school has provided opportunities that otherwise children would not have experienced.

She said they want cabinet to understand what the school means to their children and that they will be representing Rhondda, Cynon and Merthyr Tydfil in the Urdd Eisteddfod which she said speaks volumes.

She asked them to consider the void it would leave if the school closed.

The views of cabinet

Councillor Rhys Lewis, cabinet member for education, said that it is clear that the matter is an emotive subject within the community and that cabinet has reflected upon that and is baring that in mind.

He said they’ve had sight of the consultation submissions and the objection report and said the council has a statutory duty to keep surplus places under review and the sustainability of schools to ensure resources are being used most effectively to provide children with the very best education.

Cllr Lewis said it’s clear there’s a trend in pupil numbers reducing from 54 to 51 and now to 44 which brings into question the sustainability of the school.

He said that Hirwaun has 21st Century first class facilities and that he is “reassured” that home to school transport would be available to pupils and by the views from Estyn.

He said that he thinks the rationale is “sound” and can’t see that any aspect of the objections would warrant further review.

Deputy leader of the council Councillor Maureen Webber said the report is “accurate” and “factual.”

She said the views of scrutiny were balanced and said a lot of members had experienced school closures in their wards.

She mentioned one example in her ward where she said there was a “seamless transition” and that children had thrived.

Cllr Webber said that children are very adaptable and recognised how “difficult and emotive” it is but said they have to take a balanced view on a whole range of areas.

The rationale for the proposals

The report for cabinet said 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 that meets the needs of the community and makes best use of public funding”.

It said Rhigos Primary School is RCT’s smallest school and the number of pupils joining it has been in steady decline, with that trend expected to continue over the next five years.

The report added that since the start of the consultation period, the number of statutory school-aged pupils at Rhigos Primary School has reduced from 51 to 46.

It said: “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 struggle to maintain their current good education offer.

“The proposal seeks to provide the opportunity for more pupils to benefit from the significant investment delivered via the WG’s Sustainable Communities for Learning programme in the Cynon Valley.

“Consultation outcomes suggest there is strong opposition to the proposal, however, the rationale for change highlights many potential benefits.”

The report said Estyn has confirmed the proposal is likely to, at least, maintain the standard of education provision and outcomes for pupils in the area. Its response further states 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.”