A report outlining Wrexham Council’s vision and plans to improve educational provision in the county borough until 2024 has been backed by councillors.
The plans, which were put before members of the Executive Board this morning, feature as part of Wrexham Council’s Strategic Outline Programme – a document which will be submitted to Welsh Government as part of its 21st Century School funding programme.
The aims of the 21st Century Schools Programme include achieving:
– Learning environments for children and young people in Wales aged from 3 to 19 that will enable the successful implementation of strategies for school improvement and better educational outcomes;
– A sustainable education system through better use of resources to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the education estate, and which enhances local public service provision;
– A 21st century Schools Standard for all schools in Wales which reduces recurrent costs, energy consumption and carbon emissions
A number of projects have already been carried out in Wrexham as part of Band A of the funding, including the development of two new primary schools in Caia Park (Hafod Y Wern and Gwenfro) and refurbishments to Ysgol Plas Coch and Alexandra Community Primary.
As part of the Strategic Outline Plan, several specific projects have been put forward as part of the Band B submission. The project priorities are stated by Wrexham Council as below in the plan, split into three faith projects and five local authority projects:
– Borras: Following the amalgamation of the previous infants and juniors in 2016 this would bring the school together in one building.
– Welsh Medium – Borras Infant Site: By Undertaking project 1 Borras physical amalgamation the council can utilise the former Infant site to accommodate a 210 primary with 30 nursery places.
– Ysgol Yr Hafod: Following the amalgamation of the previous infants and juniors in 2016 this would bring the school together in one building on the same site.
– Ysgol ID Hooson: In order to meet demand for Welsh medium Ysgol ID Hooson has managed its numbers using two mobile classrooms on site.
– St Mary’s RC Wrexham: This project involves the site relocation and building of a 420 Primary with 60 nursery places.
– St Mary’s Brymbo: This project involves the site relocation and building of what is currently a 154 Primary with 22 nursery places.
– New VA School: If the initial two faith projects were to proceed, there is the possibility to re purpose the St Mary’s RC site. This could accommodate further faith provision in the town centre where demand is highest.
Currently the level of funding available is unknown, however the Strategic Outline Plan estimates that £36,660,000 would be required to carry out the preferred works.
This would include a requested contribution of £10,250,000 from Welsh Government and a match funded contribution of £10,250,000 from Wrexham Council. A further £13,736,000 requested Welsh Government contribution – Diocese and £2,424,000 Diocese contribution.
The programme will run between 2019-2024, with the current batch of Band A funding due to come to an end in 2019.
Addressing the meeting, lead member for eduction, Cllr Phil Wynn said: “It is my pleasure to introduce the report today on the 21st Centre School Programme for Band B aspirations, which we intend to deliver between the period 2019 and 2024. The band a scheme for school improvement works will be run up to 2019.
“I believe this to be a good news story for the people of Wrexham, particularly for pupils and young people studying in school fabric buildings which need to be improved. It will also deliver better working environments for teachers. Collectively it’s part of the drive to improve educational standards within our authority – it plays an important part.
“SOP Band B has already been submitted to the Welsh Government, we are seeking approval today and to approve the schedule of projects in Appendix Three.
“The background is Band A was worked up with the Welsh Government back in 2010 and came online in 2015. The good news stories it we have delivered new schools in Gwenfro and Hafod Y Wern and we are doing the same in Penycae, will be opening soon. There are plans to improve the school at Gweryllt CP.
“Because of efficiency of how we have procured the schemes, there were savings made and Welsh Government through consultation allowed us to spend on delivering schemes that would have been in Band B. That is removal of mobiles at Plas Coch, extensions at Alexandra CP, flexible learning zone at Ysgol Bryn Alyn and we’re looking to do works at Ysgol Morgan Llwyd.
He added: “The Band B pockets of work we have proposed are in the report, it is a £37m scheme and officers will be in dialogue with Welsh Government officers over the next month, so fairly soon we will understand how the other 21 authorities have bid and whether our aspirations are met and if the Welsh Government are prepared to put nearly £14m into our scheme of works.
“We’re looking to fund the works to the tune of £10m and there’s additional monies from the Diocese.”
Seconding the report, Cllr David A Bithell said: “I would like to thank the lead member for bringing this report today which sets out our aspirations for 21st century schools. The local authority has a good record of delivering schools and this is the next stage in the process.
“These are only proposals at this time. I am happy to second the recommendation and hope the Welsh Government will support our bid to improve our schools in the local area.”
This sentiment was echoed by fellow Executive Board member, Cllr Joan Lowe, who said: “I would like to add my support to the local member and the bid going forward.
“As a lot of you are aware I chair a governing body going through the first phase of 21st century schools. It is not completed yet and I can already see the benefits and it is really fantastic what I am seeing for the pupils of my village and the staff.
“We have got a good record and I think this is exciting for the schools.”
However further information on the proposed projects were requested by Cllr Dana Davies, who asked for further clarification on what is included in the proposed £36m spend.
Cllr Wynn said: “There are eight projects which are outlined that we want to fund through grant funding and the majority of schemes are site specific.
“There is only one school that we are looking to relocate in town centre and that’s St Mary’s. Anybody who knows the education provision was designed for 200 pupils and there are almost 400 on site. That has t be wrong, the children deserve better. If we can deliver a purpose built school for them, it has to be good news for Wrexham.
“Because of the traction of Wrexham to economic migrants who have moved into the town over the years there is pressure to provide faith education, as there is to provide Welsh provision to. That is what we are looking to deliver.”
The political hot potato that is the Groves site was also alluded to during the debate. As Wrexham.com reported earlier today the meeting was told by Council Leader Mark Pritchard that ‘questions were not allowed’ after Cllr Davies and Cllr Carrie Harper queried why the site hadn’t been included in the funding application. You can read our full report on the row over the Groves here!
Questions were also asked about the consultation process, with Cllr Harper asking if any had taken place with the community and the 40% of newly elected councillors.
Contact officer, Dafydd Ifans said: “The way we work through this is we have to put an outline programme to Welsh Government which needs to be approved by the Executive Board, but within that there are projects which require public consultation.
“That’s why in some cases we’ve had to be quite vague about things on where schools are going to be, how large they are going to be and what they are going to be for. For example the £10m around secondary education is there to fund a review on our secondary education, so at this stage it wouldn’t be appropriate to consult with the public about the programme.”
Cllr Harper continued onto ask: “Looking at page 199 and projects that could be brought forward for Band B – there’s talks there about St Mary’s and demand for faith based schools. We know a lot of that demand has come from EU migration so I’m just wondering to what extent Brexit has been taken into account with this document and how you think that might impact going forward on the demand.”
Mr Ifans said: “It is a difficult thing for us to quantify on numbers of requirements for faith education in town centre, we can only work on patterns we are seeing and at the moment we not seeing a drop off in demand in Catholic school.
“Many children are not able to have their first choice which is to be educated in a Catholic school and so are in our community primary schools in the surrounding area.
“What we are looking at is two issues with the school – it is already massively subscribed on a restricted site for that number of pupils and we’ve got the knock on impact of those people not able to a access that school in other town centre schools. Our view is the picture we are seeing is we can more than sustain that increase. There is in fact near enough that number of pupils in the school at the moment.”
Improvements to Welsh-medium school provision were also noted, with Cllr Gwenfair Jones asking if expanding Ysgol Morgan Llwyd is the only feasible option or if it was possible to build another Welsh medium secondary school.
Cllr Wynn said: “That will be in the mix as part of this review of surplus English provision and how we deliver additional capacity for Welsh-medium. We need to do that work and the officer has assured us that piece of work will be done early on in the cycle and we will move on in an informed position.”
Questions were also asked as to why provision for new schools in rural areas hadn’t been factored into the Strategic Outline Plan, with Cllr Derek Wright commenting on a large scale planning application submitted for Cefn and Acrefair.
He said: “It is really good news the information you have given us, but for me it’s settling in the town centre. There is a big development for the area I represent, which is Cefn and Acrefair, which went through outline planning last year for 250 houses. I can’t see anything in the report mentioning areas such as Cefn where schools will be urgently be needed.
“I did a survey before prior to the planning committee earlier this year and there were 25 school places in the four primary schools in our area. If you’re going to build 250 houses in one location and there are other locations in the area proposed housing is going into.
“Surely we must make for provision now, not make it when they’ve built the houses and there’s no places left anywhere in the area, unless you plan on bussing children our at primary level where there are places available. I think it’s a mistake that needs rectifying.
Mr Ifans explained that the issue is a “difficult one”, stating: “If we build schools before developments come on stream, we wouldn’t be able to go to developers and ask for their contribution to the infrastructure.
“At this stage we have looked at the demands where we have received Section 106 infrastructure fundings and that has been catered for. At the moment the developments you are talking about haven’t come to fruition and we haven’t received the additional funding.”
After a lengthy debate on the subject, the report was voted on by members of the Executive Board, who backed the proposals unanimously.