A REPORT into the merger of two Powys secondary schools has identified “significant gaps, weaknesses or non-compliance” with how proposals for the new dual stream super school were implemented.

Powys County Council’s cabinet announced in February 2017 it was closing the high schools in Builth Wells and Llandrindod Wells – opting instead to establish a new dual stream 11-18 secondary school.

Ysgol Calon Cymru opened its doors on September 1, 2018, operating across both former campuses, with revamped uniforms and a single headteacher.

But a report released by auditors last week raised concerns over a lack of clarity and understanding of the whole concept, a reliance on the interim governing body to deliver proposals, continuing and growing financial losses and the significant impact on pupils’ learning.

Extracts from the report, undertaken by SWAP Internal Audit Services and released on January 14, said: “The responsibility for making decisions about the running of the school was primarily left to the governing body.

“There was not enough analysis during the proposal to fully consider the impact and implementation of the changes. This left the school with limited direction on how to implement the merger.

“This has an impact due to the lack of clarity and understanding of the whole concept.”

The report also revealed that the school’s current shortfall is set to worsen in the coming years.

“Ysgol Calon Cymru had a £173,451 deficit at the end of 2020/21,” said the report. “It is projected that this deficit will rapidly rise to just under £1.3 million by March 2024.

“The fluctuation of the projected budget deficits from one year to the next highlights the lack of clarity regarding the costs of running a dual-stream secondary school operating across two sites.”

There were also concerns regarding the final decision the council arrived at – an option that even the local authority were against back in 2017, but went ahead with anyway.

Of seven original options, establishing a dual-stream category 2B/C secondary school in Builth was the council’s preferred choice, but it instead chose option two – the dual-stream school – because a further feasibility study work was required.

“As an interim measure the council switched to an option that was rejected as part of the initial analysis because it did not meet the objectives,” continued the report.

“There was limited information provided to members on how the dual-stream interim arrangement would be delivered and the potential impact it would have on the learners of those schools.”

James Gibson-Watt, leader of the opposition on Powys County Council and Welsh Liberal Democrat group leader, said the report made for “sorry reading”.

“At the time the merger was proposed I and my council group warned the then-cabinet not to do it, believing it would be divisive, financially unsustainable and potentially damaging to pupils’ learning,” he said.

“Our warnings have been vindicated by this report. The cabinet was warned about the dangers of this merger and ignored those warnings. It is particularly galling that having taken the decision to merge the schools, the council left the governing body to fend for itself and clear up the mess.

“The school is now under new and well-respected leadership, its budget has stabilised and performance is improving. But this position is fragile and the whole experience leaves many lessons to learn.”

The report noted the council has now fully adopted the HM Treasury’s five-case business model for all its transformational projects – the one finding that was deemed a high priority.

A spokesperson for Powys County Council said: “The council’s governance and audit committee will be considering the SWAP’s evaluation of the merger proposal for Ysgol Calon Cymru this Friday.

“Any outcomes from the committee will be considered in due course.”