Secondary schools in Bridgend County Borough are to keep their sixth forms and increase their use of blended learning techniques for delivering academic improvement and greater educational opportunities.
At a meeting held earlier today (Tuesday 21 July), the Cabinet of Bridgend County Borough Council agreed to support the move by developing a county-wide strategy on blended learning which will draw upon schools’ experiences of providing lessons during the coronavirus pandemic as well as reflecting latest advice and guidance.
The decision marks the conclusion of an extensive process which began in 2017. More than 5,000 people – including pupils, students, staff, governors, parents, carers and guardians – took part in consultation over the latest phase of the process, and had their say on how post-16 education should be delivered in future.
Speaking at the meeting, the Leader, Cllr Huw David, said: “Our post-16 educational review has been a lengthy and thorough four-phase process which has taken three years to complete, and it’s been particularly great to see that so many young people have taken part in the most recent phase.
“We rely on such feedback to help inform our decisions, so it is especially good to know that during the most recent phase of this process, 85 per cent of participants responded positively towards the option for retaining sixth forms.
“When the review began, we urgently needed to look at post-16 education because while one or two sixth forms were operating at full capacity, all others were well below this figure.
“This was limiting the availability of resources and subjects, and forcing some students to travel between different schools in order to study their preferred options.
“We have always been interested in developing new options around online learning, and given how successful blended learning has been during the coronavirus pandemic, it is very clear that this can be developed and applied further to help us achieve our aims while retaining sixth forms and ultimately delivering the very best educational opportunities possible for local pupils and students.”
Cllr Charles Smith, Cabinet Member for Education and Regeneration, said: “Recent experience has visibly demonstrated the value and worth of blended learning, and I wholeheartedly support the development of a strategy which will seek to capitalise on this.
“As part of our decision, we want to explore closer partnership working and common timetabling between schools, and work with heads and governing bodies to develop a single online prospectus outlining the subjects, calendar, policies, processes and support that will be made available.
“As well as our main policy of retaining sixth forms, we will look at options such as developing a new sixth-form centre based at the Pencoed campus of Bridgend College in partnership with Pencoed Comprehensive.
“We will also look at expanding provision at Coleg Cymunedol y Dderwen to meet anticipated future demand, and considering whether a sixth-form centre of excellence could be established in the event that other sites become available in the future.
“I want to stress that longer-term options such as these would be in addition to keeping local sixth forms, and would only progress in agreement with stakeholders.
Blended learning remains at the core of this new approach, and with considerable efforts already in place to develop resources suitable for all types of learners, we want to reflect the overall experience of learning during the Covid-19 lockdown which has served to change attitudes across Wales.
“A great deal of work lies ahead of us, but I am confident that we can deliver our aims for the benefit of local learners.
“None of this can be achieved in isolation, of course, so the council will also seek to work alongside partners such as Welsh Government, Hwb, the Central South Consortium, Bridgend College and more.
“We have reached an important milestone, and I would like to thank everyone who has taken part in the consultation around these plans, and who has helped shape these bold and creative proposals.”
Reacting to the decision, Mr Andrew Slade, head teacher of Porthcawl Comprehensive School, said: “Secondary school heads are looking forward to closer collaboration and partnership working to meet the aspirations and needs of the learners and communities that we serve.
“We feel that this outcome will provide a broad and balanced curricular offer for post 16 learners, and ensures equality of opportunity across the county borough.”