Officers have concluded that merging three primary schools in Pontardawe is a better option for pupils than repairing them individually.

Staff from Neath Port Talbot Council have produced a report which states closing Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg Primary schools and creating a new super school in the local area is the most cost-effective plan and will also provide the greatest benefits to pupils. 

According to the report, the new facility “will deliver the greatest benefits to pupils, staff and the wider community as a whole” but parents and members of the community have objected to the plans.  

The council is proposing to build a new primary school and swimming pool for more than 750 three to 11 year-olds by 2024. The development would be built on council-owned land at Parc Ynysderw, next to  Cwmtawe Community School  and Pontardawe Leisure Centre.

If the new school is approved, the three existing schools would close in August 2024. There is currently a total backlog in maintenance costs of over £2m for all three schools and a total of £1.2m for Pontardawe Swimming Pool.

The new school would cost around £22 million, hosting 630 full-time pupils and 140 part-time nursery pupils. The development would be jointly funded by the Welsh Government and borrowing.

There would also be a learning support centre for primary age pupils with autistic spectrum disorder and a 25-metre, six-lane swimming pool with an additional learner pool for pupils and the wider community.

Council officers have produced a report based on a consultation on the plans held between October 2020 and January 2021. More than 200 people responded to the consultation and over 400 people signed a petition against the plans.

The plans for the new school have not yet been approved. If the council decides to move ahead with the project, a proposal must be published with a 28-day window to receive onbjections in writing.

Objections to the plan included concerns that the new school would negatively impact the quality of pupils’ education, damage pupils’ social lives, weaken ties between parents and teachers, and exacerbate traffic in the area.

Other responses suggested it would be more cost-effective for the council to invest in improving the individual existing school sites rather than building an entirely new one.

Responding to the objections, the report by council officers states: “Maintaining the three schools at their present sites is not considered to be the best use of resources or facilities as that would lead to cost inefficiency and would mean that the potential benefits afforded by a new build would not be realised. 

“Increasing pupil numbers on one site by combining the three schools in a brand new purpose built facility would provide a far more effective use of public money, address surplus places and provide a ‘state of the art’ 21st Century teaching and learning environment delivering a positive impact on pupil outcomes.”

According to the report, the estimated cost of maintaining the existing schools does not take into account “improving or upgrading” the buildings nor the cost of placing the pupils in other buildings while the schools are being repaired.

The report states it is “highly unlikely” that the Welsh Government would support a “patch and mend” approach that favours repairing the existing schools.

In terms of the quality of education that would be delivered at the super school, the report states: “The proposed new school will build on and develop the progress made by the individual schools, and there is no reason to believe that standards would be negatively impacted by this proposal.

“This proposal offers the opportunity to deliver a stimulating teaching and learning environment in state of the art, 21st Century facilities that will impact positively on the self-esteem and well-being of pupils… With a new school comes more choices and improved opportunities because there is more space and better facilities.”

The report also states: “Delivery of education can be more effective in larger schools… Having a greater number of children of the same age group will provide more opportunities for socialisation, not less.

“Despite the size of the overall school it is likely that classes within the school will remain at or below 30 pupils, and there is no reason to expect that teachers and support staff will not know the pupils in their class as well as they do in any other school.”

According to the report by council officers, the new school would” impact on the employment of school staff” in that all staff would no longer be employed at their respective schools once they closed in August 2024. A new staffing structure will be set for the new school in line with its needs and budget. 

Before the new school opens, a temporary governing body would be formed to hire a headmaster. The post would be advertised nationally and once the headteacher is chosen, they would work with the governors to agree on the new staffing structure.

The report states: “The council will seek to ring fence the current staff of Alltwen, Godre’rgraig and Llangiwg primary schools (with the exception of the Head and Deputy roles) to the staffing structure of the new school, therefore giving them priority in relation to appointments, however this is a decision of the temporary governing body.”

Addressing traffic concerns, the report states the council will follow all health and safety protocols as it is legally required to do.

It also states the three existing schools “already contribute to the traffic in the area” and “there is no evidence to suggest that travelling a further distance to school will have a detrimental effect on attendance rates”.