Second round for wounded chief

HE HAS started the New Year with a broken hand but Chris Jones, Cardiff council's new chief schools and lifelong learning officer, is eager to be fighting fit.

Mr Jones sustained what doctors describe as a "boxer's break" while putting the Christmas decorations back in storage. Now he is bracing himself for his next big bout as consultation on the council's controversial plans for school reorganisation come to a conclusion.

Mr Jones, who will be in plaster for the next couple of weeks, is charged with finding a solution to the growing problem of surplus places. When the council announced plans to close 22 schools and amalgamate 10 others last year, there were 8,000 surplus school places in the city costing around pound;3 million each year.

However, the proposals met with a wall of opposition from schools, parents and communities alike. The original plans were blocked by opposition councillors, and a committee of teachers, unions, governors, parents and council members was formed last October to rethink tactics. The final report is due in April.

Mr Jones said: "The committee has sent us back a framework in which the problems can be tackled. Given the number of surplus places, there will inevitably be some closures, everyone knows that now."

He says the first plan was too complex. "There was too much, too soon. We found it difficult to handle all the opposition at once. Now the committee is asking us to look at an incremental approach."

Some fast-track proposals - the less controversial elements of the old plans - went before the council yesterday.

Mr Jones must also address the growing demand for Welsh-medium education in Cardiff. Four new starter classes will be up and running in September.

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