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SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (LIFELONG LEARNING)

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 17th March, 2014.

 

Present:  Councillor N.P. Hodges (Chairman); Councillor Ms. R. Birch (Vice-Chairman); Councillors Ms. K. Edmunds, H.C. Hamilton, T.H. Jarvie, F.T. Johnson, A. Parker, R.A. Penrose and E. Williams.

 

Co-opted Members:  Mr. P. Burke (Roman Catholic Church), Dr. C. Brown (Parent Governor - Secondary Sector), and Mr. L. Kellaway (Parent Governor - Primary Sector).

 

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

 

 

959     APOLOGIES –

 

These were received from Councillors Mrs. M.E.J. Birch and C.P.J. Elmore (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services).

 

 

960     MINUTES – 

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 17th February, 2014 be approved as a correct record subject to it being noted that Councillor C.P.J. Elmore (Cabinet Member for Children’s Services) was also present at the meeting.

 

 

961     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – 

 

Dr. C. Brown declared an interest in Agenda Item No. 9 in that she was a Governor of Llantwit Major Comprehensive School.

 

 

962     REVENUE AND CAPITAL MONITORING FOR THE PERIOD 1ST APRIL 2013 TO 31ST JANUARY 2014 (CLSO) –

 

In presenting the report the Accountant advised that it was anticipated that the projected outturn for 2013/14 would be in line with the budget, after making a contribution to the Capital Investment reserve of £509k.  A graph and table setting out the variance between the profiled budget and actual expenditure to date was attached at Appendix 1 to the report.  In referring to the Schools budget it was noted that it was expected to balance as any under or over spends would be carried forward by schools.  With regard to the School Improvement and Inclusion section there were adverse variances of £30k on children’s placements Out of County and Independent Schools, £14k on respite and £11k on the Pupil referral Unit.  This would however, be offset by favourable variances in the following areas: Alternative Curriculum Placements £10k, Home tuition £14k, Pupil Support and Behaviour £22k and income £9k.  Service Strategy and Regulation was showing a favourable variance of £22k which was reported as a result of efficiencies within the business support unit supplies and services budget. The Strategic Planning and Resources section had an adverse variance of £22k which due to an estimated overspend on further education transport of £115k, SEN transport £6k, pension contributions £5k and other various areas amounting to £5k.  This had been offset by favourable variances on Education Finance £45k, repairs and maintenance of schools £20k and mainstream transport £44k.  The Education service was projecting to transfer £121k to reserves as part of the Voluntary Early Retirement and Redundancy scheme.  For Libraries a favourable £66k variance against the profiled budget was reported due to staff vacancies and the early implementation of target savings.  However, it was noted that this would be utilised within the service during the coming months to fund one off building works and equipment purchases and grant match funding. 

 

The Youth Service was anticipated to outturn on target at the year end. There was currently a £40k favourable variance on the Lifelong Learning service due to staff vacancies which had recently been filled and an underspend in tutor costs.  With regard to Catering the £8k favourable variance against the profiled budget was reported as due to slower than anticipated take up of free Breakfast Club provision.  The underspend would be utilised to upgrade and maintain kitchens and equipment by the year end.

 

Appendix 2 to the report detailed the financial progress on the Capital Programme as at 31st January 2014.

 

In considering the report a Member queried the £115k overspend in relation to Education Transport with the Accountant responding that the costs had to be met as detailed within the policy criteria.  The Member also stated that, in his opinion, the Council needed to be more accurate in its forecasting of budgets and that he would  be raising these issues at the next meeting of the Scrutiny Committee (Corporate Resources) the following evening as the Lead Committee responsible for oversight of the revenue budgets.  The Committee in noting the comments subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the revenue and capital monitoring report be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

To apprise Members.

 

 

963     IMPROVEMENT PLAN PART 1 (IMPROVEMENT OBJECTIVES 2014/15) (CLSO) –

 

The report sought endorsement of proposed improvement objectives for 2014/15.  The Corporate Plan 2013-17 set out a four year vision for the Council structured around eight priority outcomes which reflected the priority outcomes in the Community Strategy 2011-21.  These outcomes were also reflected in departmental service plans for 2014/15 and informed the development of service outcomes and objectives. 

 

Eight improvement objectives were proposed for 2014/15 including four that had been carried forward for 2013/14.  In referring to the report the three objectives that applied specifically to the Scrutiny Committee Lifelong Learning were

  • To improve employability of local people by facilitating learning opportunities, vocational and employment skills (Objective 1)
  • To reduce the number of young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) (Objective 5)
  • To support and challenge schools in order to improve pupil attainment levels at Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 (Objective 7).

In noting Objective 1 and the fact that half the learners did not successfully complete their learning, Members queried whether there was more that the Council could do to assist.  The Head of School Improvement and Inclusion in presenting the report advised that one of the priorities was to make sure learning directly matches the needs of clients on the courses with one of the actions in particular being to improve courses.  However, it was accepted that it was always difficult to understand why there was a large drop off rate as students did not have to attend courses on a compulsory basis. 

 

With regard to Objective 5, the key theme noted was that further improvement work needed to be progressed to identify the most at risk of becoming NEET.  The Head of Service stated that a group of professionals across the Directorate met on a regular basis in order to assess underperformance.  Of note was the fact that for the age group 16 to 18 performance was improving however, between the ages of 18 to 24 there were causes for concern. This, it had been stated, could be as a result of the economic climate at the time and the fact that data may not be reliable.  The Chairman reminded Members that NEETs was part of the Committee’s work programme and that a further report was to be presented in the next few months. 

 

In referring to performance the Chairman advised that the 'Percentage of pupil attendance in secondary schools' should read for 2014/15 as 94% and not 84%. 

 

With regard to Objective 7 it was noted that key stage 3 had been identified in the Council’s Post Inspection Action Plan (PIAP) with the Head of Service advising that the Council needed to ensure that all schools performed in the upper benchmarking range, it needed to improve on pupils achieving 5 GCSEs including English and Maths and to engage in early identification.  Improving attendance was also an action with the Chairman advising that the Committee itself had recently asked for a report on this subject in order that a debate on the matter could be held. 

 

In noting the intention that the Callio Strategy was to be fully implemented in partnership with schools a further report would also be presented to a future meeting of the Committee on the subject. 

 

Having considered the report it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the proposed improvement objectives for 2014/15 be endorsed and the reports as outlined above be submitted to Committee as and when appropriate.

 

Reasons for recommendation

 

(1)       To ensure the Council identified key annual improvement priorities for 2014/15 in line with requirements of the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009.

 

(2)       To ensure that improvement objectives focus specifically on those areas where there is a need for improvement, reflecting the work being undertaken across the Council to improve the quality of life for Vale residents.

 

(3)       To enable the Council to more easily demonstrate achievement of its priorities.

 

(4)       For Committee consideration.

 

 

964     SUMMARY OF SCHOOL INSPECTION REPORTS FOR THE AUTUMN TERM 2013 (CLSO) –

 

Cowbridge Comprehensive School had been inspected during the Autumn term 2013 and a summary of the inspection findings was appended to the report.  During Autumn 2013 the judgements that had been made in respect of Cowbridge Comprehensive School were reported as both good for current performance and good for prospects for improvement.  In noting that the report was essentially a good report it was accepted that there were some aspects that needed improvement. 

 

The Chairman stated that, on the whole, it was a very pleasing report and although there were recommendations for improvement he considered that the school should be congratulated on the report, following which it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the inspection judgements about the school be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T a letter be sent to the school congratulating them on the overall judgements following the inspection.

 

(3)       T H A T the inspection report be forwarded to Cabinet for consideration.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       to apprise Members.

 

(2)       To congratulate the school.          

 

(3)       To apprise Cabinet.

 

 

965     LEARNING AND SKILLS QUARTERLY MONITORING REPORT – QUARTER 3 (CLSO) –

 

The Head of School Improvement and Inclusion stated that overall the Department was well on track to achieve the objectives contributing to its service outcomes with 87% of actions currently either completed or on track.  The Department’s contribution to the Corporate Plan was also well on track with 86% of actions on track for completion.  Out of 51 actions within the service plan, 11 had been completed, 33 on track and 7 had slipped.

 

In referring to a number of the actions the Head of Service provided updates as detailed below:

 

LSO2/A008 – the actions had been itemised in the PIAP

LS02/A009 – programmes of support were currently in place

LS02/A012 – action completed

LS01/A014 – action needs to be revisited as some provision is now being done nationally by Welsh Government

LS03/L003Q – the target was now being set at 83%

LS02/M004Q – the target was now being set at 97%.

These targets reflected that there was challenge in the system

LS03/A029 – ongoing works were currently being addressed

LS06/A056 – work was well underway, some funding had been secured in partnership with Cardiff Metropolitan University to consider the wellbeing agenda and this would also include the wellbeing of headteachers

LS07/A065 – pupil tracker systems currently at a standstill because of issues in relation to the transfer of data between local authorities and, in particular, the data for individuals being stored by organisations.

 

The Head of Service also pointed out that where the action detail related to 2012/13 this related to the financial year.

 

In response to a query from a co-opted Member as to whether the Council could be considered to be spending too much time on addressing issues with underperforming schools and whether exceptional pupils should also have similar attention, the Head of Service’s response was that the Council did challenge exceptional pupils, with performance reports being shared with Headteachers in June each year and targets set as well as regional categorisation of schools. 

 

In referring to the work of the JES a Member was concerned as to the scrutiny of the organisation, its accountability and associated costs.  The Head of Service responded by advising that the establishment of the JES would allow for a consistent approach across all the local authorities although the Council needed to make sure that the Vale articulated its performance priorities very clearly and they were considered equally alongside partner local authorities in the Consortium.  The Chairman reiterated the fact that the Scrutiny Committee itself would continue to monitor the work of the JES by holding them to account at various meetings of the Committee throughout the year.

 

Having considered the report and the responses provided at the meeting it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the performance report and the direction of travel be noted.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In view of the discussion held and the information provided at the meeting.

 

 

966     LEARNING AND SKILLS DIRECTORATE SERVICE PLAN 2014-18 (CLSO) –

 

The report outlined that the service areas of school improvement and inclusion, strategy, community learning and resources combined to form the Learning and Skills Directorate.  The Directorate had a wide range of statutory duties with its primary role to work in collaboration with key stakeholders to develop effective, confident and independent learners who enjoy a sense of personal wellbeing, enabling them to share their learning with others and contribute to their community and society. 

 

The Service Plan was a key component in the Vale of Glamorgan Council’s planning framework and supported delivery of the Corporate Plan 2013-17.  The Service Plan provided a four year overview of the Directorate’s work and set out how it contributed to achieving the key outcomes and objectives as identified in the Corporate Plan 2013-17.  In noting that this was a draft document and required some modifications, discussion took place regarding the risks identified, with it being noted that these risks would also be picked up within in the Corporate Risk Register.

 

The Action Plan attached at Appendix 1 to the report provided details on whether the action was high, medium or low priority, the responsible officer for the action, the start and finish date and how the work would be resourced.

 

In referring to the report a Member queried the re - introduction of the mobile library service which had been subject to a review and consultation exercise with Town and Community Councils. It was noted that Barry Town Council had expressed an interest and it was subsequently suggested that the report reflect the current position following which it was

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the Service Plan and progress to date be endorsed subject to the amendment to reflect the current position in relation to mobile library provision as outlined above.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In view of the contents contained therein and discussion at the meeting.

 

 

967     INDIVIDUAL SCHOOLS’ PROGRESS MEETINGS (CLSO) –

 

The Committee received an update report on the progress meetings that had been held at Llantwit Major Comprehensive School undertaken by a Panel of three members of the Committee. 

 

In February 2013 the Scrutiny Committee had agreed to establish School Progress Panels consisting of three members, this approach being agreed in order to seek to increase the accountability of schools for pupil attainment.

 

The Chairman, in presenting the report, advised that in April 2013 the Panel subsequently undertook a visit to Llantwit Major Comprehensive School where they were provided with a competent description of the analysis of work to be undertaken to fully diagnose and address the barriers to high attainment that had been faced following the results in August 2012.  At that time the school had presented a very positive outlook for GCSE examination performance in 2013 to the Panel and provided details of the support programme that had been put in place to assist the process. 

 

Following the re-assessment of the examination results in August 2013, the proportion of pupils achieving higher grades in English had increased but this still meant that the school remained in the bottom quartile.  The Authority was therefore concerned that the standards of pupil performance were unacceptably low when compared with standards attained by pupils at comparable schools.  However, of note was the fact that performance at Key Stage 3 had improved materially in 2013 and was now in the top quartile compared to similar schools.  The school had also commissioned continuing support in the interim to improve performance. 

 

As a result of the performance of the school, a letter was sent by the Chief Learning and Skills Officer to the Chair of Governors and Headteacher, in October 2013, advising that if the school did not make sufficient progress during the year, the Chief Learning and Skills Officer would have to recommend to the Council that it exercises its powers of intervention in the governance and management arrangements of the school in accordance with the Schools Standards and Organisation (Wales) Act 2013. 

 

The Chief Learning and Skills Officer had received a response from the Chairman of Governors which had acknowledged the challenges faced by the school and which also referred to the progress that had been made on many fronts in 2012/13 together with the current arrangements that had been put in place for a newly established Governor Monitoring Group to monitor performance.

 

A further meeting of the Panel was therefore held in January 2014 with the Headteacher reporting to Members the commitment of the school to take action and the positive initiatives that had been introduced to date.  The Governing Body of the school had also established a Governor Monitoring Group which reported to the Curriculum Committee and ultimately to the Full Governing Body in order to develop expertise and encourage improvement within the school.  At this time Members noted that Key Stage 4 improvement had been secured in every area and the significant improvement that had taken place following the implementation of various initiatives but that further improvements were still required. 

 

In referring to initiatives and strategies that had been identified, the Headteacher advised that new schemes of work across the school had been implemented, extra lessons across the school introduced, including two extra one hour lessons per fortnight in both Years 10 and 11, early mocks with mock moderation ensured standards were secure and allowed for discussion for the impact of teaching.  Post analysis of mocks was also being undertaken with feedback sessions being held with every member of the department. Discussion also took place on the impact on teaching strategies which identified target groups for January examinations and any amendments to entries.  There were team teaching and support groups and revision sessions for language examinations from September 2013 with close liaison to improve attendance and focus on key target pupils.  Notwithstanding these there were also revision sessions, PSE days and carousel teaching of exam skills.  A Sunday revision session had also reported an attendance of 92 pupils. 

 

The strategies implemented for Maths were similar to those reported for English, but also included: the use of Year 11 form time for additional Maths delivery, after school and lunch time and Sunday revision sessions, pre-examination revision days and half days, half termly whole year past paper assessments, parental revision support workshop, new assessment sheets in books to give additional information to parents, improved website resources and additional teaching staff to target Year 11 small target groups.  The target groups also received extra interventions from Education London, small group provision mentoring and additional revision. 

 

For level 2+ (inclusive English and Maths) a target group consisting of 24 students had also been set up which had received extra interventions from Education London, small group provision mentoring and additional revision.  The school had also taken measures to improve Key Stage 3 performance, levels 5+, 6+ and 7+ and FFT.  A number of initiatives had also been secured by the school from the Central South Consortium. 

 

The Chairman in referring to paragraphs 15 and 16 of the report highlighted that the Panel’s overall conclusion was that they welcomed the measures that the school had taken to improve performance, including robust data collection, interrogation analysis and had been pleased to note that leadership across all departments had been strengthened and that this would be continued.  The Panel however encouraged the school to develop resilience and succession planning within the leadership team and looked forward to seeing that all the initiatives for improvement were fully implemented and thoroughly evaluated.  The role of Governors in the challenge and accountability process and the setting up of a Governor Task Group to challenge performance was welcomed, and were aware that the March examination results were due and would continue to monitor progress by requesting details of the results in due course. 

 

The Committee, aware of the recent English language examination results in Wales that had received substantial press coverage, were advised by the Head of Service that the WJEC and Welsh Government would be conducting a full review of the recent examination process with the intention that a report be published at the end of March 2014.  Headteachers had made their representations in respect of these examinations with it being noted that the examination paper and specification had changed and that there had been an increased focus on technical ability.  

 

The Chairman took the opportunity to thank the officers, the Panel Members and the schools for their involvement and support in the work of the Performance Panels, advising that two other schools had also recently been visited with the intention being that the reports of those visits progress be reported to the Committee as appropriate.

 

Following the discussion it was

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the Scrutiny Panel findings as detailed in paragraphs 15 and 16 of the report be accepted.

 

(2)       T H A T it be noted that the Panel had requested details of the March examination results in order to continue to monitor progress.

 

(3)       T H A T a follow up visit to the school takes place later in the year by the Panel, if appropriate, following the GCSE results in August 2014.

 

(4)       T H A T the report be referred to Cabinet for consideration and or approval.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       To apprise Committee of the findings of the Scrutiny Panel.

 

(2)       In recognition of the Scrutiny Panel's intention to monitor progress.

 

(3)       To monitor and undertake a follow up visit if appropriate.

 

(4)       For Cabinet consideration.

 

 

968     TASK AND FINISH ACTIVITIES FOR 2014/15 (HDS) –

 

The report provided Members with an update on scrutiny reviews being undertaken and the process for Scrutiny Committees to consider topics for review in 2014/15.  Members were also requested to consider suggestions for future reviews which would be referred to the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group to prioritise.  The Committee were however, asked to limit the number of such items they wished to put forward to two per Committee.  The report also outlined various questionnaires and surveys that had been undertaken within the Council between 2011/12 and 2012/13 to assist Members in considering items for review.

The Chairman stated that the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) was currently involved in scrutiny work linked to School Performance Panels with considerable time already being given to arranging, administering, undertaking research and supporting Panel Members with these exercises.  It was anticipated that work associated with these Panels would be ongoing with a number of secondary schools and primary schools subject to such arrangements.  The Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer advised that a review of the current Performance Panel arrangements and the lessons learned to date was currently being prepared, with the intention that the report is initially forwarded to Panel Members for their consideration and comments prior to submission to the Scrutiny Committee itself. A suggestion was made as to whether the Committee could consider a review on improving the take up of Free school meals. However, aware that the cashless catering system was being rolled out to schools it was agreed that a report on the subject would be more appropriate at this stage.

 

A Member queried the current position in relation to the schools surplus places review report that had been undertaken by Members with a request that an update be provided to the Committee on progress to date.

 

In conclusion, Members in referring to the anticipated work of the performance panels and the reports that had already been requested by the Committee itself in relation to Governor training, school attendance, NEETS and in view of the number of School Performance Panels that were likely to be undertaken, subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T, in view of the current and anticipated workload as contained within the Committee’s work programme and as outlined above, no formal review be  considered to be put forward by the Committee for 2014/15 to the Chairman and Vice-Chairmen Group.

 

(2)       T H A T the process for considering reviews in 2014/15 as contained in the report as endorsed by the Scrutiny Committee Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen Group be accepted.

 

(3)       T H A T the update on Scrutiny reviews be noted.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       In recognition of the current work programme of the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning).

 

(2&3)  In recognition of the role of scrutiny and to facilitate the Scrutiny Committee work programme as outlined in the Council’s Constitution.

 

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