The second largest education authority in Wales, created in 1996 from three districts of the former Mid Glamorgan county council.
Essentially it is four valleys with difficult transport links. Under Plaid Cymru control from 1999 until 2004 when Labour regained power. (Lab 57, Plaid Cymru 13, Ind 2, Unallocated 3)MPs: Ann Clwyd, Kim Howells, Chris Bryant (all Labour) PEOPLE
Population 231,600. Numbers have fallen steadily over last decade but rate of decline seems to be levelling off. Not a homogeneous community: some middle-class pockets along the M4 corridor but one in three lives in areas defined as the most deprived wards in Wales. Two in five have no qualifications. Nine out of ten born in Wales but only 9.5 per cent speak, read and write Welsh. Nearly 8 per cent of households led by a single parent.
Mining dominated but today most people work in light manufacturing and service sector. Unemployment: 6.1 per cent.
A total of 42,500 pupils attend six nursery, 128 primary (including 13 Welsh-medium and three bilingual), four special schools and 19 secondaries (including four Welsh-medium). The 21 per cent of secondary pupils qualifing for free school meals is the third highest in Wales. Half stay on at school at 16.
Results Share of pupils achieving five A*-C grades rising gradually but, at 47.4 per cent in 2004, still below Welsh average of 51 per cent. Most primaries and secondaries in Rhonnda Cynon Taf do better than schools elsewhere with similar shares of poor pupils and are improving as fast or faster.
Primaries record 92.5 per cent, slightly below Welsh average (93 per cent).
Secondaries have shown small annual improvements in recent years but still under 90 per cent and below all-Wales average. Only one permanent exclusion last year - lowest in Wales.
Education received pound;170m in 2003-04, which is 43.7 per cent of council's spending, higher than Welsh average. Proportion delegated to schools, 87.4 per cent, also above Welsh average (86.1). In 2003-4, primary funding per pupil was pound;2,400 (Wav pound;2,440) and secondary pound;3,180 (Wav Pounds 3,265).