The steering group for Schools for the Future is now working hard on a draft plan to put to the community. All through schools, flexible 6th forms, distance learning, community involvment and VA status are the elements we are working with. So what’s your view?
All Through schools
An 11-16 YDS, as in the Council proposal, would be uneconomically small and would not survive, but the Director for Children and Schools has stated publicly that merging YDS with at least two local primary schools would give economies of scale and reduce management costs and make the merged school financially sustainable (see News 2 or the website). The obvious potential primaries are the closest; Ysgol Bro Dewi and Solva. There are detailed questions on how that would work and how it would eliminate surplus places, but our research into such “all-through” schools looks very positive.
At the Schools for the Future community meeting at St Davids Rugby Club on March 26th there was unanimous support for the idea of an all-through school here, with people saying that it would not only save our secondary school, but that the primaries wouldn’t survive in the long term if the secondary were to go, so it was seen as good all round. The management team and governors of YDS support this approach. The heads and governors of the primaries, at the time of writing, have yet to make any public statement.
Flexible 6th forms
Post 16 funding, for A-levels or vocational courses, comes out of a different government pot from 3-16. So we have to think about it separately from the 3-16 school.
The proposal to centralise all A-levels at a new 6th Form Centre was an attempt to pool all the students and funding in one place and create viable class sizes – 12 or more – for as many A-level subjects as possible. Dedicated A-level teachers, easy movement between A-levels and vocational courses, and healthy competition between students would increase choice, reduce drop out rates, and raise standards. That’s the argument.
Although at one time there was a fear that somehow the College was getting control over all A-levels, the Council suggestion is to address that by creating an “A-level Committee”, made up predominantly of school heads and governors, which would make decisions about A-level provision within an agreed framework. But that framework is still very much open to debate.
The Council has shifted from the totally centralised model and is looking at ways to keep some A-levels in the schools – a hub and spoke model. So what subjects and where?
Currently the Council suggests that if a school can get at least 12 students for a given subject they can run it in the school. Since the 150+ sixth form of the combined STP/Tasker could do that for pretty much any subject there are clearly issues to be ironed out. But could it work for YDS?
- Rather than just look at what subjects a school 6th form could run based on numbers of students we might want to consider a more strategic approach. If we think of the four potential A-level providers (YDS, YBG, STP/TM, Pembrokeshire College) we might look at:
- which subjects to clump together to reduce travel time for students – sciences, languages, humanities, arts
- which subjects would best satisfy the business needs of the local economy – on the St Davids Peninsular we might want catering, business studies, agriculture…
- how to attract A-levels that would have a spin-off in terms of facilities for the tourism economy – art and music in a new school/public gallery/performance/cinema space?
- what each locale offers in education terms – here we have a natural environmental, geographical and biological classroom on our doorstep, the Cathedral…
- which A-level courses to co-locate with vocational courses to allow easy combination or movement between them – sciences and engineering maybe.
- And what about Welsh Baccalaureate, sport, and music staying in the schools because of the strong community roots of those subjects?
If we want to maintain the role of 6th forms in our schools, reduce travel times, and give students a choice of learning environments as well as subjects, and if we fear that a centralised 6th form would mean good teachers leaving the schools and so reduce the quality of pre 16 education, then our plan has to address the same issues in different ways. We also have to be sure that our concerns are well founded and our plan doesn’t create problems as well as solve them.
Digital and distance learning
We’ve looked before at how distance learning might make A-levels available to our students even if only a few of them wanted to take them. You remember Toby Houston-Sime who took an environmental studies online A-level while at YDS and it got him onto an environmental resources course at Uni. We know that the Donaldson Curriculum Review says strongly that digital skills need to be at the heart of education from 3-19, and we know that online skills
will be vital to the future economy of our rural community.
So how do we use them in our plan? Wi-fi enabled buses becoming mobile classrooms?
An online learning centre at the heart of our schools?
It’s a big subject with no detail at this stage, so it’s ripe for big ideas… the Donaldson review wants to see communities much more involved with their schools. How can we integrate our community, its expertise, and its businesses with the future of our schools? Do we want business units, community art facilities, music facilities in the school? How can we use school facilities outside of school hours, and in school holidays? Could they be let and the income help fund education? How can all this help address standards, choice, surplus places, sustainability and fairness?
The Church in Wales has offered to make YDS a VA school. In a VA/Voluntary Aided school the capital costs of running the school buildings switch from being the responsibility of the Local Authority to being split between the Church (15%) and Welsh Government (85%). The thinking is that this would reduce the cost of YDS to Pembrokeshire County Council, and would potentially attract new pupils from outside the catchment whose parents want them to have a Christian-based education.
The Church is absolutely clear that the school would be inclusive and welcome and take into account the different traditions and beliefs of all faiths. This would formalise a strong link between School and Cathedral that already exists. It would however mean that any future building projects related to the school would depend on the Church supplying or applying for Government funding. There would no longer be access to Council funding for school improvement.
YDS management and governors back this approach, but at the time of writing the details of the financial implications still need to be clarified, particularly whether the Church would have access to 21st Century funding currently allocated to the Council, and its future plans for investment in the fabric of the buildings which are already in need of over £3M to bring them up to scratch.
The community plan is underway
The Schools for the Future steering group is now working to develop these building blocks into an ambitious but realistic plan for 21st Century education on the St Davids Peninsula. We aim to have it ready to present at a community meeting at the Rugby Club on April 16th for your feedback. So now is the time to add your ideas.
Do get in touch using the contact form on this site, and we’ll see you on the 16th.
Diolch yn fawr!