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LEARNING AND CULTURE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 12th December, 2016.

 

Present: Councillor N.P. Hodges (Chairman); Councillor R.A. Penrose (Vice-Chairman); Councillors Ms. R. Birch, Mrs. C.L. Curtis, C.P. Franks, T.H. Jarvie, F.T. Johnson,  A. Parker and Mrs. A.J. Preston.

 

Co-opted Members: Dr. C. Brown (Parent Governor – Secondary Sector), Mr. P. Burke (Roman Catholic Church) and Mrs. J. Lynch-Wilson (Parent Governor – Primary Sector).

 

Non-Voting Observers: Mr. D. Treharne (Welsh Medium Education) and Ms. T. Young (Secondary Sector). 

 

Also present: Councillors L. Burnett, Dr. I.J. Johnson and N. Moore.

 

 

598     APOLOGY FOR ABSENCE – 

 

This was received from Councillor Ms. K.E. Edmunds.

 

 

599     MINUTES – 

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 14th November, 2016 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

600     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – 

 

No declarations of interest were received.

 

 

601     ANNOUNCEMENT –

 

The Chairman took the opportunity to inform Members of a recent Progress Performance Panel that had been held on 9th December, 2016 at Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School, advising that a report of that meeting would be presented to the Committee in due course.

 

 

602     DRAFT WELSH MEDIUM IN EDUCATION STRATEGIC PLAN 2017-2020 (REF) –

 

Cabinet had referred the Plan to the Scrutiny Committee for consideration during the consultation period.

 

Consultation on the draft document had opened on 3rd November, 2016 and would run up to 29th December, 2016 as part of Welsh Government’s statutory consultation process.  Members would also have the opportunity to comment on and approve a fuller version prior to final submission to Welsh Government in January 2017.

 

The last Welsh Medium Education Strategic Plan had been published in 2014 which had outlined the actions the Council would take to support the enhancement of Welsh medium education and improve outcomes.   In 2016 Welsh Government had further outlined a vision to see one million Welsh speakers by 2050. The aim of the Welsh Medium in Education Strategy 2017-2020 was to support this by building on the achievements of the previous strategy and through further promotion of the use and benefits of Welsh medium education in lifelong learning.

 

Committee was informed that the updated draft copy of the Welsh Medium in Education Strategic Plan 2017-20 attached at Appendix A to the report was due to be submitted to Welsh Government by 20th December with an opportunity to further amend and refine the Plan following the Consultation exercise. 

 

Councillor Dr. I.J. Johnson, not a member of the Committee with permission to speak, referred to the parent survey, and the information obtained in relation to the Welsh Language and its introduction through the survey.  The Operational Manager for Strategy and Resources stated that the response rate had not been as encouraging as hoped, however the Department would be considering further ways to assess demand for Welsh Medium education involving how data could be collected as well as considering further opportunities by developing a strategic approach and addressing marketing issues.  Councillor Dr. Johnson stated that Welsh Government were urging Local Authorities to promote Welsh in education and, in particular, he asked the officer to advise on the effectiveness of the work being undertaken.  In response the Operational Manager confirmed that the Council had a duty to meet demand and the evidence to demonstrate the demand. The Operational Manager also alluded to a report that had been agreed by Cabinet on that afternoon in respect of a proposal to increase the number of places at Ysgol Bro Morgannwg.

 

The Committee representative for the Welsh Medium Sector advised that it was important to also concentrate on English medium schools in promoting the Welsh Language and its use.   In his view 95% of the work to ensure the Welsh language was embedded would need to be undertaken within schools in order to assist with achieving the Welsh Government vision of one million Welsh speakers by 2050.  

 

The Chairman, in response, stated that Meithrin had stated that the target could not be met for 2050 unless there was an increase in primary education.   In referring specifically to page 7 of the report and the four main objectives in order to achieve the outcome, the Chairman queried whether the Strategy could be achieved or whether it was aspirational.  The Officer envisaged that by 2020 the opportunities afforded in the Action Plan identified by the objectives should be in place.  The Chairman queried whether there was anything further that the Council could do in order to ensure that the figures were reached.  It was the officer’s view that nothing had been excluded from the report but that the biggest challenge for the Authority was funding.

 

Following full consideration of the report and the Plan attached at Appendix A, it was

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the Scrutiny Committee fully supported Welsh Government in its aims to create one million Welsh speakers by 2050.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In recognition of Welsh Government’s vision to see one million Welsh speakers by 2050 and the draft Welsh Language Reporting Strategy presented.

 

 

603     DRAFT WELSH LANGUAGE PROMOTION STRATEGY (REF) –

 

On 28th November 2016 Cabinet had referred the report to the Learning and Culture Scrutiny Committee for consideration as part of the consultation process. 

 

The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure had been enacted by the Welsh Assembly in 2011 and the Welsh Language Commissioner had issued every Local Authority in Wales with a Compliance Notice, which included a list of 172 Standards, in September 2015.  Standard 145 of the Compliance Notice required the Council to produce and publish a five year Strategy which set out how the Council would promote and facilitate the use of the Welsh language more widely in the Vale of Glamorgan.  The Strategy was also to include a target for increasing or maintaining the percentage of Welsh speakers in the Vale of Glamorgan and a statement on how the target would be reached, with the Strategy being reviewed or revised every five years.

 

The Head of Service for Performance and Development advised that the requirement for the Strategy stemmed from the Welsh Language Standards, with the particular Standard requiring the Authority to publish a Welsh Strategy, recognising that a number of overlaps existed between this document and the Welsh Medium Education Strategic Plan.  Public consultation on the Strategy was to run for a period of six weeks, with final consideration to be made by Cabinet for implementation by 31st March, 2017. 

 

The Promotion Strategy attached at Appendix A consisted of an introduction, background, policy context, Welsh language profile for the Vale of Glamorgan and included key language development areas as outlined below:

 

-               Welsh medium education

-               Language transmission in the home

-               Welsh for adults

-               Children, young people and families

-               Community and leisure activities

-               Welsh in the workplace.

 

Chapter 6 provided an action plan to promote the Welsh language in the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

Councillor Dr. Johnson, with permission to speak, advised that in his view further consideration in relation to the promotion of the Welsh Language should be included in the Council’s contract with Legacy Leisure and the Council should seek to pursue increasing the number of Welsh speaking staff in the Council.  As a result he queried what the current position was in relation to staff, sought details as to the number of pupils from Barry College who had been appointed to positions in the Vale and queried the Council’s response should requests be received for simultaneous translation services. The Chairman also requested whether there were any plans to host the Urdd Eisteddfod in the area. 

 

The Head of Service in response stated that the Authority was aware that Welsh medium provision could be further promoted in Leisure Centres and said that consideration would be given to this by the Council’s Leisure Service at the time of the renewal of the contract, which he stated was imminent.  Following the introduction of the Standards, he could advise that the Council had been focusing on the translation of material into Welsh, with further work ongoing.  With regard to the staff, an action plan covering a number of aspects had been in place since March 2016.  He pointed out that to date there had not been any requests for simultaneous Welsh translation services from the public attending Scrutiny Committees although he advised that if requests were made the Council would have to meet any request.  With regard to the question of the Urdd Eisteddfod being held in the Vale of Glamorgan, the officer advised that he would pass the request to the relevant department.

 

Following a query in respect of the accuracy of the figures identified on page 20, table 5, of the document and the fact that the report noted the capacity in Welsh medium primary schools would be increased from the current figure 1,693 to 2,100 places by 2017, the Interim Director advised that she would investigate further and report back to Members.

 

In accepting that further clarity would be presented to Members as outlined above and that a further report was to be presented to Cabinet, the Scrutiny Committee

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T Cabinet be informed of the views of the Committee and following the results of the consultation, a further report be presented to the Scrutiny Committee for consideration.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In view of the contents of the report and that a further report was to be prepared following the consultation.   

 

 

604     INITIAL REVENUE BUDGET PROPOSALS 2017/18 (IDLS) –

 

Appendix 1 to the report set out the amended budget for 2016/17 and detailed the necessary adjustments being made to the original budget.  The table at paragraph 7 compared the amended budget with the projected outturn for 2016/17.  It was noted that the Learning and Skills Directorate was projecting an adverse variance of £716k at year end, with the proposal that reserves be used to mitigate the position in 2016/17. 

 

In presenting the report, the Principal Accountant advised of the variances for each service area within the Directorate as outlined below:

 

For Schools the delegated budget was expected to balance as any under/over spend was carried forward by schools.  Strategy, Culture, Community Learning and Resources – the service was projected to outturn with a favourable variance of £204k after a transfer from reserves of £446k.  The net underspend was as a result of early implementation of 2017/18 savings, a reduction in the number of supported non-maintained nursery settings, a number of vacancies throughout the department, an increase in ICT support packages purchased by schools and a projected underspend on the Catering Service of £71k.   The Catering underspend was based on projected school meal take up which could change throughout the year.  The transfer from reserves would be £251k from the Libraries reserve to cover any legal costs and costs related to the implementation of the service review, £43k from the Adult Community Learning reserve to assist with the new Welsh for Adults contract and a previous year’s funding reduction in Schedule 2 / Cardiff and Vale College Franchise and £152k from the Early Retirement and Voluntary Redundancy Reserve to fund redundancy and retirement costs in schools.

 

Strategy and Regulation – The service was currently projecting to outturn at a favourable variance of £32k due to salary underspends and reductions in office expenses for the Directorate.

 

Achievement for All – The service was projected to outturn with an adverse variance of £114k after a transfer from reserves of £716k.  This being as a result of an adverse variance of £822k on the recoupment income budget and an adverse variance on pupil placements of £268k.  Committee was advised that the position could be partly offset by projected salary underspends of £260k which were due to vacant posts in the service as a result of early implementation of 2017/18 Reshaping Services savings.  The service had a £2.4m recoupment income budget in respect of out of county pupil placements purchased at Ysgol y Deri as over the last few years a trend had occurred where more out of county pupils had left Ysgol y Deri than new pupils had enrolled.  In the current financial year it was anticipated that 15 out of county pupils would leave the school and only four new starters would enrol, in the previous financial year there had been 17 leavers and three new out of county enrolments.  The main reason for the reduction in out of county pupils was reported as due to other Local Authorities seeking to educate their children within county and to source cheaper alternatives due to budget reductions.  However the school was still operating near to capacity due to an increase in demand from Vale pupils requiring placements.  Whilst the Directorate had been successful in identifying reshaping savings for the Inclusion Service, the Directorate had been unable, to date, to identify further savings to cover this gap on recoupment income. 

 

With regard to the service area of School Improvement, projected overspend of £122k was predicted as a result of redundancy and pension strain costs as a result of restructuring.  Provision had also been made within the budget to make unsupported borrowing debt repayments in relation to the Schools Investment Strategy of £698k per annum.

 

With regard to the Council’s savings for 2016/17, as part of the final revenue budget proposals a savings target of £9.289m was set for the Authority.  Attached at Appendix 2 was a statement detailing the savings targets relating to the service area within this Committee’s remit and the projected outturn.  In referring to the Inclusion service although there was a saving target of £292k to be found  it was however anticipated that although the level of saving could be achieved during the year, there were further pressures on the budget which would result in an overspend.

 

With regard to the 2017/18 initial budget proposals, Committee was advised that it had been necessary to revisit the cost pressures facing services in order to build a complete and up to date picture of the financial position of the Council, with an updated list relating to the Scrutiny Committee being shown at Appendix 3 to the report, although they were not shown in any order of priority.  The final proposal for the increase in the National Living Wage from 1st April, 2017 had also yet to be announced, however it had been considered that the 2018/19 pay rates used in the budget proposals for Vale of Glamorgan staff should cover that potential increase.  

 

Details of proposed areas of savings for 2017/18 to 2018/19 were attached at Appendix 4, but the savings did not include the cost of any potential redundancies.  As part of the Council’s Budget Strategy for 2017/18 all Directors were being requested to continue to progress the Reshaping Services Programme with the recommendation that Tranche 3 of the Reshaping Services Programme commence. 

 

Committee was informed that further work would be undertaken by the Budget Working Group (BWG) in order to achieve a balanced budget for the final budget proposals for 2017/18 which would include a review of the use of reserves, a possible increase in Council Tax, a review of all cost pressures, possible changes to the approved saving targets, a review of the inflation assumptions and the current financial strategies.  The BWG would also consider the results of the budget engagement process in determining priorities for future savings and service delivery and would ensure that budget proposals considered the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations Act and the Council's four well-being outcomes as detailed in the Corporate Plan.

 

The next stage of the process was for the estimates to be submitted to Scrutiny Committees for consultation, with any recommendations to be referred to the Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee as the lead Scrutiny Committee by no later than 13th December, 2016.

 

Having presented the report, discussion ensued as outlined below.

 

A Member queried the allocation of funds for secondary schools, requesting more detail in relation to these funds as it was their view that schools were under a considerable degree of pressure and further funding was therefore essential.  Reference was also made to the recent PISA results and the need to support schools to raise standards.

 

The Interim Director of Learning and Skills informed Committee that the Department was currently undertaking a review of the schools’ funding formula which would be completed in the very near future.  The Council also continued to provide budgets for schools above the Indicator Based Assessment (IBA), of further note was the fact that the Vale was one of three highest Authorities in Wales of delegated school funding in Wales.

 

In referring to the budget position for Ysgol y Deri, Committee was advised that the school was expected to outturn on target. The Department was also currently undertaking a review of Ty Deri as a result of other Local Authorities’ decisions to provide services for their clients inhouse.  The Chairman queried the Service Level Agreement (SLA) that had been made with Cardiff, with the Interim Director of Learning and Skills advising that there had been two parts to the Agreement; the Vale had agreed to provide 40 places at Ysgol y Deri, Cardiff which, at the current moment in time, they were not fully utilising although the number of Vale pupils attending the school had increased.  The second part of the Agreement was that six respite care beds at Ty Deri be available as part of the contract but these numbers had plummeted.

 

The Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Education, with permission to speak, referred to a recent meeting of the Budget Forum which, she advised, recognised that since 2012 schools had been funded above the IBA, with Headteachers being fully involved  in developing the new funding formula.  In querying a potential increase in Council Tax, the Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Education advised that this had not yet been agreed.

 

In response to a query regarding school balances and whether these could be utilised for any shortfalls, it was noted that the balances as at 31st March were estimated at £2.9m, with the majority contained within the Primary Sector (£1.9m). A number of schools had carried over balances in order to undertake various works i.e.  refurbishments.  The Directorate was regularly monitoring schools which habitually carried over balances in excess of guidance amounts but could reassure Members that these were relatively low in number.  The Interim Director advised Members that financial regulations required a local authority to instruct a school to spend before it could claw back funding and in the event fundings is clawed back it must be redistributed using an agreed formula.

 

Following the responses received, it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the amended Revenue Budget for 2016/17 as set out at Appendix 1 to the report be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In recognition of the contents contained therein and the responses provided at the meeting.

 

 

605     INITIAL CAPITAL PROGRAMME PROPOSALS 2017/18 (IDLS) –

 

The Principal Accountant commenced by advising the Committee that Appendix 1 to the report detailed the financial progress on the Capital Programme as at 30th September, 2016 and that the changes outlined below had been reflected in Appendix 2 to the report.

 

St. Brides Expansion – An emergency power had been approved on 17th October, 2016 to increase the budget to £510k in order for the scheme to proceed.  This was funded from S106, and included £10k brought forward from 2017/18.

 

Victorian Schools – External consultants were being appointed to project manage this scheme with the aim of appointing contractors in March 2017 for works to start during Easter 2017.  The project would be split between a number of contractors to ensure that the high priority repairs were completed as early as possible and all works were completed by March 2018.  It had therefore been requested that £1.2m be slipped from 2016/17 to 2017/18.

 

The Welsh Government (WG) announced the provisional 2017/18 General Capital Funding on 19th October, 2016.  The 2017/18 Capital Settlement was a flatlined capital settlement which for the Vale of Glamorgan Council equated to General Capital Funding of £5.405m which was made up of £2.045m General Capital Grant and £3.360m Supported Borrowing.

 

There was no indication of the level of funding likely beyond 2017/18 and therefore in line with the approach adopted in the Medium Term Financial Plan, the proposals assumed a reduction of 10% for each year of the Programme from 2018/19.

 

Appendix 2 to the report set out the Initial Proposals for the Capital Programme between 2017/18 and 2021/22 for schemes relating to this Committee.

 

The Council would seek to mitigate the projected deteriorating funding situation by looking to progress only those schemes which were deemed to be a key Corporate Priority and make a clear impact to the Wellbeing and Future Generation priorities. The Council would seek assurances that schemes included in the Capital Programme could be delivered on time and within budget.

 

New capital bids had been invited for return by 30th September, 2016 as part of the Capital Programme for 2017/18 to 2021/22 with the number of bids received being in line with the previous year’s since the five year Capital Programme had been introduced, i.e. two from Learning and Skills, eleven from Environment and Housing and three from the Managing Director and Resources.  In addition, a joint bid was submitted from Housing and Planning.  Departments had been asked to rank their own bids in order of importance before submission, and bids from each Department were then forwarded to the Insight Group for evaluation.  The Insight Group had used a number of criteria to assess the capital bids as outlined in paragraphs 13 to 19 of the report. 

 

In referring to the School Investment Programme, the 21st Century Schools Programme was the WG's funding initiative for investment in schools. The first tranche of schemes under Band A of the funding had been submitted prior to November 2011.  Band A schemes run between 2013/14 and 2018/19. Band B schemes were expected to commence in 2019/20.

 

The schemes included under the Band A submission for construction between 2013/14 and 2018/19 were Ysgol Nant Talwg, Ysgol Dewi Sant, Ysgol Gwaun Y Nant and Oakfield , Colcot and Llantwit Learning Community.  The Ysgol Nant Talwg, Ysgol Dewi Sant, Ysgol Gwaun Y Nant and Oakfield schemes were now complete and Llantwit Learning Community was on track to complete in September 2018.

 

In October 2016 the Vale of Glamorgan Council received notification from WG that the funding envelope for 21st Century Schools would in principle be increased from £30.848m to £32.048m pending the receipt of a satisfactory business case.  This included funding for a new Band A scheme Romilly Primary permanent structure a scheme which was expected to cost £1.2m, funded by £600k WG Grant and £600k contribution from the School Investment Strategy Reserve.

 

Band B Schemes were expected to commence in 2019/20 and in December 2014 the Council submitted proposals for a number of schemes to WG.  Based on latest indications, it had been assumed that 50% funding would be available from WG to fund these schemes.  However, there was no guarantee that this funding would be available from WG or what form it would take.

 

The next stage was for the estimates to be submitted to the Scrutiny Committee for consultation, with each Scrutiny Committee being asked to first consider the initial Capital Programme proposals as shown at Appendix 2 and to make any recommendations for changes.  Any recommendations were requested to be forwarded to the Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee as the lead Scrutiny Committee by no later than 13th December, 2016. 

 

In referring to the monies to be slipped in relation to the Victorian Schools work, Members were informed that this had been partly due to the difficulties in engaging the consultants within the window of opportunity to commence the work being difficult to arrange. A Member registered his disappointment in the delay, as a significant amount of monies (£1.2m) was being earmarked.  The Interim Director of Learning and Skills advised that the survey undertaken had been an extensive piece of work involving hammer testing stonework and this had taken longer than anticipated.  It was not possible to start work immediately following the survey as it was necessary to complete the work during school holiday periods.  The programme had also included the under boarding of ceilings which had been completed.

 

The Chairman also referred to the terminology of Victorian Schools, advising that in his should read Edwardian / Victorian. 

 

There being no further discussion and in view of the contents of the report, it was

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the progress relating to the 2016/17 Capital Programme be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In view of the contents contained therein.

 

 

606     QUARTER 2 (2016-17) PERFORMANCE REPORT: AN ASPIRATIONAL AND CULTURALLY VIBRANT VALE (IDLS) –

 

The Council’s Performance Management Framework was the mechanism through which its key priorities and targets were monitored and realised in order to secure continuous improvement.  In presenting the report, the Interim Director of Learning and Skills advised that the performance report was structured as follows:

 

Page 2: Provided an explanation of the performance terms used within the report. The performance report used the traffic light system, that is, a Red, Amber or Green (RAG) status and a Direction of Travel (DOT) to aid performance analysis.

 

Progress was reported for all key performance indicators by allocating a RAG performance status, Green related to performance that had met or exceeded target, Amber related to performance within 10% of target and Red related to performance that had missed target by more than 10%.  A DOT arrow was also attributed to each measure indicating whether current performance had improved, stayed static or declined on last year’s first quarter performance.  An upward arrow (↑) indicated that performance had improved on the same quarter last year, a static arrow (↔) indicated performance had remained the same and a downward arrow (↓) showed performance had declined compared to the same quarter last year.

 

For the actions, a Green status related to a completed action or one that was on track to be completed in full by the due date.  An Amber status related to an action where there had been a minor delay but action was being taken to bring this back on track by the next quarter.  A Red status related to an action where limited progress had been made, and an explanation must be provided including any planned remedial action(s) and where appropriate a revised completion date.

 

Section 1: Outcome Summary – Provided an overall summary of performance and highlighted the main developments, achievements and challenges for the quarter as a whole.  It included an evaluation of the progress made against actions and performance indicators as well as corporate health (resource) impacts which supported the overall RAG status for the Well-being Outcome.

 

Section 2: Performance Snapshot – Provided an overview for each Well-being Objective, described the status of Corporate Plan actions and performance indicators.   A RAG status was attributed to each Well-being Objective to reflect overall progress to date and contributed to the overall RAG status for the Well-being Outcome.

 

Section 3: Key Achievements and Challenges – Highlighted the key achievements and challenges to date in achieving the intended outcomes for the Well-being Outcome.

 

Section 4: Corporate Health: Use of Resources and Impact on Improvement – Provided a summary of the key issues relating to the use of resources and the impact on delivering improvement during the quarter.  The focus was on key aspects relating to staffing, finance, assets, ICT, customer focus and risk management.

 

Appendix 1: Provided, by Well-being Objective, detailed information relating to the Service Plan actions which had contributed to Corporate Plan actions.

 

Appendix 2: Provided detailed performance indicator information linked to each Well-being Objective which showed for our planned activities, how much the Council had done, how well the Council had performed and what difference this had made.  It was noted that new annual and quarterly reported performance indicators had been introduced as part of the Council's revised Performance Management Framework and for a number of these data would not be available as this year would be used to establish baseline performance.  A Not Available (N/A) status would be attributed to all such measures with commentary provided confirming this status.  Where possible cumulative data would be provided in future quarterly reports as this became available.  This was the first year of reporting against the new Corporate Plan and the Council would continue to develop its key measures within each Well-being Objective to ensure those most accurately reflected the Council’s Corporate Plan Well-being Outcomes.

 

An overall AMBER RAG status had been attributed to Well-being Outcome 3, “An Aspirational and Culturally Vibrant Vale”, to reflect the good progress made to date in achieving improved outcomes for residents and our customers during the quarter.

 

At Quarter 2, 14 out of 16 Corporate Plan actions under this Outcome were on track to be delivered contributing to a Green performance status for actions.  A performance status was not applicable to one action as work was not scheduled to commence until Quarter 3 on a school development needs assessment which would feed into a new school modernisation programme (AC9).  Limited progress had been made in the restructure of the Youth Service (AC6) due to an ongoing HR issue and work would commence once this had been resolved.

 

A detailed report outlining the progress at Quarter 2 towards achieving the Well-being Outcome 3 was provided at Appendix 1 to the report. 

 

The Chairman took the opportunity to encourage all present to assist in the further development of library provision by frequenting the public libraries in their areas and promoting the service in order to ensure future sustainability.

 

RECOMMENDED –T H A T the performance results and remedial actions to be taken to address areas of underperformance and tackle identified key challenges going forward be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In recognition of the Committee’s role in monitoring performance in line with the requirement to secure continuous improvement outlined in the Local Government Measure (Wales) 2009 and reflecting the requirement of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act to maximise its contributions to achieving the wellbeing goals for Wales.

 

 

607     PRESENTATION FROM THE INTERIM DIRECTOR OF LEARNING AND SKILLS ON THE CHALLENGES AND ISSUES OF THE SERVICE AREA (REQUEST FOR CONSIDERATION OF MATTER: COUNCILLOR C.P. FRANKS) –

 

Councillor C. Franks had requested that a presentation be provided by the newly appointed Interim Director of Learning and Skills on challenges facing the service area to include new staff structure, working with the Consortium, Secondary reorganisation in Barry, Reshaping the Special Educational Needs Service and funding for schools.

 

The Interim Director of Learning Skills commenced by advising that a copy of the presentation had been tabled at the meeting for Members’ information.  The papers contained details on the structure within the Learning and Skills Department prior to September 2016 and the current structure headed by the Interim Director of Learning and Skills. 

 

In referring to the role of the Lead Officer for School Improvement / Senior Challenge Advisor the Committee was informed that this position was mostly “out in schools” and was also responsible for the Central South Consortium Challenge Advisors linked to Vale Schools.  However, the Central South Consortium had advised that they would be reviewing its structure with a view to making changes to the Challenge and Senior Challenge Advisor positions, and following the review, the Department would not be directly funding the Senior Challenge Advisor positions with the Central South Consortium being fully responsible for the funding.

 

The Interim Director also referred to capacity issues due to the fact that there was no Head of Service currently in post for the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources position. A Member made reference to the capacity issues and the sharing of responsibilities, and raised concerns about whether this was adequately resourcing the service.  However, a number of Members advised that a report had been presented to the Senior Management Committee whereby that Committee had agreed to the current structure on an interim basis as advertising the Director’s position on a temporary basis would have been a difficult situation for the Council at this moment in time.  In recognising that the Senior Management Committee had agreed the current situation, the Chairman concurred this arrangement had been considered most suitable in the current circumstances.

 

The Interim Director of Learning and Skills then presented a number of the challenges facing the Department commencing by referring to the secondary proposals for reorganisation in Barry.  The proposal being to establish two new mixed sex 11-18 English speaking schools in Barry, with a joint sixth form.  Consultation had taken place between 5th September and 17th October, 2016 and Cabinet had considered on 12th December, 2016 the consultation report.  236 responses had been received following the consultation, 171 in favour of the proposal, 59 opposed and 6 with no opinion.  The concerns that had been raised were noted as below:

 

  • Availability of funding for the proposal
  • Job security for staff
  • Impact on standards
  • Transition and impact on GCSEs and A levels
  • School closures
  • Catchment areas
  • Curriculum
  • Centre of Behavioural Excellence.

 

In referring to the availability of funding for the proposal, the Interim Director advised that the Council had a very good track record in relation to reorganisation proposals and although it could not give a cast iron guarantee regarding the funding, if it did not apply for it, the Council would definitely not receive it.  Welsh Government was also keen for Local Authorities to identify large schemes that were ready to commence in 2019.  Issues with regard to job security for staff had been raised during the consultation period but there had not been a significant response from staff, only confirmation from Trade Unions confirming the position to staff as a result of the new proposals.  The Council was therefore recommending to the new governing bodies that posts in the new structure be ringfenced to the current staff of the two schools, but these would not include the Headteacher positions, which the Governing Bodies would be advised to advertise.  The Department was also not envisaging many redundancies as a result of the proposals.  Teaching staff would also be entitled to three year protection.  With regard to any concerns in relation to the impact on standards, it was noted that this would have to be managed appropriately and the Department had considerable experience in managing school reorganisations with a need to focus on transitional arrangements.

 

The new schools would also need to be rebranded and closed to ensure the appropriate impact would be made with it being further highlighted that new leadership would also have to be put in place.  Although it was accepted that mixed sex education could be provided in Barry without such proposals, it was felt that the rebranding was essential and key for the future of the education in the Barry area.


With regard to catchment areas, it was noted that these issues would only come in to play should school capacity numbers be reached.

 

Concerns had been raised with regard to the curriculum, although the school currently had a sixth form, this was not considered to be as extensive as it could be.  The transitional plan would detail arrangements to align the curriculum across the two schools in advance of the new schools being established in order that pupils making subject choices have the same options irrespective of which of the new schools they attend in the future.  The Interim Director advised that although there had been concerns raised there was a considerable amount of support for the proposal as well.  The support for the proposals centred around the following:

 

  • Less disruptive than the previous proposal
  • Mixed sex secondary schooling in Barry long overdue
  • An improved learning environment will impact positively on standards
  • A mixed sex learning environment supports children’s social development
  • Enables a broader curriculum offer
  • Sensible transition arrangements
  • Centre of Behavioural Excellence.

 

The next steps would be the publication of the statutory notice (3rd January, 2017), with a further report to Cabinet being presented in March 2017 on the outcome of that statutory notice.

 

Members stated that they needed to be reassured that the transitional arrangements and standards at the school did not suffer, with the Interim Director advising that under a previous amalgamation of three special schools, following an inspection, standards had not slipped but that a critical factor would be the leadership of the schools.

 

In referring to the recent SEN strategy which had been forwarded to all Governors throughout the Vale for consideration as part of the consultation process, the Department was looking to further develop capacity to provide a high quality outreach service, develop the PRU in a cost effective way, with special schools being required to meet the needs of the most complex cases.  18 Governing Bodies had submitted responses, with the analysis of the results to be completed in January 2017.

 

As outlined earlier in the agenda, work was ongoing in relation to the reshaping of Ty Deri due to the fact that the take up of respite and residential stays had reduced significantly, which had resulted in the cost of placements at Ty Deri currently being uncompetitive.  The current model also did not meet current demand  for seven nights a week, 52 weeks a year and the Children’s Services Department had commissioned provision from third sector providers for respite as a result of the costs.  Direct payments being paid to families also meant a reduction in income and other Local Authorities had developed their own inhouse county provision.  As a result the next steps were to secure the level of usage forecast for the year, analyse the future potential demand and develop a business case to ensure the long term sustainability and success of Ty Deri.  Following a query as to whether costs could be further reduced by subsidies Members were advised that the service had already been heavily subsidised which had not currently appeared to help the situation, with the Department having to address the loss situation by realigning staff.  The Interim Director of Learning and Skills further advised that there was a growth in the number of pupils with SEN, particularly a growth in children with autism.  Although many could be educated in mainstream schools, schools would need to be assisted by building capacity in the future to help support the service.  The Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Education stated that although there were issues in relation to the cost effectiveness of the service, the needs of the child must also be borne in mind and if bringing children into mainstream schools was beneficial for the child then the needs of the child were most important.


The Chairman, in concurring that a review be undertaken and in recognising that it was not only the Local Authorities who provided the support recognised that it would be difficult to agree a fixed rate for all service provision with other Local Authorities as there were a number of other providers also involved.

 

It was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the Interim Director of Learning and Skills be thanked for her comprehensive presentation and it be noted that future reports would be presented to the Scrutiny Committee for consideration in due course.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In recognition of the work being undertaken within the Department and to keep Committee informed.

 

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