Torfaen’s Post-16 Proposals

‘The revised proposal will see Torfaen County Borough Council build a purpose built 6th form centre in Cwmbran which will open in September 2019 and cost £20,000,000. It will be run by Coleg Gwent on behalf of the council through a partnership agreement between the two organisations which will ensure the best possible scope and standard of provision for learners in the county borough.’

We feel the need to respond to Torfaen’s proposal, which would make us lose our wonderful sixth form, lead to job losses and economic instability for our school’s future, and have a detrimental effect on the education of our young people. We want to make students and parents more aware of the reality of the impact these proposals will have. Whilst it may seem to be a good idea to have a brand new facility, there are many troubling implications of Torfaen’s proposals.

Torfaen’s proposals are hugely costly – not only will the new building cost £20m, but the estimated cost of redundancies in the three schools affected would be around £1m. Torfaen want Coleg Gwent to run the college, because the Council wants no accountability for post 16 education. Management of post 16 will be taken from academically successful schools and given to a business. Coleg Gwent’s results are inferior to those of the sixth form schools (seen in the figures they were forced by Estyn to publish in the report on the consultation process).

Torfaen claims the proposals will ensure the best possible scope and standard of provision for learners. How? Coleg Gwent struggle to recruit high quality staff. Many of their staff are on zero hour contracts. Croesyceiliog and St Albans offer a good range of academic qualifications, and Coleg Gwent do not plan to divert students from Cross Keys for more specialist vocational courses. The Cwmbran college would not be a ‘one-stop shop’- they are unable to provide all of the courses in this one facility. They plan to ask students to go between campuses for different courses (Something not specified in the proposals).

Torfaen state the main driving forces behind the proposal are:

  • the need to improve retention and stay – on rates and learner outcomes

Retention rates from Coleg Gwent are lower than from Sixth forms in the county.

  • the need to transform post 16 education in line with Welsh Government’s vision

Welsh Government does not have a preference for colleges above sixth forms.

  • the need to replace 6th forms with a more efficient and sustainable delivery model

Sixth forms are efficient when they are part of a school which already has a strong department with several staff members, all with differing areas of subject specialism, who are already there to teach. In a college, you may need 2 Chemistry lecturers one year, then next you may only need 1. They can hire and fire at will and there’s no guarantee the students will have a strong department to lead them through their exams.

  • Linkages with other projects within the council’s 21st Century Schools Programme, most notably the provision of a new school for Croesyceiliog School.

They have decided to reduce Croesyceiliog’s capacity in their new build design, which doesn’t make sense due to increase population in the area, more new build housing estates, and it seems foolish to build Croesyceiliog’s new build design around a no-6th form structure. Why not redesign the school with 6th form provision? This is surely cheaper than a £20m new structure which is isolated for 6th form provision?

Torfaen’s main objectives are to improve the effectiveness and outcomes of service to all learners and improve learner experience and attractiveness to all learners. However, there is no proof that outcomes will improve at all. Also, feedback from students suggests they will not be improving learner experience. Learners will have to travel for longer, and further, to access post 16 education. They will be taught in large classes of 25-30 students in a large building where they will be anonymous. If the college experience is what students want, they can already choose to go to Pontypool, Cross Keys or Ebbw Vale. But many students want sixth form, and that choice is being taken away.

Torfaen treated the Consultation process as merely tipping their hat to democracy. The views were collated and published in the report, each with a vague response completely dismissing any concerns. In the board meeting agenda where the proposals were being considered, item 4 on the agenda was ‘which contractor will we appoint?’ It is clear that Torfaen want to railroad this proposal through, regardless of the concerns of staff, parents and learners. For example, in the Report on the Consultation the point was raised that the proposed closure of school provision will have a detrimental effect on the excellent school staff. Torfaen responded: ‘There is no evidence to suggest that the loss of a 6th form will have a detrimental effect on staff. ‘ Staff are already seeking jobs outside of Torfaen where they can teach in an 11-18 school. There is no reason for them to stay in Torfaen if all schools are 11-16. The college will not offer Teacher’s pay and conditions, so this is not an attractive proposition for staff to move to the college. A Zero-hour contract, limited payscale, no TLRs, different holidays, would make it a very uncertain position to be in. Torfaen are willingly turning a blind eye to these facts.

Students have expressed their concerns too. One student wrote ‘I am strongly opposed to St Alban’s Sixth Form being closed and replaced with a college because this is unnecessary as the St Alban’s grades are actually better than the grades in Coleg Gwent and it would hinder our education and could result in our grades dropping by a significant amount.’ Another student commented ‘I read online that the new sixth form is going to be built adjacent to Morrisons in Cwmbran. This is too far away for students who go to St Albans who live in Abergavenny.’ Students also felt strongly that the cost towards the new sixth form centre would be better spent improving our building at St Albans.

Another pertinent question raised was about  the transition arrangements for those students starting their year 12 studies in September 2018 in their current school 6th forms settings who will then be expected to study in a new building with potentially new teachers in year 13 from September 2019? No satisfactory answer was given. Can this proposal, which affects thriving sixth forms in strong communities, be seen a positive forward-thinking progress in education in our area? We appeal to parents to place an objection and send it to secondaryreview@torfaen.gov.uk and copy in Kirsty.Williams@assembly.wales. You can also sign our petition here.

Oxford Schools’ Debating Round

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We went to Cardiff Sixth Form College for our regional round of the Oxford Schools’ Debating Competition, which uses British Parliamentary style debating and all debates are impromptu. The motions are released and each team gets 15 minutes to prepare, without any electronic device or teacher assistance.

The first motion was ‘This house would make athletes represent their country of birth’, and we were the second proposition team. The second motion was ‘This house would filter social media sites for fake news stories’, and we were the first opposition team. It was a really interesting evening with students discussing current affairs and arguing about the balance between freedom of speech and protecting people from lies.

Well done to the team and thanks to the supporters who came!

Ski trip

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‘One of my highlights from skiing is definitely being with all my friends. It was great to have that support when you are on the top of an extremely cold mountain! The sights were breath-taking; you were on the ski lift just trying to take in the beautiful snowy surrounding. As I have never been before, it was a really good once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was really hard work but once you saw the difference it was definitely worth it.’ Lauren Grindlay