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LEARNING AND CULTURE SCRUTINY COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 16th October, 2017.

 

Present:  Councillor L. Burnett (Chairman); Councillor A. Hampton (Vice-Chairman); Councillors N.P. Hodges, M. Lloyd, M.J.G. Morgan, Mrs. J.M. Norman, Ms. S.D. Perkes and Mrs. M. Wright.

 

Co-opted Members: Dr. C. Brown, Mr. P. Burke and Mrs. J. Lynch-Wilson.

 

Also present:  Councillor R.A. Penrose (Cabinet Member for Learning and Culture).

 

 

381     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Councillors Ms. R.M. Birch and B.T. Gray

 

 

382     MINUTES – 

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 18th September, 2017 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

383     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

Mr. P. Burke declared an interest in Agenda Item No. 6 Summary of School Inspection Reports for the Summer Term 2017 in that he was a Governor of St. Richard Gwyn R/C High School and would leave the meeting should discussion on the school take place.

 

 

384     “STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE: PROPOSALS FOR A WELSH LANGUAGE BILL” WHITE PAPER CONSULTATION DOCUMENT – PROPOSED COUNCIL RESPONSE (DLS) –

 

The report drew the Committee’s attention to the White Paper on proposals for a Welsh Language Bill (attached at Appendix A) and sought endorsement for the proposed Council response at Appendix B.

 

The Head of Performance and Development in presenting the report advised that the Welsh Government was proposing to amend the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 as a result of a two-fold concern: 

  • that there was too much emphasis on regulation and not enough on promotion;
  • that the way the Welsh Language Standards were currently made and enforced was too bureaucratic and time-consuming. 

The aim of the White Paper, currently out for consultation, was to strike the right balance and responses were required by 31st October, 2017.

 

In referring to the proposals, the Head of Service also advised that it covered the following broad areas: 

  • What should be the Welsh Government’s role in promoting the Welsh language and what national governance arrangements should be adopted, in relation to promotion and regulation?
  • What changes should be made to how the Welsh Language Standards were made and enforced? 

The White Paper made ten broad proposals which covered the above two areas and Appendix B detailed the list of those proposals with a suggested Council response for each one.  The Head of Service further stated that much of what was proposed was indeed welcomed, in particular the reduction in bureaucracy as regards the Standards. However, there did remain concerns about how the different elements of promotion and regulation of the Welsh language were to be treated, which national agency should be responsible for each and the confusion that might still arise if these powers continued to be split between Welsh Government and the proposed new Welsh Language Commission.

 

In considering the report, it was the consensus of the meeting that the tone of the response was appropriate but Members considered that it would be a challenge to obtain Welsh Government’s ambition to achieve one million Welsh speakers by 2050.  It was recognised that the document was trying to encourage and improve the situation, but noted that for the Council, the Education Department would no doubt bear the brunt of the challenge.  In order to achieve this, Members felt that it would be important for Welsh Government to ensure that there were enough Welsh medium teachers in positions to help achieve the goals.

 

The Lead Officer for Improvement and Senior Challenge Advisor informed Committee that currently there were three teachers from the English medium sector who were undertaking intensive training in the Welsh language.

 

The Chair concurred with Members’ sentiments in relation to training teachers and said that encouraging and promoting the use of Welsh was also important. In that regard the Council’s efforts in working with organisations such as Menter Bro Morgannwg on events like the annual Gwyl Fach y Fro, now attracting thousands of people, was significant.  It was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the response attached at Appendix B be endorsed and together with the report be referred to Cabinet for approval with a request that Welsh Government be asked, in addition, to address the issues of teaching capacity and promotion as outlined above to support the development of the Welsh language. 

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To ensure that the views of the Council are made clear to Welsh Government and that capacity to support the development of the Welsh language is considered and addressed.

 

 

385     REVENUE AND CAPITAL MONITORING FOR THE PERIOD 1ST APRIL TO 31ST AUGUST 2017 (DLS) –

 

The Operational Manager for Accountancy, in presenting the report, advised that the forecast was showing an overspend of £86k after an anticipated use of reserves, however, the Directorate had been requested to look at ways of mitigating this position to deliver an outturn within budget at year end.

 

For the Schools service area, the delegated budget was expected to balance as any under/over spend was carried forward by schools.  For Strategy, Culture, Community Learning and Resources it was projected that the service would outturn with a favourable variance of £73k after drawing down £105k from reserves.  There was an adverse variance of £66k relating to the schools long term supply scheme, however premiums would be increased from April 2018 to ensure the scheme was sustainable in the future.  There were also adverse variances of £24k in relation to primary school rates revaluations and £7k relating to legal fees.  This had been offset by favourable variances of £89k relating to staff vacancies, £46k on ICT SLA income from schools, pension payments of £28k and union backfilling of £7k.  The Schools Invest to Save Reserve would be used to cover the £50k adverse variance in relation to redundancies in schools, which was covered by a statutory requirement to be funded centrally.  £22k from the Rationalisation Reserve would be used to fund one off staffing costs at Penarth Learning Community and a further £20k of the Rationalisation Reserve would be used to fund the cost of Welsh immersion for primary pupils transferring from English medium to Welsh medium schools.  £13k of the Adult Community Learning reserve would be used due to a reduction in funding from Cardiff and Vale College however the service would be restructured to operate within the available grant.

 

With regard to the service area Strategy and Regulation, it was anticipated that this service would break even at year end. For Achievement for All the service was currently predicted to outturn with an adverse variance of £448k which would be partially met by transfers from reserves of £241k resulting in an adverse variance at year end of £207k.  A £354k adverse variance was projected on the recoupment income budget.  This budget was set for recouping income from other Local Authorities that purchased placements at Ysgol Y Deri.  The budget had been under pressure for a number of years as a result of a demographic increase in the number of Vale pupils presenting with complex needs which had resulted in less placements available for other Authorities to purchase.  In addition, other Authorities had developed their own provision and the level of demand had reduced.  The adverse variance would be partially offset by a transfer from the School Placement Reserve of £200k.  A £87k adverse variance was projected for the pupil placements budget.  Occasionally the needs of very complex pupils could not be met within the Vale of Glamorgan resources and placements were purchased from independent schools or other Authorities.  Unit costs were typically very high and as a result this budget could be volatile as one new pupil could have a dramatic effect on the outturn.  The above would be offset by a favourable variance on staffing of £34k.  Reserves would also be used to meet the costs of the remodelled guidance to engage provision which was a NEETS prevention scheme within the Social Inclusion and Wellbeing service resulting in £34k of the Youth Service reserve being utilised and £7k from the Excluded Pupil reserve would fund the overspend on alternative curriculum.

 

In referring to the School Improvement service it was anticipated that this service would underspend by £48k due to a part year vacant senior post. Provision had been made within the budget to make unsupported borrowing debt repayments in relation to the Schools Investment Strategy of £598k per annum and any favourable variance on debt repayments would be directed into the Schools Investment Strategy.

 

Attached at Appendix 2 to the report was a list of savings to be achieved this year  however, it was anticipated that the savings target would be met this year.

 

The Operational Manager also advised that it was important that the Department kept a close eye on the volatile budgets with further details to be reported to the December Committee meeting. In referring to capital schemes, the Operational Manager further advised that a number of the schemes had either been carried out in school holidays or during the school breaks. 

 

Following a query from the Chairman regarding Colcot Primary School and whether the works would be completed at the half term break in October, the Operational Manager agreed to look into the matter and report back to Members.  The Chairman asked if a list of the number of educational reserves and what they were for could be made available to Members and following the response that the December budget report to Committee would contain such information the Committee agreed to receive the information at that time.

 

Following a further query as to whether the reduction in resources to the speech and language service had impacted greatly on provision the Operational Manager agreed to look into the matter, speak to the Head of Service for Achievement for All and report back to Members.

 

In considering the report, reference was also made to clarification on how projects were prioritised, with it being noted that all bids were invited from all departments then referred to the Council’s Insight Board and reported in the December Budget report to Committee which would also outline the priorities and the criteria.  Education Asset Renewal budgets were allocated to individual schemes based on condition surveys.  The Chairman suggested that the School Investment Programme report that had been presented some time previously to the Committee be recirculated for information for new Members.

 

Having considered the report, it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the position with regard to the 2017/18 revenue and capital monitoring be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

That Members were aware of the position with regard to the 2017/18 revenue and capital monitoring relevant to the Committee and that further information as discussed at the meeting would be presented in the December budget report to Committee.

 

 

386     SUMMARY OF SCHOOL INSPECTION REPORTS FOR SUMMER TERM 2017 (DLS) –

 

The Lead Officer for School Improvement / Senior Challenge Advisor provided Members with an update on the outcomes of school inspections for the summer term 2017 and the outcomes of recent Estyn monitoring activities.  The Lead Officer took all Members through the process for inspection, outlining that the purpose of inspections was to: 

  • provide accountability to the users of services and other stakeholders through public report on providers,
  • promote improvement in education and training; and
  • to inform the development of national policy by Welsh Government. 

During all core inspections, the inspection team would consider whether the school needed any follow-up activity.

 

During the summer term the overall judgement achieved by Vale of Glamorgan schools that had been inspected were as follows:

 

 

Current Performance

Prospects for Improvement

Llansannor CiW Primary

Good

Excellent

Gwenfo CiW Primary

Good

Good

St. Richard Gwyn RC High School

Adequate

Good

 

As a result of the inspections St. Richard Gwyn RC High School was identified as requiring Estyn monitoring. 

 

Excellent practice was identified in Llansannor CiW Primary School and they had been invited to prepare a written case study which would be published by Estyn and shared with other schools.

 

Ysgol Dewi Sant was identified as requiring Estyn monitoring in Spring 2016 and the school was re-visited by Estyn inspectors in July 2017.  Estyn judged the school to have made very good progress in all recommendations and as a result, the school was removed from the list of schools requiring Estyn monitoring.

 

At the end of the summer term, the Local Authority had one school requiring significant improvement (Bryn Hafren Comprehensive).  Bryn Hafren had been re-visited by Estyn in May 2017 and was judged to have made insufficient progress in relation to the recommendations overall.  Estyn had indicated they would re-visit the school in the Autumn term to inspect progress.

 

In considering the report, Members were also informed that for Ysgol Dewi Sant the inspectors had noted that they had seen the best progress ever in a follow up visit to a school that they had ever inspected. 

 

In referring to Gwenfo Primary School and the reference to an “Adequate” in the inspection, a Member queried whether the school, having an acting Head, had been  part of the reason that an “Adequate” judgement had been given.  In response the Lead Officer advised that this had not had an effect on the judgement, it referred to the system of attendance which was below the median and, under the reporting mechanisms at the time, if this was the case, a school would automatically be given an “Adequate” judgement.  However, Estyn had recently revised their inspection regime and would not be downgrading a school for this in the future.

 

In referring specifically to Bryn Hafren, following a query regarding standards, the Lead Officer stated that Estyn had advised that there had been a lot of improvement to date and the Leadership Team at the school had worked well together. However, she did not think that as a result of the summer examinations, Estyn would remove the school at this stage. 


With regard to St. Richard Gwyn, the reason the school had been judged “Adequate” was due to the judgements of Estyn over a three year period.  Summer 2016 had seen good improvements but the previous two years had not been strong enough and although the leadership was deemed as good and Governor Leadership noted as good, Estyn had reported an adequate in view of the progress over the three year period. 

 

A Co-opted Member referred to the previous work of the Scrutiny Committee’s Performance Panels and queried whether there was a further requirement for such. The Lead Officer advised that following the Performance Panel’s recommendations for Bryn Hafren for an Accelerated Programme Board and the Challenge Cymru Programme the Performance Panel was not required at this stage as the Accelerated Programme Board was now managing the situation and improvements were being made. 

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the inspection judgements about the schools inspected during the summer term be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the judgements made by Estyn in its monitoring activities regarding the progress of schools in addressing inspection recommendations be noted.

 

(3)       T H A T the judgements made by Estyn with regard to schools in Local Authority monitoring be noted.

 

(4)       T H A T a letter of congratulations be forwarded by the Chairman on behalf of the Scrutiny Committee to Llansannor CiW Primary School and Gwenfo CiW Primary School offering the Committee’s congratulations on their inspections.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1-3)    In order that Members are aware of Estyn judgements about local schools.

 

(4)       To congratulate the schools on the achievement.

 

 

387     PROVISION IN THE NON-MAINTAINED SECTOR: ACADEMIC YEAR 2016/17 (DLS) –

 

Members were informed of the current provision for early education through the non-maintained settings, being informed that there were six playgroups registered for early education in the Vale of Glamorgan, one of which was a Welsh medium setting.  However, it was further noted that St. Brides had recently left in July 2017 and there were now only five.  It was further noted that all settings had received regular intensive support and the support had focused on practitioners developing their skills to implement the Foundation Phase in their settings. 

 

The Local Authority had funded places for 119 children in the non-maintained sector and all settings were welcoming, safe and ensured children’s wellbeing was at the heart of their work.

 

The quality of provision in almost all settings was of a very good standard.  All settings regularly planned a range of outdoor activities to encourage children to experiment with new experiences and to develop a range of skills and all settings had embedded processes of self-evaluation and appreciated the importance of planning for improvement.  All settings had received information on the Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Bill and how to implement it to support children with additional needs and two settings had received advice from the ALN team to support children with additional learning needs.  Two children had also been in receipt of a one to one support worker funded by the Local Authority. 

 

No settings had been inspected by Estyn during the academic year 2016/17.  To date termly forum meetings had taken place for playgroup leaders to discuss new information from Welsh Government and Estyn and to share good practice. 

 

Following a query from the Chairman as to whether the provision had sufficient capacity in the rural Vale and Welsh medium sector, the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources advised that the Authority was able to meet the need.  The Chairman also queried the opportunity to involve the Economic Development Team to possibly free up hours of support to ensure sufficient capacity, and thought that this was an area of work that the Committee could look at in the future, with it subsequently being

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the provision for early education through non-maintained settings be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

Members are aware of the performance standards of non-maintained early years’ settings.

 

 

388     SCHOOLS’ BALANCES AS AT 31ST MARCH 2017 (DLS) –

 

The report provided Committee with details of the level of school balances as at 31st March, 2017 and the measures put in place to reduce excessive balances held by individual schools and as part of the Committee’s work programme. The funding framework for schools was outlined within the Vale of Glamorgan Council Fair Funding Scheme for Schools, the School Funding (Wales) Regulations 2010 and the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. The funding framework provided for maximum delegation of school budgets; however the Local Authority could suspend the governing body's right to a delegated budget in the case of financial mismanagement.

 

Individual schools were permitted to carry forward from one financial year to the next any underspend on its budget share plus / minus any balance brought forward from the previous year.

 

Governing bodies were also required to report to the Director of Learning and Skills on the planned use made of surplus balances that exceeded 5% or £10,000, whichever was greater.

 

The 2016/17 delegated schools budget totalled £81,009,000 and a further £14,245,000 was allocated to schools via grants from the Welsh Government.

 

The overall level of school balances on 1st April, 2016 was £2,946,348 which decreased to £2,321,817 by 31st March, 2017.  This decrease to school balances of £624,531 was due to a net overspend against the schools' 2016/17 budget and equated to a decrease of 21.2% on the schools' opening balances.

 

Total school balances had decreased by 41.3% over the six year period from April 2011 to March 2017.  A full list of schools' balances over the last seven financial years was included at Appendix A to the report and a further analysis was included at Appendix B.

 

Four schools ended the 2016/17 financial year in a deficit position: 

  • St. Cyres Comprehensive School ended the financial year in a deficit of £141,388.  The school had an approved recovery plan in place which would eradicate this deficit over the next four financial years
  • Ysgol Gymraeg Sant Baruc had ended the 2016/17 financial year in a deficit of £8,390.  The school had an approved recovery plan in place which would eradicate this deficit over the next three financial years
  • Fairfield Primary School had ended the 2016/17 financial year in a deficit of £35,471.  The school had an approved recovery plan in place which would eradicate this deficit over the next three financial years
  • Pendoylan Church in Wales Primary School ended the 2016/17 financial year in a deficit of £40,573.  This deficit was unlicensed as there was no approved recovery plan in place.  This was the fourth consecutive year that the school had outturned in an unlicensed deficit position.  The Governing Body was in the process of completing a recovery plan with the new Headteacher. 

In referring to the deficit for Pendoylan CiW Primary School, a Member queried what would happen if the school’s plan was not agreed by the Department.  In response, the Finance Manager for Learning and Skills advised that the plan was in place but that the school required a registration certificate from CSSIW in respect of nursery provision which had not yet been received.  It was anticipated that this would be received but at this particular moment in time, the plan could not be agreed as a result of this registration being awaited.

 

The Chairman, in referring to the recommendation in the report that where schools did not comply with the Council’s direction to spend, clawback would take place, queried whether this was an approach that was warranted and whether a more   collaborative approach would be more suitable. The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources commented that the Council was trying to establish transparency on how budgets would work and how schools would be held to account.  The detail in the report referred to a mechanism for checks and balances to be put in place and each school must complete an index proforma of their intentions.  The Finance Manager had worked closely with schools and open and honest conversations had been held and that a collaborative approach was being pursued.  The Head of Service further stated that the Vale was in a unique position with regard to its work with Head teachers in that it had a good, honest relationship and open and honest discussion took place. 

 

Following consideration of the report, it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T Cabinet be informed that the Scrutiny Committee notes the level of school reserves, but that the ability to clawback should be coupled with the desire to work collaboratively with schools to use the limited resources they had to best effect.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

Having considered the level of schools reserves and the desire for a collaborative approach to continue in working with schools to use the limited resources to best effect.  

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