Huw David Jones reports on the IWA’s Future of Cardiff Schools debate
Demand for Welsh language primary education in Cardiff is expected to rise by almost 50 per cent over the next five years, according to the city’s chief education officer. Speaking at the IWA’s Future of Cardiff Schools event at the Wales Millennium Centre last night, Chris Jones, Cardiff Council’s Chief Schools and Lifelong Learning Officer, also said that while overall pupil numbers were falling, demand for school places in some of the most affluent parts of the capitol are expected to rise slightly over the next few years. Meanwhile, poorer areas can expect to see a further increase in the number of surplus school places unless the council pushes ahead with its schools reorganisation programme.
Despite falling pupil numbers across Cardiff, the annual intake of children at Welsh-medium primary schools has increased from 348 in 1997 to 465 in 2007 – a 33 per cent increase. It is expected to reach 864 by 2015. Meanwhile Ysgol Glantaf and Ysgol Plasmawr, Cardiff’s two Welsh-medium secondary schools, will soon be joined by a third Welsh language secondary, to be located in Penylan in the east of the city. It will be phased in from September 2012.
The IWA debate followed the recent row over Cardiff Council’s proposal to reorganise English and Welsh-medium primary schools in the Canton area of the city. The council had planned to relieve overcrowding at Ysgol Treganna by relocating the Welsh-medium primary to the site of the English-medium Lansdowne School, until the move was blocked by First Minister Carwyn Jones last May. Last week the leader of Cardiff Council, Rodney Berman, announced plans to build a new Welsh-medium primary school on land it owns on Sanatorium Road.
Chris Jones refused to comment on any specific cases in Cardiff’s schools reorganisation plan, but said the council had tried to be open and transparent throughout the process. He pointed to the long consultation procedures the council was required to follow and added that the Council was committed to giving parents the right to express a preference for school places, but said there was a mismatch between supply and demand.
Schools in affluent parts of the city continue to be most popular with parents. In one city ward, 60 per cent of secondary school pupils come from outside the local catchment area. Meanwhile, schools in some of the poorer areas of the capital are significantly under capacity.
The Chief Schools and Lifelong Learning Officer told the meeting, attended by more than 70 people, that surplus school places were wasting money and resources. Local authorities were also under pressure from the schools regulator Estyn to reduce surplus placements.
Chris Llewelyn from the Welsh Local Government Association also spoke about the national picture for schools in Wales. He said pupil numbers had fallen by 19,769 in Wales since 2000 largely because of falling birth rates. There are currently 93,023 unfilled school places across Wales – 18 per cent of the school population. However, this overall pattern masks wide geographical variation in the number of surplus school places, ranging from 25 per cent to 11 per cent in some areas.
Chris Llewellyn said £2 billion of capital investment is needed to bring Welsh schools into the modern age, with new ICT facilities and sustainable buildings. However, he warned that the 21st Century Schools Programme, which the Welsh Local Government Association is running in partnership with the Welsh Government, will not have the funds to meet expectations.
More than 70 people, including teachers, parents and policymakers from local and Welsh Government, attended the IWA event at the Wales Millennium Centre.