MODERNISING EDUCATION PROGRAMME
1.1 County Council approved an updated Modernising Education Programme (MEP) on the 8th December 2010 following a comprehensive review of the programme in preparation for the new national 21st Century Schools Programme being introduced by the Welsh Government.
1.2 In approving the programme the County Council also resolved that it “be reviewed and revised in the future every two years or otherwise as required to ensure consistency with the timeframe of the national 21st Century Schools Programme”. Furthermore, it has been a central feature of the MEP since its inception that it needs to retain flexibility at its core to ensure that the programme remains current and responsive to changes in the education policy framework and the needs of constantly developing society and communities.
1.3 The Welsh Government has continued to develop and change its approach to the national programme since initial bids were submitted late in 2010. Reports have been submitted to the County Council, the Executive Board and Education & Children Scrutiny Committee since that time as announcements have been made by the Welsh Ministers to keep members advised of the changing picture and implications for the Council’s own Modernising Education Programme.
1.4 This report provides a further update and an opportunity for the Committee to review the MEP in line with the Council’s decision to do this every two years.
2. Progress to Date in the Delivery of the MEP
2.1 The MEP is by now well-established and widely acknowledged for its strategic vision and direction and the considerable progress that has been achieved to date. By the end of the 2012/2013 financial year the following successes have been delivered:
● £142 million (approximately) of investment in the modernisation of school premises;
● new secondary school premises for Queen Elizabeth High School;
● new primary school premises for Ysgol Y Bedol, Ysgol Bro Brynach, Ysgol Y Bryn, Ysgol Bryn Teg, Ysgol Brynsierfel and Ysgol Peniel;
● major refurbishment and extension projects completed at Johnstown School, Model School, Ysgol Brynsaron, Ysgol Llannon, Ysgol Nantgaredig, Ysgol Maes Y Morfa, Ysgol Y Felin, Halfway, Swiss Valley School, Tycroes and Ysgol Y Dderwen;
● integrated children’s centres at Llwynhendy and within Ysgol Maes Y Morfa and Ysgol Y Felin in Communities First Wards;
● accommodation extensions and improvements at 13 other primary schools;
● initial accommodation improvements at 10 secondary schools to address urgent needs;
● the removal of 2114 surplus places (1562 primary and 552 secondary) through the proactive reconfiguration of provision.
● Completion of statutory procedures for the transformation of secondary education in the Dinefwr region and the commencement of a programme of £69 million of investment in the modernisation of school premises.
● Completion of statutory procedures for the expansion of Ysgol Ffwrnes and the commencement of construction of the new £14.2 million premises for the school.
● Completion of statutory procedures for the incorporation of the present Burry Port Infants and Junior Schools into a new primary school.
3. National 21st Century Schools Programme
3.1 Preparations for the new national 21st Century Schools Programme commenced in 2010 through an invitation by the Welsh Government to local authorities to submit strategic outline plans for the modernisation of their whole schools estates by the 10th December 2010.
3.2 Carmarthenshire County Council formally approved its programme at its meeting on the 8th December 2010 and submitted it to the Welsh Government by the due date.
3.3 As well as presenting an overall programme for the modernisation of the whole schools estate the WG required that individual school improvement projects be placed within four bands for investment, in order of priority according to most urgent need.
3.4 WAG set out three key aims for the national programme:
● 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 the better use of resources to improve the efficiency of the education estate, and which enhances local service provision.
● A 21st century schools standard for all schools in Wales, which reduces recurrent costs, energy consumption and carbon emissions.
3.5 In July 2011 the Minister for Education and Skills made a written statement to the National Assembly for Wales regarding the 21st Century Schools Programme, confirming the Welsh Government’s intentions for progressing the programme in the light of bids received from local authorities. The principal developments were:
● Welsh Government to provide grant support at a rate of 50% of the cost of investment, with the other 50% to be contributed by the local authority.
● Welsh Government confirmed that for band A of the programme it would support only remodelling and reconstruction type projects. Projects involving principally the refurbishment of existing premises would not be supported at Band A.
● The Band A programme will span 6 financial years, commencing in April 2014.
● Local authorities were asked to review their programmes against prioritisation criteria set by the Welsh Government and according to affordability.
● Welsh Government required local authorities to prioritise projects for investment that tackle the greatest resource inefficiencies in the schools estate in terms of addressing:
- poorest condition;
- surplus capacity.
4. Development of the MEP in the Light of the National 21st Century Schools Programme
4.1 Regular progress reports are presented to the Executive Board and Education and Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee. An Annual Report is presented each year to confirm the programme for the financial year and to mark the progress achieved in the previous year. The Annual Report is used to confirm any significant changes that become necessary to the programme to reflect changing needs within the schools sector. Quarterly progress reports are presented to the Executive Board and Scrutiny Committee to keep members advised on the status of the programme and its constituent projects. All members have the opportunity to receive information or raise questions on the MEP at meetings of the County Council as the minutes of the Executive Board and Scrutiny Committee are presented for consideration. Furthermore, progress reports on the corporate capital programme presented by the Director of Resources also chart the progress of the MEP investment plan.
4.2 On the 11th January 2012 County Council approved an updated Band A programme, reflecting the revised guidance issued by the WG and changing pressures for investment in the local schools network.
4.3 The MEP Annual Report 2011/2012, presented in July 2012, provided another update on the status of the emerging national 21st Century Schools Programme and changing circumstances within the Council’s Band A programme, proposing an amended investment plan, whilst not significantly altering the programme. The revised plan was approved by the Executive Board on the 30th July 2012. The minutes of this Executive Board meeting were considered by the County Council on the 12th September 2012. Council was advised that a report on the biennial review of the MEP, including the criteria applied for prioritisation, would be presented in early 2013.
5. Criteria for Investment and Prioritisation
5.1 Every school in Carmarthenshire has been evaluated against a set of evidence based criteria, which allow an assessment of the school’s operational viability to be made and decisions taken on the relative investment need at all schools. This allows the Authority to objectively determine a programme for the strategic review of the schools network and investment in the modernisation of the schools estate in a manner that is transparent and demonstrably fair.
5.2 Criteria were developed locally, through consultation with representative head teachers, and agreed as appropriate indicators of viability and investment need. They were formally adopted in 2008 and have directed the structure of the MEP since that time.
5.3 The criteria for assessing the viability of a school are:
● Pupil Numbers: the number of pupils attending the school, with the least numbers of pupils being a key indicator for review.
● Pupil Numbers Trends: the pattern of pupil numbers at the school over previous years, with a declining roll being a key indicator for review.
● Pupil Numbers Forecasts: an assessment of estimated pupil numbers expected to attend the school from within the designated catchment area and age range over the coming five years, with a forecast decline or increase being a key indicator for review.
● Spare Places: the number of empty places at the school and the prognosis for the future, informed by the factors above, with more than 25% of places unfilled being a key indicator for review.
● Financial Viability: the present and predicted financial position of the school under the Local Management of Schools (LMS) funding regime.
● School Buildings Condition: the state of the school’s physical assets and the cost of bringing their condition up to an acceptable standard.
● School Premises Suitability: the appropriateness of the school’s buildings and campus to support the effective delivery of the modern curriculum (e.g. the Foundation Phase).
● School Performance: taking into account key measures of performance as assessed through Estyn inspections and the Regional Support and Challenge Framework. A school being placed under special measures will trigger an immediate review.
5.4 Each school is been placed in one of seven categories, along a continuum of viability, to confirm the prognosis for that school looking forward:
● retain the school - investment to modernise the school’s facilities is complete (or is in progress or is committed);
● retain the school and invest to provide new premises;
● retain the school and invest to modernise the school’s existing buildings and facilities (this may involve some element of expansion of the facilities) ;
● create a new primary school to replace existing separate junior and infants schools – invest to provide new premises or to modernise existing premises as appropriate to local circumstances;
● continue to maintain the school subject to pupil numbers not declining significantly from their present levels and the school remaining viable – invest to modernise the school’s existing premises where appropriate;
● review the future provision of education in the area served by the present school in the context of a possible strategic reconfiguration across a wider area to promote the more sustainable delivery of education for the long term – invest to deliver the chosen solution;
● review the future provision of education in the area served by the current school, which is not considered to be viable in its present form.
5.5 A copy of a summary of the viability assessment is attached at Appendix 1. This forms the basis for the identification of modernisation projects and rationalisation proposals within the overall programme.
5.6 The prioritisation of projects, arising out of the viability assessment, for investment has been undertaken against the following criteria:
● Need: investment will be prioritised towards those locations where the provision of additional space or the refurbishment of existing space is essential in order to accommodate pupils generated by the rationalisation of other schools or where demand for places is increasing naturally through demographic change, provided in the latter case that schools are complying with the Council’s Admissions Policy.
● Pupil Numbers: investment will be prioritised towards those schools that have sufficient, increasing or stable pupil numbers or those schools that are deemed by the Authority to be necessary for the effective long-term delivery of education services.
● Spare Places: investment will be prioritised towards those schools where, in tandem with rationalisation proposals, it will facilitate the greatest reduction in the number of surplus school places.
● School Buildings Condition: investment will be prioritised towards those locations where it will be possible to achieve the greatest progress towards securing objectives for high quality premises for the most significant numbers of pupils.
● School Premises Suitability: investment will be prioritised towards those locations where improvements are required to address the appropriateness of the school’s buildings and campus to support the effective delivery of the modern curriculum (e.g. class sizes, the Foundation Phase, etc) and their use as facilities for the wider community.
● Collaboration Opportunities: investment may be prioritised to specific locations should opportunities for additional funding arise or where opportunities for integrated school based solutions to be delivered through collaborative working with other agencies active in the provision of schools or related services arise, e.g. the diocesan authorities, community interests, 14 to 19 Learning pathways, Tri-Level Reform, etc, where this would add value and quality to the objectives enshrined within MEP.
● Catastrophic Building Loss or Damage: the loss of or major damage to significant parts of a school’s facilities as a consequence of extreme events, such as, weather or attack.
21st Century Schools Programme Investment Guidance
5.7 In its initial guidance on the 21st Century Schools Programme, published in 2010, the Welsh Government set out its own framework of criteria to inform the development of school modernisation programmes at local authority level. These criteria were based upon the following considerations:
● building condition;
● suitability of facilities;
● site issues;
● site/land availability;
● number of users who benefit;
● community use;
● sustainable development;
● quality of options appraisal;
● innovation/exemplar project;
● skills and capacity to implement;
● statutory approvals.
5.8 In its revised guidance of 2011 for the review of local authority submissions the Welsh Government removed the need for projects to be assessed against the above criteria, declaring instead that it would only financially support projects involving the remodelling and reconstruction of schools (i.e. not including predominantly refurbishment projects) that addressed the greatest resource inefficiencies in the schools estate in terms of:
n poorest condition;
n surplus capacity.
5.9 It is evident that the suite of assessment criteria developed in-house in 2008 is more comprehensive than that offered by the Welsh Government but includes all the factors identified by the Welsh government as important. Given that the Welsh Government has narrowed its focus upon issues of resource efficiency, especially condition and surplus places, it can be concluded that the assessment framework developed internally by the County Council continues to offer a relevant and comprehensive model to assess the viability of schools and priorities for investment.
5.10 In addition to the foregoing evidence based criteria the evaluation framework also included the following additional factors, designed to allow the programme to be able to respond to certain “extraordinary” developments that could arise from time to time:
● Leadership and Capacity: the capacity or sustainability of leadership in a school, for example, the departure of a school’s Head Teacher.
● Catastrophic Building Loss or Damage: the loss of major damage to significant parts of a school’s facilities as a consequence of extreme events, such as, weather or attack.
● Area Factors: should a number of schools within an “area” or “locality” be facing pressures an assessment will be made of whether it may be more effective to address the wider challenges within one integrated exercise.
● Collaboration Opportunities: should opportunities arise, through factors not entirely within the control of the local authority, for collaborative working with other agencies active in the provision of schools or related services, e.g. the diocesan authorities.
● Funding Opportunities: should unforeseen opportunities arise for funding to be secured for progress at a particular location but for which a change in the pattern of provision would be required.
Revised Investment Prioritisation Criteria
5.11 The opportunity afforded by this biennial review has been taken to recast the criteria as follows:
● Strategic Need: Access to Education: investment will be prioritised towards improving the sufficiency of the schools estate, at locations where the provision of additional space or the refurbishment of existing space is essential in order to accommodate pupil needs generated by the rationalisation of other schools or where demand for places is increasing naturally through demographic change or linguistic preference, provided that schools are complying with the County Council’s Admissions Policy.
● Improving Educational Outcomes: investment will be prioritised towards projects where infrastructure improvements or developments are critical to creating opportunities for improvement in educational outcomes, e.g. to facilitate the rationalisation of provision to create viable and sustainable schools.
● Efficiency: investment will be prioritised towards projects that enhance the overall resource efficiency of the schools estate, especially projects that achieve the greatest reduction in the number of surplus places.
● Welsh Language Development: investment will be prioritised towards projects that promote the development of bilingual education or the expansion of Welsh medium education, in support of the objectives set out in the County Council’s Welsh in Education Strategic Plan.
● Infrastructure: investment will be prioritised to projects that can secure the greatest progress towards the objective of having high quality premises for the greatest number of learners, addressing deficiencies in the suitability of school premises, supporting the effective delivery of the curriculum, resolving concerns regarding premises condition and eliminating health and safety risks.
● Opportunity: investment will be prioritised to maximise opportunities to attract additional funding; to take advantage of school leadership changes where this is consistent with the vision of the MEP; to promote collaborative working, including the co-location of services on school sites where appropriate; to promote the effective operation of community focused schools, or to deal with any extraordinary circumstances that may arise, e.g. the catastrophic loss or damage of school premises.
● Financial Viability: investment will be prioritised towards projects that promote the financial viability of schools in line with local management of schools (LMS) funding regime.
5.12 These amended criteria maintain the focus and application of the principles that have served the MEP well for a number of years whilst maintaining consistency of approach and aligning priorities with up to date investment objectives at national and local level.
5.13 A complete review of investment needs and priorities has been undertaken in line with the criteria.
5.14 The outcome of this review is presented in Appendix 2, which shows every investment project remaining within the MEP, grouped into 4 Bands, so that it continues to align with the expectations of the national 21st Century Schools Programme.
5.15 The outcome of the review is that the investment plan, including the prioritisation of projects within Band A, remains consistent with the established plan, with one significant exception, this being a pressing need to bring forward investment in new premises for Ysgol Parc y Tywyn.
5.16 Under the reassessment of project prioritisation the need to invest at Ysgol Parc y Tywyn has emerged as a pressing priority if the County Council is to be able to accomplish its policy objectives, especially in providing access to Welsh medium education in response to expressions of parental preference.
5.17 Ysgol Parc y Tywyn has been subject to increasing pressures over recent years. These pressures have intensified as time has gone by and the situation at the school now warrants priority attention. The following factors are significant:
● Pupil numbers at the school have doubled in the past 10 years, from 133 in 2002 to 266 in 2012.
● Pupil numbers are predicted to increase even further in future years.
● Around 70% of the pupil places at the school are now housed in temporary accommodation. It remains a central objective of the MEP to eliminate the use of temporary accommodation from the schools estate.
● The present school site is restricted in size with very limited play space for pupils. It is not feasible under present conditions to cost effectively add further temporary accommodation.
● A number of the temporary accommodation units do not provide direct access to toilets. Children are required to move between buildings to use sanitary facilities. This is not conducive to welfare and safeguarding objectives and disrupts the operation of the school.
● The community of Burry Port has grown considerably over recent years and further residential development is planned within the community. Pressure for school places is, therefore, set to increase in future years.
● Almost all children now attending the school reside within its designated catchment area, confirming the school’s contribution to the Council’s objective that schools should wherever possible serve their local community.
5.18 Officers have maintained a close dialogue with officials at the Welsh Government in connection with the construction of the programme and in particular the level of flexibility available to amend the programme to meet changing demands. WG officials have confirmed that it is possible to amend the projects within the Band A programme within the overall allocated funding envelope of £86.7 million. If the high priority improvement at Ysgol Parc y Tywyn is to be accommodated within the Band A programme the remainder of the programme will need to be adapted to contain overall expenditure within the £86.7 million limit.
5.19 This can be achieved by means of reconfiguring the programme as shown in Appendix 3. This approach will allow the County Council to maintain consistency and objectivity in effectively meeting its policy and investment objectives.
5.20 The Table presented in Appendix 3 compares the programme previously approved in 2011 with the proposals of the present review and takes account of a number of variations introduced by the Welsh Government in recent months (see Section 6 below), especially the decision of the Welsh Government to accelerate the completion of the Band A programme from 2020 to 2019.
5.21 Within the new 2013 proposed programme:
● 6 projects will commence the construction phase earlier than previously planned;
● 3 projects will commence construction as previously planned;
● 2 projects will commence construction one year later than previously planned;
● 1 priority project will be commenced and completed earlier that previously planned;
● the commencement of 1 project will need to be held until further funding is confirmed;
● 4 projects will be completed earlier that previously planned;
● 6 projects will be completed as previously planned;
● 1 project will be completed one year later than previously planned.
5.22 The order for the delivery of projects reflects the outcome of the strategic re-assessment and has regard to the practicalities of delivery, e.g. the need for statutory procedures, the availability of land for development, etc, and the expected limitations on cash flow for expenditure, both from the corporate capital programme and Welsh Government grant streams.
5.23 It is important to emphasise that given the complex nature of the investment programme it is inevitable that the detail of the programme, which is cast over a 6 year timeframe, will change as it is impossible to predict that far in advance with any certainty. Furthermore, the delivery of the programme is dependent upon factors outside the control of the County Council, e.g. Welsh Government policy priorities and funding streams, etc. As noted previously, the investment plan is refreshed annually through the confirmation of the corporate capital programme and the presentation of the MEP Annual Report. Detailed biennial reviews of the programme will also continue to be presented in line with Council policy, allowing the County Council to ensure that its plan effectively reflects the constantly changing educational needs of society.
6. Recent Government Announcements Regarding the 21st Century Schools Programme
Band A Programme Timeline
6.1 On the 27th November 2012 the Minister for Finance and Minister for Education and Skills wrote jointly to the Leader of the WLGA advising that the Welsh Government is to extend the Local Government Borrowing Initiative to the 21st Century Schools Programme, allowing WG to bring forward approximately £200 million to fund its share of the investment. This will make it possible to deliver the programme by 2018/2019, a year sooner than initially planned.
6.2 The Welsh Government emphasised that this announcement is part of its existing funding commitment and does not provide additional resources.
6.3 The funding will be distributed to local authorities on a pro-rata basis, according to their funding envelope for their individual 21st century schools programmes, through the Revenue Support Grant, beginning in 2014/2015.
6.4 Local authorities were asked to re-profile their investment to the period 2014/2015 to 2018/2019. Whilst the announcement that WG has identified a mechanism to bring forward an element of its own contribution to the 21st Century School Programme this has significant consequences for the County Council’s match funding contribution and capital cash flow position.
6.5 WG also advised separately that it is able to release some funding in 2013/2014 and some local authorities will be allocated funds in that year to allow a priority project to proceed. We have benefited from this provision in Carmarthenshire as it is now possible to commence the project to extend and modernise part of the premises at Ysgol y Strade almost a year earlier that originally thought possible. Ysgol Y Strade has been selected as the priority project as it is in urgent need of additional space to accommodate increasing numbers of pupils in the Llanelli area seeking a Welsh medium secondary education (the school has been over-subscribed for the past couple of years and it has become necessary to provide a number of temporary classrooms to allow the school to cope with the demand) and planning permission for the development is in place. It is expected that construction work will commence on site early in the school summer holiday in 2013.
Schools ICT Infrastructure
6.6 On the 14th January 2013 the First Minister announced a new £39 million Learning in Digital Wales Grant to improve broadband connectivity and access to ICT for all schools across Wales. Increases to band width at schools will be delivered through the Public Sector Broadband Wales (PSBA) programme. £18.2 million is being allocated to local authorities, on the basis of £20,000 per secondary and £10,000 per primary and special school and pupil referral unit, to upgrade school ICT infrastructure. Carmarthenshire’s share of this fund is £1.38 million. Funding is set to be released between April 2013 and June 2014. This is a welcomed investment, which will assist greatly in improving access to digital learning.
The Education & Children Scrutiny Committee endorses the updated Modernising Education Programme (MEP) and 21st Century Schools Band A Programme.