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SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (LIFELONG LEARNING)

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 10th November, 2014.

 

Present:  Councillor N.P. Hodges (Chairman); Councillors Mrs. C.L. Curtis, F.T. Johnson, A. Parker, R.A. Penrose and E. Williams.

 

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

 

Non-voting Observers: Mr. G. Beaudette (Primary Sector), Mr. D. Treharne (Welsh Medium Education) and Ms. T. Young (Secondary Sector).

 

Also present: Councillors C.P.J. Elmore and Dr. I.J. Johnson.

 

 

585     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE – 

 

These were received from Councillor Ms. R. Birch (Vice-Chairman), Councillors Mrs. M.E.J. Birch and T.H. Jarvie; and Mr. L. Kellaway (Parent Governor - Primary Sector).

 

 

586     MINUTES – 

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 13th October, 2014 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

587     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – 

 

Councillor C.P.J. Elmore, Cabinet Member (not a Member of the Committee), advised that he was a Governor of Barry Comprehensive School and the Chairman of the Central South Consortium and could speak on the matter.  It was noted that Councillors who were school governors representing the Local Authority and Members of the Committee were able to speak and vote on agenda items.

 

Dr. C. Brown advised she was a Governor of Llantwit Major Comprehensive School and Ms. T. Young stated that she was a teacher at Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School. 

 

 

588     PRESENTATION: CENTRAL SOUTH CONSORTIUM –

 

Ms. Hannah Woodhouse, Managing Director of the Central South Consortium  and Mr. P. Wolstenholme, Senior Challenge Advisor to the Consortium, were present to provide an overview of the service which was to be followed by a question and answer session.  A copy of the presentation had been tabled at the meeting for Members’ information and Ms. Woodhouse commenced by advising that the Consortium covered five Local Authorities – Bridgend, Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhondda Cynon Taff and the Vale of Glamorgan, and this equated to 411 schools.

 

Ms. Woodhouse advised that the Consortium had been established by Welsh Government and set up in September 2012.  The initial Consortium staff had comprised those in inherited school improvement services and in November 2013 Welsh Government had clarified the role of the Consortium in "the national model for regional working".  As a result, the Central South Consortium produced a new business case which sets out a Central South Wales Challenge and a new vision for a self improving school system, an amended governance model, and it had removed the Links service and restructured literacy and numeracy teams and reduced and reviewed Challenge Advisors and their role. 

 

In providing detail on the performance of the region to date, it was noted that at the Foundation Phase schools had seen a 3.2% improvement against national improvement of 2.2% at expected level.  In particular, for the Vale of Glamorgan Foundation Phase results had risen by 0.8%.  At Key Stage 2 outcomes at Level 4 had improved across the region from 82.3% to 85.8% (nationally 86.1%).  Again, for the Vale, these points had risen by 2.5% at Level 4+.  At Key Stage 3 results rose from 76.1% at Level 5+ to 80.3% (81% nationally), which was a rise of 4.2% against 4% nationally.  For the Vale on average, results had risen by 1.5%.  At Key Stage 4, although this was provisional data, all five Authorities had improved at Level 2+ by more than the national level of improvement, leading to a regional average improvement of 4.6%.  The Vale of Glamorgan schools had improved by 6.8% (provisional).  For mathematics, improvement at Key Stage 4 in the regional was 4.4% on average against the national average improvement of 1.4%. 

 

Members were further informed that attendance had improved to above the national average at secondary level with a 2.5% improvement in some Authorities. 

 

The role of the Consortium was to challenge and support, to either provide or signpost to support and to provide data and intelligence to Local Authorities on performance and improvement priorities in schools.  It also had a key link with Welsh Government in school improvement intelligence and communication.  The Consortium was governed by Welsh Government Challenge and Review Sessions, by a joint committee which consisted of all Cabinet Members from the five Local Authorities in the Consortium and by the Scrutiny Committees of the five Local Authorities.  Representatives from joint committee Directors, Heads, Governors and external experts sits on the Executive Board.  The Consortium also has a Director Steering Group, a Governor Steering Group, a Head Steering Group and an Operational Group. 

 

Ms. Woodhouse advised that the priorities for the Consortium were:

 

·         To close the gap in outcomes for children in poverty

·         To raise standards in English and Welsh first language

·         To raise standards in Mathematics

·         To improve outcomes at Level 2+

·         To improve the quality of leadership

·         To improve the quality of teaching and assessment

·         To improve attendance.

 

The Consortium is also seeking to build a self improving school system where schools are communities where joint working is used to improve practice and above all, to develop a strong sense of common moral purpose that schools care about improvement for all, as much as for their own school.  In referring to the Central South Challenge and what this would mean for schools Ms Woodhouse informed Members that this would include establishing hubs of specialists to develop programmes for teaching and leadership, establishing a peer review programme as a commissioned programme by schools for schools and to provide support for every school to be in a network to share and develop good practice.

 

In referring in particular to engagement with the Vale of Glamorgan schools, the Managing Director advised that the Vale contributed £653,276 towards the core funding of the Consortium and for this received nine part time Challenge Advisors and a part time Senior Challenge Advisor in addition to the core services of the Consortium.  Since it began in January 2014 32 teachers from 19 Vale schools had been on the OTP/ITP (Outstanding teacher programme and Improving teacher programme).training and 23 participants had taken part in leadership programmes.  There were seven literacy and numeracy interventions in place in primary schools and nine in secondary schools in the current year.  Seven Vale schools were also involved in pathfinders and the vast majority of schools were engaging with their SIG (School Improvement Group).

 

The Cabinet Member, with permission to speak, in referring to the Consortiums review of its operation stated that there had been a number of issues when it was being established notwithstanding the questions raised around Scrutiny of the organisation and joint scrutiny arrangements.  The original national model for regional working does not include joint scrutiny and Local Authorities were therefore undertaking their own scrutiny arrangements however, there was currently a debate about whether it should be resurrected.  As Cabinet Member and Chair of the Consortium, he could advise that having had considerable discussions with Headteachers, it had been noted that they had seen a change in the way the Consortium was now running and a Headteachers’ Working Group existed in order to drive improvement. 

 

Councillor N.P. Hodges, Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, took the opportunity to thank the representatives from the Consortium for attending the Scrutiny Committee and advised that it was the intention of the Scrutiny Committee to continue inviting representatives on at least an annual basis for mutual discussion and challenge.  He referred to the work of the Scrutiny Committee’s Schools Individual Progress Panels and that Members were keen to ensure that good practice was cascaded throughout all schools in the Vale. The Scrutiny Committee was equally keen to visit exemplar schools as well as underperforming schools and he advised the Committee that panels had raised previous concerns in relation to the accountability of some Governing bodies, the accuracy and variations in teacher assessments and inconsistencies of approach and he welcomed the support to be established to assist Governors and the sharing of good practice.

 

In referring to Foundation Phase and the fact that it appeared that performance was increasing at a slower rate than elsewhere, Members queried the support that was being offered to accelerate improvements.  In the main, Ms. Woodhouse referred to the building of capacity within schools. The Consortium’s own self-evaluation had identified areas for improvement and in her view the team was starting to work together better.  The Senior Challenge Advisor stated that it was important to analyse where you need to improve within schools and focus on those schools which may not necessarily include focusing on the Foundation Phase.  It was however, an area that the Consortium would be looking at in the forthcoming year. 

 

In referring to attendance, a Member advised that the Council had recently agreed a zero tolerance policy for holidays in term time, but although this information had been cascaded to Headteachers, they were aware that some teachers were resisting the policy. 

 

The Cabinet Member, at this point, advised that attendance had improved significantly in the Vale and the Council had agreed to the policy change but that he too was aware that some Heads had reneged on their previous commitment to this strategy. It was the Cabinet Member’s view that the Council had gone as far as it could and it was up to Heads and Governing Bodies to support the view.  He had also offered Governing Bodies the opportunity of him addressing their Governing body meetings in the interest of promoting attendance.  The Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee reiterated the fact that the Committee had been unanimous in their support in respect of the change in policy and that parents should be aware that there were a number of school holidays throughout the year and they should not be taking their children out of school at any other time. 

 

With regard to the information provided in relation to Free School Meals (FSMs) and the wider gap at Key Stage 4 compared with 2013, Members sought assurance from the Consortium that plans existed to reduce this gap.  The Director of Learning and Skills advised that there had been some positive improvements at Key Stage 2 and 3 but that clearly more progress was needed.  The Committee would also be receiving a report in relation to the use of the Pupil Deprivation Grant which, it was hoped, would be presented to the next Scrutiny Committee meeting.  It was noted that the information provided in the presentation referred to an average picture in the region but it was important that the performance of individual schools was considered, particularly those where the gap had widened and the measures to be used to address this. 

 

A Co-opted Member of the Committee stated that there was no information in the presentation in relation to gender gap and how this should be addressed by the Consortium.  The Managing Director stated that Challenge Advisors would be talking to Headteachers about the gaps in schools.  They had already picked up trends in boys’ literacy and were currently considering what could be done to improve the situation.  The view was that the whole process should be a systematic approach with individual schools and not necessarily having the same strategies for all schools. 

 

A concern was raised that FSM data was not always reflective of the situation as not all children were identified and there were a number of parents who did not engage in the process which meant that the correct funding for a school was not received.  The Director stated that she was fully aware of this issue and that benefit forms had been amended to make it easier for parents to claim FSM.  Benefit advisors had also been attending Head teachers’ meetings to advise on the matter.  She would ensure that the documentation that was used within this process was forwarded to the Scrutiny Committee for information.  The suggestion was made that the Consortium also consider how other Local Authorities measured their FSM and, in particular, considered that it may be worth checking with Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council how they gathered the evidence as they had significant numbers of FSMs.

 

In referring to the role of Governors in schools, the Consortium had been considering best practice for Governors with the Chairman advising that the Scrutiny Committee was also keen to look at Governor training and had commissioned a report to be brought to the Committee in due course.  Some Members considered that they felt that performance was not relayed to all Governors in the appropriate format and that this issue had also been raised whilst undertaking Individual School Progress Panels.  The Chairman also queried whether initiatives similar to the Individual School Progress Panels by the Vale, had been established in any other Local Authorities in the Consortium.  The Managing Director advised that she was not aware if this type of challenge had been established but that it was important that good practice being undertaken within Consortia Local Authorities was cascaded to all.  The Chairman also advised of the knowledge that had been gained by Panel Members in undertaking this role and he considered this to be an important element of the process.  The Cabinet Member concurred with the Chairman about the importance of the work of the Individual School Progress Panels and that there was evidence that could be presented to Estyn on improvements having been made.

 

In referring to the deletion of the role of LINKS service, reference was made to the types of support available to schools with the Managing Director advising that it was important that schools utilised their own resources to obtain high quality support, whether it be from within the Consortium, from other schools in Wales or England or via the private sector.  The main role of the Consortium was to advise on what support was available. 

 

In summing up, the Chairman took the opportunity to thank the representatives from the Consortium for their attendance and advised that further invitations would be extended to attend Scrutiny Committee meetings in the future. The Chairman also thanked the Cabinet Member in his role as Chairman of the Central South Consortium for the frank and open discussion that had taken place and referred to the fact that school improvement was indeed an absolute priority for all.

 

Following the discussion it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the representatives from the Consortium be thanked for their attendance, it being accepted that invitations would be extended to present to the Committee on at least an annual basis. 

 

(2)       T H A T Cabinet be forwarded the comments made at the meeting for their consideration.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

(1)       In view of the Scrutiny Committee’s role in monitoring performance and school improvement.

 

(2)       To advise Cabinet of the Scrutiny Committee’s ongoing scrutiny of the Consortium.

 

 

589     SCHOOL PERFORMANCE REPORT FOR THE END OF KEY STAGES 4 AND 5 (REF) –

 

The report had been presented to the Cabinet at its meeting on 3rd November 2014 to inform Members of school performance in external examinations in 2014.  Due to the fact that the minute of the Cabinet meeting had not been available at the time of the despatch of the agenda, the Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer had subsequently forwarded a copy of the minute to all Members on 5th November, 2014 with further copies being available at the meeting. 

 

Members were subsequently informed that the resolutions of Cabinet were as follows:

 

(1)          That the attainment at Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 in 2014 be noted and the schools that had achieved significant improvement be formally congratulated in writing, given their hard work in achieving, their attainment at Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5 in 2014.

 

(2)       That it be noted that in accordance with the School Standards and Organisation Act (2013) Llantwit Major and St Cyres Comprehensive Schools were no longer subject to a formal warning letter, therefore, the Scrutiny School Progress meetings were no longer required to take place and the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) was to be thanked for its work undertaken during this process.

 

(3)       That it be noted that formal intervention powers had been used in relation to Barry Comprehensive School.

 

(4)       That the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) be requested to set up an individual school progress meeting with Bryn Hafren Comprehensive and Barry Comprehensive School and closely monitor the progress of the Accelerated Improvement Board in Barry Comprehensive School.

 

In presenting the report the Director of Learning and Skills advised that the ambition for the Vale of Glamorgan was that educational outcomes were the best in Wales and matched those of the most successful Authorities in England with similar socio economic profiles.  It was noted that external GCSE examinations were undertaken by pupils at the end of Key Stage 4 in the core subject areas of English, Mathematics and Science as well as in non-core subject areas.  A Levels were undertaken at the end of Key Stage 5.

 

The report outlined performance for the measures and in particular advised that there had been many successes to report with reference to Key Stage 4 attainment for the year.  Provisionally the Vale of Glamorgan was the second highest in Wales with an overall performance at Level 2+ of 62.2%.  This had been a rise of 6.8% in performance from 55.4% in 2013 with improved performance at all eight comprehensive schools on the performance measure.  Of note was the fact that two schools had performed amongst the highest in Wales at Level 2+, Cowbridge had been second in Wales with 85% of students achieving five A*-C grades including English and Mathematics and Stanwell had been ranked fourth in Wales with 82% of students achieving this outcome.  The appendices to the report provided the following information -

 

Appendix 1 detailed a breakdown of the provisional overall results for 2013 for the Vale of Glamorgan and for Wales.  It was noted that the final validated figures would be available in December 2014.

 

Appendix 2 provided provisional Key Stage 4 performance indicator figures which demonstrated some significant gains and very little deterioration for the performance of individual schools within the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

Appendix 3  provided comparative information with Wales based on provisional data for WJEC entries only, and this indicated a 1.2pt increase in the percentage of students achieving an A*/A from 22.7% in 2013 to 23.9% in 2014 compared with a national average rise of 0.2pt. and   

 

Appendix 4 provided details on Key Stage 4 performance Level 2 threshold for Free School Meals (FSM) versus non FSM, it being noted that the gap between the performance of pupils entitled to FSMs and those who were not widened on the measure of performance from 27.4% to 38.2%.  It was recognised that this was an area for further forecast work, taking into account the priority attached to tackling the impact of poverty on educational outcomes.

 

Appendix 5 provided Key stage 5 provisional information about the performance indicators for the comprehensive schools with all but one school showing an increase in Level 3, with the exception of St. Cyres which whilst still performing at 98% was 1pt lower than 2013. 

 

Appendix 6, based on provisional data for WJECT entries only, showed the A and AS Level performance profile set against the all Wales mean, grade proportions for AS Levels which showed a decrease in A and A*-C with a marginal increase in A* - E. 

 

In referring to schools that had caused concern, paragraph 16 to the report noted that three schools in receipt of formal warnings in 2013 had all improved pupil attainment with Llantwit Major and St. Cyres making very good progress and no longer being subject to a warning letter.  The Director further highlighted that both Llantwit Major and St. Cyres had responded positively to the challenge and support that had been provided.  The department had also recently received confirmation that St. Cyres was no longer subject to Estyn follow up. 

 

With regard to Barry Comprehensive School although pupil attainment had improved, progress continued to be insufficient and intervention had proceeded.  This had consisted of firstly building on the pathfinder initiative which was already underway where the school had been required to collaborate with Treorchy Comprehensive School, Rhondda Cynon Taff, in order to access new perspectives, support and expertise.  This intervention was intended to support the delivery of the target that 85% of lesson observations were good or better as monitored by the Accelerated Improvement Board.  As part of the Schools Challenge Cymru programme of the Accelerated Improvement Board, the Council also proposed to consider in early November whether or not the Governing Body was providing sufficient leadership and challenge.  To this end the department would seek the advice of the school’s Challenge Advisor at that juncture to inform its judgement about the effectiveness of the leadership and challenge provided by Governors.  The Director considered it essential that the Governing Body had a clear understanding of the challenges that faced the school, the improvements that were required, and the challenges that this presented to the senior leadership team as well as the vital role that the Governing Body could play in securing accelerated progress. 

 

The report further stated that the department was hopeful that the evidence at that time would conclude that no action would be necessary, but if that was not the case, the proposal would be to appoint additional Governors to augment the Governing Body to contribute to the leadership of the school in meeting the targets and improvement plan.  Should that intervention however, not demonstrate any impact by the summer, the report highlighted at paragraph 19 that the department would consider the establishment of an Interim Executive Board to replace the Governing Body, with any such proposal at that time being the subject of formal consultation with the Governing Body.  

 

Members were informed that the school would also be supported by the Welsh Government Schools Challenge Programme by providing a Challenge Advisor, an Accelerated Improvement Board and additional funding to support the implementation of an improvement plan. 

 

With regard to the remaining school that had been visited by an Individual School Progress Panel, namely Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School, the Director informed Committee that progress had been made.  A new Headteacher and new Chair of Governors had been appointed and the department was working closely with the school.  In referring to the resolutions of Cabinet the Cabinet Member advised that Individual School Progress Panels were being requested to be reconvened for Barry and Bryn Hafren Comprehensive Schools but that further visits to Llantwit Major and St. Cyres Comprehensive Schools were not required. 

 

Members stated that they were pleased with the reported results of some schools and the measures being taken by officers and Members to assist with the improvement agenda.  They also reiterated the Chairman’s previous statement in the meeting that the Individual School Progress Panels had promoted improvement and that some of the schools had fully taken on board the comments made and the opportunity afforded to them.  However, a Member of one school panel advised that on his panel’s visit to the school they had been disappointed with the attitude of the Headteacher and the Governor when questioned and challenged.

 

The Cabinet Member advised that he was a Governor of the school being referred to and that changes had been made to date with regard to Governor membership and  that it was his view that both the Head and Management Teams were now working together.  He stated that, he had witnessed a significant change in the ethos of the school and through the involvement of the School’s Challenge Cymru approach there now appeared to be positive plans to move the school forward.  The improvement journey he advised would take some time but support was being provided and he reaffirmed the view that Individual School Progress Panels should return to Barry Comprehensive and, Bryn Hafren to continue the improvement journey. 

 

Having considered the report, it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the resolutions of Cabinet be endorsed and Individual School Progress Panel meetings be arranged for Barry and Bryn Hafren Comprehensive Schools.

 

(2)       T H A T letters of congratulation be sent to Llantwit Major and St. Cyres Comprehensive Schools in respect of the improvements made in 2014.

 

(3)       T H A T letters of congratulation be sent to Cowbridge and Stanwell Comprehensive Schools in recognition of their performance which was amongst the highest in Wales at Level 2+.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       Having considered the report and the contents contained therein and to continue to ensure processes were in place to hold schools to account for the quality of education provided.

 

(2)       In recognition of the rapid progress that had been made and the achievements of the GCSE results in 2014.

 

(3)       In recognition of the performance of the schools being ranked amongst the highest in Wales at Level 2+.

 

 

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