New investment strategy for Cardiff schools

  • 3rd July 2024

A new education investment strategy aimed at ensuring more young people will have opportunities to learn in high-quality school settings now and in the future has been published by Cardiff Council.

The strategy, which covers the nine years to 2033, provides a framework for future decision making and supports Cardiff’s Child Friendly City status which prioritises the rights and needs of children and young people, putting them at the heart of everything the council does.

And it builds on the work already carried out across the city as part of Cardiff’s Sustainable Communities for Learning programme, previously known as the 21st Century Schools Programme.

Over the past 10 years, more than £460m has been invested in completing construction of three new secondary schools, with two more underway; nine new primary schools; hundreds of additional specialist places for children and young people with complex Additional Learning Needs (ALN); and upgrading works to many other schools across the city.

Councillor Sarah Merry, Cardiff Council deputy leader and cabinet member for education, said: “The education investment which this administration has driven since 2014 has seen real progress made in Cardiff.

“We have always sought to do our best, within available budgets, to improve the environment for teaching and learning in the city, and this work, and this investment, has also played its part helping Cardiff leap up the education ranks in Wales to produce some of the best exam results in the country for A-Levels and GCSEs in recent years.

“Our investment has seen many new schools built and many others upgraded.

“Schools assessed as Category D for condition – buildings at end of life – have been replaced or replacements have been commissioned and are in the process of being delivered, and once the new builds for Willows High School and the new Cantonian High School are delivered, only one category D school will be remaining, which will be addressed in this strategy.”

However, she said ‘fresh challenges had emerged’, including a requirement for many more ALN spaces, and projected falls in pupil numbers across Cardiff.

“These are significant challenges, especially when set against cuts to local government budgets, and it means we now need to reset,” she added.

“The landscape has changed and if we are to continue the good work achieved to date then we need to be clear about how we will deal with these challenges.

“This new education investment strategy will help us chart a path through the next nine years, while keeping a steely focus on improving education settings and education opportunities for all our young people to ensure every child has the best-possible start in life.”

In a report to Cardiff Council’s cabinet committee in May, recommendations were made to approve the renewed vision which aims to deliver an ‘aspirational, equitable and sustainable’ way to invest in the Welsh capital’s schools.

The cabinet approved the following:

  • The Education Investment Strategy Caerdydd 2024-2033, which provides a framework for decision making across the education system
  • ‘Cardiff’s Sustainable Communities for Learning Rolling Programme 2024-2033’ to allow a business case to be formally submitted to Welsh Government for approval by the Minister
  • Note that individual proposals under ‘Cardiff’s Sustainable Communities for Learning Rolling Programme 2024-2033’ will be subject to appropriate business cases
  • Note that the Cathays High School project will no longer by delivered through the Mutual Investment Model, but will instead form a capital project in the rolling programme

This table shows the property condition classification of all Cardiff schools as at September 2023

The report also outlines several challenges the council will have to overcome to deliver the ambitious strategy, including:

  • Demographic changes – including falling birth rate numbers in the city, which could see primary schools lose around 20% of their pupils by 2029. As funding is based on pupil numbers this will put an enormous strain on school budgets, and this drop in numbers could also later affect secondary schools
  • ALN demand – this has outstripped supply of places over many years
  • National and local commitments and targets for expanding Welsh-medium school provision
  • The education estate – although Category D schools will have been replaced, there are still many schools in poor condition
  • Recruitment and retention challenges – including all levels of staffing
  • An increasing number of schools facing budget challenges
  • Inequality of provision – including access to Welsh medium education and post 16 education
  • The wellbeing and mental health of young people – which has deteriorated since the pandemic
  • Insufficient community use of school facilities across the education estate – with a clear need to place schools and school facilities at the centre of local communities

Cllr Merry said: “The report is clear that a range of options must now be considered to ensure any investment is prioritised to achieve the greatest benefits for learners and communities, ensuring there are appropriate, high-quality school places for young people delivered at the right time and in the right place to best serve our local communities.

“Future plans must address a range of challenges such as the demographic changes to birth rates that vary between pupil cohorts which could see primary schools lose 20% of their students over the next five years.

“The significant demand for Additional Learning Need provision has also increased and despite the great work carried out over the past 10 years, we can’t ignore the very real issues around parts of the education estate that is still in poor condition.

“Some form of consolidation will likely have to take place as we look to safeguard and improve.”

The Education Investment Strategy Caerdydd 2024 – 2033 has been developed with input from a range of stakeholders with children and young people involved in shaping the direction from the outset.

And it is the framework for decision making across the education system that underpins the Council’s new Sustainable Communities for Learning Rolling Programme, a large-scale capital investment programme jointly funded by the Welsh Government.

This will enable the council to build upon recent achievements and infrastructure improvements across Cardiff’s schools and inform the changing demands for the future.

The rolling programme will also set out the criteria by which individual proposals for investment will be measured and set against appropriate business cases.

Consideration will be given to affordability and appropriate use of funds in the immediate term that will deliver a more-sustainable pattern of provision for the future.

This will ensure that any investment will need to meet the principles outlined in Cardiff’s Sustainable Communities for Learning Programme to guarantee the best use of the council’s financial resources while balancing the competing needs across the city brought by the challenges Cardiff now faces.

Consideration for future investment would be given to the following:

  • Align with national and local priorities specific to improving education outcomes
  • Improve the condition of the estate
  • Reduce inequality across the city
  • Deliver an appropriate balance of specialist ALN provision
  • Targeted investment through asset renewal or new build to improve the condition of the estate
  • Ensure sustainable levels of surplus in the estate
  • Strong option appraisal process to underpin robust decision making
  • Maximise scope to ‘invest to save’ to reduce reliance on borrowing


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