SIXTH form pupils in the north of Ceredigion could face 60 mile round trips to attend classes with no free transport laid on if a plan to close all sixth forms in the county and replace them with just one site in a bid to save cash goes ahead.
At a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, members agreed to move forward with a feasibility study to look at two options for the future of found sixth form provision in the county after a review found it is too expensive and “unsustainable.”
Councillors backed a study into the “most far-reaching” choice of centralising in one centre of excellence in the county.
Corporate Director responsible for education Barry Rees told the meeting that if one location is chosen following the study, it would be between Aberaeron and Lampeter, but also told the meeting that providing transport for pupils from other areas is “not statutory”, potentially leaving students from north of Aberystwyth left to fend for themselves getting to and from the centre on round trips of up to 60 miles
Mr Rees told the meeting: “It is common sense that if you have one location it will be a central location within Ceredigion.
“Not naming any sites, but we know where the centre of Ceredigion is, it’s on the span across from Aberaeron through to Lampeter and anywhere in between.
“If it was to be two sites, the study will look at one towards the north of the county and one to the south of the county.”
Ceulan a Maesmawr councillor Catrin MS Davies said: “I am concerned that is being seen that Penweddig and Penglais are in the north and Cardigan is in the south.
“There are many pupils north of Aberystwyth who travel 10 to 15 miles for school already.
“Poverty is a big problem so it does concern me when I hear it is not statutory to transport children. “For people in rural areas this would make things very difficult for them and would put up a barrier.
“There are also questions then about carbon footprint, and more children having to travel in cars.”
Cabinet member for Transport Keith Henson said the cost of transport and travelling for students “will be part of the study” and will be a “key” factor.
Members backed the launch of the feasibility study that will also look at an option that would see post 16 education continue at the six county schools but under a new strategic board, but also the option of moving all students to one site.
A report put before members said that any centre of excellence would be managed by other partners such as Hyfforddiant Ceredigion Training and Coleg Ceredigion, and be outside the control of Ceredigion County Council.
The report said that moving to that option would mean “without having to maintain a sixth form, schools would be free to spend all money delegated by the local authority for 11-16 education”.
“There would be a clear responsibility and opportunity to ensure greater fairness and equal opportunity for all learners in the county,” under that option, the report says, but acknowledges it would “destabilise Ceredigion’s current post-16 organisation” and “could create significant local opposition”.
“Staff and unions could see this option as one that would threaten job security and morale,” the report adds.
“That could create significant uncertainty in the schools.”
Having one ‘centre of excellence’ in the county would “also expand the offer and limit the numbers of non-viable classes,” the report adds.
Keeping the status quo is not feasible, the report outlines because “the current arrangements do not effectively address the significant financial challenges facing the authority and the schools, and schools will continue to rely on 11-16 funding to provide subsidies to maintain post-16 education”.
Cllr Wyn Thomas, Cabinet Member for Schools and Lifelong Learning, said: “The aim of this review is to look at ways to maintain and develop the exceptional standard of education offered to pupils in Ceredigion.
“In addition to this, provide opportunities for pupils to have access to a wide range of subjects, including vocational subjects, delivered by exceptional dedicated teachers.
“We want to ensure that our young people are able to take full advantage and achieve their true potential as they continue their post-16 studies.”