Reduction in number of schools in Swansea due to declining birthrate and high costs sparks concerns over education and resources.
A REDUCTION in the number of schools could be on the cards in Swansea due to a declining birthrate and high maintenance and home to school transport costs.
As of January this year there were 2,869 year six pupils in the county but only 2,309 nursery pupils, a council report said.
It added that home to school transport costs were “unsustainable” and that some schools spent a lot maintaining their buildings and on energy bills, which meant less money on pupils’ education.
Swansea has 93 schools – 77 primaries, 14 secondaries and two special schools. Ten of the primaries are Welsh language ones and five of them are faith schools. Two of the 14 secondaries are Welsh language and one is a faith school. Demand for Welsh language education and, in some areas, faith schools is increasing.
The council is developing a 10-year “right schools in right places” plan to respond to these shifting trends. Speaking at an education and skills service transformation committee meeting, Cllr Robert Smith, cabinet member for education, said it was a long-term “horizon-scanning exercise” rather than anything short term. “It’s not an immediate plan to change our school structure,” he said.
Cllr Smith said the plan, which will be submitted to cabinet in due course, aimed to come up with a “reasonable” range in terms of school numbers, plus how they might share resources and be used by the community. Helen Morgan-Rees, director of education, said the authority was keen to be open and transparent.
There was no direct mention of a reduction in school numbers but the report said there were several reasons “why the status quo cannot remain”.
Swansea has 36,291 primary and secondary school pupils but also 3,460 surplus places, which the report said had associated costs for schools.
School buildings themselves are rated category A, B, C or D for their condition, with none currently in the worst D category. Category C schools are being targeted by a programme of joint Welsh Government and council capital funding.
Schools are also marked A to G on their energy rating, with A the most energy-efficient and G the least. Most of Swansea’s are rated C, D and E.
The report said this year’s £8 million home to school transport budget – funded by the council’s education department rather than schools themselves – could overshoot by £3 million due to higher contract and fuel costs. Kelly Small, the council’s interim head of education planning, said: “Home to school (transport) is a real issue for us.”
Councillors on the committee asked when a review of school catchment areas was last done and how demographic changes were assessed.
Cllr Lyndon Jones said older pupils in his Bishopston ward had to be transported by bus to sixth forms “all over the place” because Bishopston Comprehensive School didn’t have one. He felt this was “slapping” the council’s declaration of a climate emergency in the face.
Miss Small said seven of Swansea’s 14 secondaries had sixth forms and that sixth forms were funded by the Welsh Government in a different way to non-sixth form education. “It’s not really within our gift to create a sixth form ourselves,” she said. Cllr Jones said he felt it was something the Welsh Government and the council needed to examine.
The committee also heard that the falling birthrate had been offset in part by inward migration, and that some new schools were planned at large house-building sites – mainly in the north-west of the county. However, these schools would only materialise when a certain number of new houses on each site had been completed. Miss Morgan-Rees said: “There are some risks – new houses don’t always mean new children.”
Schools are receiving £189 million in 2023-24 to pay staff and maintain their buildings. The council’s education department, meanwhile, will get just under £25 million.
The council is separately drawing up a draft bid for Welsh Government cash to upgrade schools and build new ones, which will be submitted to ministers by the end of 2023-24. Available to all councils, this sustainable communities for learning programme – as it is known – will run until 2033.
After the meeting, a council spokesman said rising home to school transport costs were being felt by other local authorities. “We are working closely with operators to manage these rising costs and exploring other measures to keep costs under control,” he said.
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