Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Case for the Beacons Learning Campus

Powys County Council have put out a document - it's available on their website - putting the case in favour of the re-organisation of secondary schools in Powys which involves closing Gwernyfed School and re-building Brecon High School.
It's 136 pages long, and full of graphs and tables. There's a bit of jargon - what on earth is an "Optimism Bias", for instance? It's something that has a price tag, anyway.
It breaks the case up into five parts: Strategic, Economic, Commercial, Financial and Management. So you can see the main thrust of the argument revolves around money. They are doing this in association with the Neath Port Talbot Group of Colleges - which used to be Coleg Powys. They would supply the teaching of courses between the ages of 16 and 19.
They also mention that they have been in contact with the Welsh Assembly about their plans since 2010, though the head of Gwernyfed only found out about it a couple of months ago. They want to have everything up and running by 2018.
Something that didn't quite make sense to me was the statement that "the Council will build on the expertise gained from its successful School Modernisation Programme to develop a proposal". I wonder what successful School Modernisation Programme that is, since all I've seen over the past few years is a grand scheme to close small village primary schools and concentrate the children in larger primary schools like Hay - and some of the small schools have indeed closed, but we're still waiting for a new school in Hay.

Some of what the document says is very interesting. Both Gwernyfed and Brecon have surplus places at the moment, and Powys County Council expects the number of young people in the county to fall further in the next few years. 33% of employment in Powys is in the areas of education, health and public administration, with about 70% being in small businesses, including agriculture. So they want to organise the local education system with this in mind, so that school pupils can go on to find local employment, including self-employment. They expect the total population of Powys to rise over the next few years, but mostly by inward migration of adults.
They also want to offer a wider selection of courses in Welsh, and can only do this, they say, by putting all the Welsh speakers together. In Builth Wells. Gwernyfed, at the moment, offers no Welsh medium teaching at all.
As far as the buildings are concerned, Brecon desperately needs to be rebuilt, and Gwernyfed is a mixture of modern buildings with reasonably good disabled access and a Victorian Grade II listed manor house, which is difficult to make accessible to wheelchair users.
They give various options for the future, including doing nothing and just maintaining the buildings they have, which they dismiss in favour of the new Learning Campus at Brecon. However, they do say that simply rebuilding Brecon High is a possible option.
They also mention the costs of travel to school, and say that in some cases the disadvantages of long journeys for the pupils might outweigh the advantages of a new school building and access to extra courses.

It also seems that they do not have planning permission yet, and they are a little doubtful about the political situation - if it changes at Welsh Government level, there may not be support for the new Campus. They also need a "successful" public consultation (in other words, one that goes the way they want it to). The document mentions public opposition to the plans, but doesn't say what they are going to do about it, apart from pressing ahead with their preferred plan.

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