Argument over ‘inferior’ playground at Ruthin English school

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A headmaster at a school he said had an ‘inferior’ playground to the neighboring Welsh midfield had raised safety concerns with council leaders.

Rhos Street School and the Welsh language Ysgol Pen Barras in Ruthin are being built on the same site, but earlier this month a parent of middle English pupils complained that the play facilities were substandard.

It has now emerged that the then headmaster of Rhos Street School wrote to Denbighshire Council in 2018 saying its playing ground was ‘undoubtedly unsuitable for its purpose and potentially dangerous’. He warned that the confined space had led to injuries to children.

In the letter, former headmaster Bryn Jones criticized the space given to the Rhos Street School playground compared to neighboring Welsh Ysgol Pen Barras.

The letter emerged after a concerned parent made a freedom of information request.

Denbighshire Council said changes had been made to the playground since the letter was written, although parents have always expressed concerns about the current situation.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service reported earlier this month how some parents at Rhos Street School felt the playground was not as well stocked with play equipment and less space. There were also concerns about flooding.

Rhos Street School and Ysgol Pen Barras are built on the same site on Ffordd Glasdir, but the children are separated during recess. Costing around £11.2million, the two schools opened four years ago.

But since opening in 2018, some parents have consistently complained that the Welsh School has a better playing field, in terms of space, adequate drainage and a playground.

In his letter to a council officer, dated April 24, 2018, then-Chief Bryn Jones wrote: outdoor space reserved for both schools.

“Having seen the school in action for over a fortnight, it has become clear that the amount of outdoor space for Foundation Stage pupils here at Rhos Street pupils is insufficient and arguably inadequate.

“It would be helpful if you could come and observe the midday game, to see how the confined space we have for these students is restrictive and potentially dangerous, which has resulted in a number of minor injuries. I will raise this and discuss more away when we meet on Monday, but I wanted to bring it to your attention now, while I continue to monitor the situation.

He added: “I am very concerned that as our numbers increase as planned, we will be even more constrained by the amount of space that has been given to us, as the number of students accessing these areas restricted is becoming increasingly important.

“I am very frustrated that although the external plans for Pen Barras have been altered from those shared with us during consultation, to free up more space by moving their bat loft to what is supposed to be the shared yard area designated by the two schools, that we weren’t given the same opportunity to move ours and open up a significant amount of additional yard space, which would have alleviated some of the issues I’m pointing out now.

Dad Chris Calvert, 45, has a six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter who attend Rhos Street, but says the Welsh school is better equipped.

“As a father, this makes me extremely saddened and frustrated, not only for my own children, but for all the children of Rhos Street,” he said.

“The very fact that the headmaster pointed out that it was not fit for purpose even before the school opened speaks volumes. This has been going on since April 2018. This information would never have been provided had I not used the Freedom of Information Act to request the correspondence.

“Many other parents have expressed their frustration with the situation. It appears no one is being held responsible or accountable for this at Denbighshire County Council. It is clear that the children of Rhos Street have been and continue to be very disappointed.

NO MORE NEWS:

A spokesman for Denbighshire County Council said: ‘The new school building at Rhos Street School has gone through the same process as all other new school builds, which involves the involvement of the headmaster, the school and governors during the design and planning process.

“As is often the case with new builds, minor issues were reported by Rhos Street School and Ysgol Pen Barras following the move to new premises in April 2018.

“The board received representations from the Principal of Rhos Street School regarding the availability of outdoor spaces for pupils, some of which were areas that children could not play on, such as landscaped areas, which had been included in plans throughout the process.

“Following this, the council worked with the school to review options for extending the playground and developed the required designs for approval.

“Council has identified additional funding of £200,000 to enable the extension of the courtyard and work was completed in the summer of 2021.

“Minor issues with puddles in the yard have been identified and the council have been working with the school and the contractor to resolve these issues.

“The space per meter per pupil in the outdoor areas of Rhos Street School and Ysgol Pen Barras was very similar when the schools opened at around 10m² per pupil.

“The new courtyard at Rhos Street School has further increased the available space which is now higher than at Ysgol Pen Barras, which has more pupils, at around 13 m² per pupil.”

When the issue was previously reported, it was stated that some additional play equipment at Ysgol Pen Barras had been funded by its parent-teacher association. Core funding for primary schools is provided by local authorities and additional voluntary funding may cause concern, as wider social and economic circumstances may mean that some schools are better able to raise additional funds than others.

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