Surplus places set to hit almost 4,000 in Caerphilly secondary schools
WITH surplus places predicted to rise to 4,000 by 2022, Caerphilly council is set to close three schools- with the first possibly going within three years.
Currently, 21.7 per cent of the places at its 13 English-medium comprehensives are unfilled, a figure predicted to jump to 29.5 per cent in the next ten years.
While it has not yet been decided which schools will close, the local authority has set a target of reducing surplus places below 15 per cent by January 2015- meaning there could be closures in the next two years.
At present there are 2,871 surplus places at its schools, with the council securing £60 million from the Welsh Government specifically to reduce these.
In a report that will go before cabinet tomorrow (Tuesday), assistant director of 21st Century Schools, Bleddyn Hopkins said the money will be used to reduce places by around 2,900, which is equivalent to three schools.
Currently, there are 1,424 surplus places in the former Islwyn, a figure predicted to rise to 1,958 by 2022.
Of the six schools in the area, Blackwood has just 29 surplus places, Cwmcarn 109, Newbridge 157 and Oakdale 166, while Risca has 454 and Pontllanfraith the most with 509.
While Pontllanfraith (550) and Risca (513) are still predicted to have the most by 2022, there would be 345 at Blackwood, 254 at Oakdale, 158 at Newbridge and 138 at Cwmcarn.
Mr Hopkins has proposed holding a members seminar in February to explain the position before data on the schools is shared ahead of specific proposals being considered by cabinet. After that a consultation process could begin followed by statutory processes.
While closures have long been rumoured, chairman of governors at Cwmcarn High School Gary Thomas said his school has had no dialogue at all with the council about it.
The school is temporarily based in Ebbw Vale following the discovery of asbestos at the site, but he said the situation is "quite positive" for Cwmcarn, which has one of the lowest levels of surplus places in the area.
Mr Thomas said: "There are a number of schools worse off than us in that regard. Considering our unprecedented situation, we’re looking quite healthy."
Risca West councillor David Rees said he believes some council members and officers already know what schools are earmarked for closure. He called for an open and transparent debate on the issue, with votes made councillors on it recorded.
He added that the criteria on which the decision will be made needs to be made clear, saying: "It should be based on performance, not anything else. People vote with their feet by sending their children to the best schools.
"Otherwise you may end up with a great building and not much else going for a school."
Cllr Rees called for a quick decision, saying the longer the uncertainty remains, the more damage it could potentially do to the area's top performing school at key stage three- Cwmcarn.