A new breed of school is born
Plans are afoot to scrap schools and introduce new-age learning centres in an area of Carmarthenshire, TES Cymru has learnt. If successful, the proposals could be rolled out nationally.
Officials want to transform five secondary schools in Dinefwr into three learning centres offering a mix of academic and vocational learning to complement the skills-led 14-19 learning pathways.
The local college, Coleg Sir Gar, would continue to exist under the plans, which are detailed in a consultation document obtained by TES Cymru. But, in a radical move, the title "school" could be dropped.
Vernon Morgan, director of education and children's services for Carmarthenshire, said Dinefwr had been chosen for the experiment because it represented a microcosm of the challenges facing Welsh society.
He said the plans had the backing of the five "brave" heads, and would mean greater choice for learners and more per-pupil funding.
But he acknowledged that it would be difficult to convince everyone - especially parents with emotional attachments to schools.
"This means great change, and no one likes that," he said. "But as schools stand, they simply aren't sustainable."
There might also be anxiety about job losses - not least among headteachers, as a joint steering committee is proposed.
Officials want to trial the learning centres as part of a wider tri-level reform, which aims to encourage greater collaboration between agencies.
Mr Morgan said social workers and other agencies would operate from the centres, if approved.
Teachers would be expected to travel to teach the new vocational courses, to cut pupils' travel costs.
The consultation document argues that falling rolls and lack of funds are making it difficult for some Dinefwr schools to operate. Only two of the five have sixth forms exceeding 150 pupils.
The average per-pupil funding ranges from pound;3,908 per pupil to pound;5,413. Learning centres would have more equitable funding.
Teachers' unions were generally positive, but called for more detail. Dr Phil Dixon, director of the ATL Cymru, said it would ease fears if the authority guaranteed teachers' jobs.
If approved, the plans could begin to be implemented by September 2010.