SERIOUS concerns have been raised about multi-million pound plans to transform Flintshire’s school system.
A committee of councillors and co-opted members gave a scathing verdict on a report they received about Flintshire Council’s 21st Century Schools programme.
Members of Flintshire Council’s lifelong learning overview and scrutiny committee slammed the lack of detail about how a new sixth-form hub would be viable and how jobs would be protected.
Convervative councillor Nigel Steele-Mortimer said: “We’re making a big step into the dark with so many question marks at this stage.”
The controversial programme could see a new sixth-form hub built on Golftyn Lane, Connah’s Quay, with the closure of sixth form provision at Holywell High School, Connah’s Quay High School, John Summers High School in Queensferry and Elfed High School in Buckley.
Students at Elfed High would be encouraged to attend the sixth form at the Alun School in Mold.
The proposal aims to resolve the county’s problem of excess spaces
A consultation has also been carried out regarding the closure of a sixth-form partnership at Flint High School and St Richard Gwyn High School, Flint, the results of which will be discussed at Flintshire Council’s next cabinet meeting.
A consultation on sixth-form provision at St David’s High School, Saltney will also soon begin, as the school relies on a consortium with surrounding facilities, which will be affected by the proposed changes.
John Summers High School in Queensferry will also be replaced with a new school for children aged three to 16.
But Ewloe councillor David Mackie said: “I don’t think we’re going to get rid of any surplus places with this project.
“At John Summers High School we’re building a new school the same size as the one that’s already there. We’re going to have as many surplus places as we have got now.”
He added students from surrounding areas might not necessarily choose the sixth-form hub to be educated at.
“This is going to cost the ratepayer £70m. I just think, why?”
Funding for the scheme comes largely from a Welsh Government and Flintshire Council funding package of £64.2m.
A further £6.4m for the building of the new Ysgol Ty Ffynnon in Shotton, another strand of the school modernisation scheme, has been funded by a Welsh Government school building improvement grant and further Flintshire Council contributions.
Cllr Steele-Mortimer concurred with Cllr Mackie, adding: “Will Holywell go past Flint and go to the hub?
“People in Saltney may go over the border instead. I am not happy with this at the moment.”
Cllr Steele-Mortimer asked that figures were given to show how the school would be filled.
Concerns were raised by councillors that the new hub may rely on the ambitious Northern Gateway plan in Deeside, which is set to see thousands of jobs created and hundreds of homes built.
Progress has slowed recently due to techincal issues between the two developers involved in the plan.
Northop councillor Marion Bateman said: “If the new hub were dependent on the Northern Gateway, I would have thought it would be quite important for us to know that.”
Council officers said they were confident the hub would be filled, and added it was not reliant on students from schools in Flint or Saltney.
There was anger about the lack of details regarding teaching provisions at the hub, with members questioning whether jobs would be lost and whether staff would be given part time or full time roles.
Committee chairman Cllr Ian Roberts said: “Flint High School said they could have a net loss of 5.5 jobs and St Richard Gwyn could have the same.
“Surely they would be considering more part time jobs [at the hub].”
Director of lifelong learning Ian Budd said staffing plans had not been completed yet.
He added: “Staffing planning has to be done over the next two years.”
This was met with anger from many in the chamber, with Cllr Nancy Matthews saying: “You don’t just plan a building, you have to plan what is in it as well.”
Several councillors also reacted with dismay at the revelation that the first crop of sixth-formers to use the hub would spend their first year at their respective schools, before being transferred to the hub at year 13.
Cllr Roberts described this as “disruptive” and said “they may not want to do this”.
The committee called for a further report responding to the issues raised, with a response from the planning department on progress made with regards to the Northern Gateway project.
Further to the scrutiny meeting, the leader of Flintshire Council has hit back at criticism levelled by councillors Mackie and Steele-Mortimer with regard to the school modernisation programme.
Aaron Shotton said: “Cllrs Mackie and Steele Mortimer should remember that their administration proposed the closure of John Summers High School and Argoed High School prior to the local elections in 2012.
“This resulted in mass local protests on the steps of County Hall.
“I am proud that since the local elections, not only have we now secured the future viability of Argoed and John Summers High School, but in addition we will provide a new school complex to serve the communities of Deeside, on the existing John Summers site and a new school in Holywell.”