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SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (LIFELONG LEARNING)

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 9th November, 2015.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Also present: Councillor C.P.J. Elmore (Cabinet Member – Children’s Services and Schools).

 

 

568     APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Councillor Mrs. M.E.J. Birch and Mr. L. Kellaway (Parent Governor - Primary Sector).

 

 

569     MINUTES –

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 12th October, 2015 be approved as a correct record, subject to it being noted that with regard to page 933, second paragraph, at the end of the sentence ending “…. since 1st April 2015 resulting in.”  the full stop be deleted.

 

 

570     DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

571     CONSORTIUM UPDATE (MD) –

 

The Managing Director of the Central South Consortium, Ms. Hannah Woodhouse, commenced by advising that the report provided an update on what the Consortium was doing within the region and the investment it was making in schools.  Every school in the region had a Challenge Advisor and Mr. Stuart Sherman, who was present at the meeting, was the Senior Challenge Advisor responsible for work in the vale as well as working as Challenge Advisor in some of the schools within the Vale.

 

In referring to the background to the report, the Managing Director advised that the Central South Consortium covered 406 schools, which was 36% of Welsh children from across five Authorities.  Since 2012 standards had improved across the region at every Key Stage.  In 2015 the region overtook the national average at Foundation Phase, Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4, and remained 0.3 percentage points below at Key Stage 3.  Overall Authorities in the region had demonstrated significantly faster improvement than the national average from a low base.  There had also been significant improvement in levels of attendance in primary and secondary schools.  Annex A to the report referred to improvement across the region at all levels since the inception of the Consortium in 2012.

 

In referring specifically to the Vale of Glamorgan, the Managing Director advised that progress reports for the upcoming Estyn monitoring visit showed that standards in 2015 were good and the rate of progress strong across all performance indicators.  Since 2012 the Authority had sustained improvement in all Key Stages well above the rate of improvement across Wales.  Although there remained areas for development and a need to continue to be vigilant, the 2015 outcomes had demonstrated further improvement at every Key Stage, with particularly strong improvement at the outcome / level above the expected outcome / level.

 

The Managing Director further advised that in 2014/15 the Consortium Business Plan had established the strategic ambition to develop and support a self-improvement school system which was enquiry led and built around effective self-evaluation and improvement planning.  This was called the Central South Wales Challenge and had six areas of work which were based on the six indicators of an effective school improvement system. 

 

The Consortium Business Plan, which was also attached to the report, established three priority areas for the Consortium as follows: 

 

          Improving Teaching,

          Improving Leadership and

          Improving Partnership.

 

The Business Plan set stretching and ambitious targets based on those set by each Authority and reflected school target setting.  Each Local Authority (LA) had agreed an LA annex which indicated targets for that LA which reflected those set in the Post Inspection Action Plan (PIAP) or Corporate Education Plan.

 

In referring to the Challenge Framework, the Managing Director advised that effective school self-evaluation improvement planning was at the centre of the vision of a self-improving school system and the Consortium had worked hard since 2013 to improve the Challenge Framework for Challenge Advisors.  This had been recognised and welcomed by schools across the region and there was evidence that it was driving a better sense of consistency of practice across the region. 

 

The core funding for the Vale of Glamorgan spend was £653,276 which had remained the same since 2012.  Retained grant funding partly funded literacy and numeracy support and the Vale of Glamorgan schools had been a significant part of the school to school model of school improvement, particularly being willing to develop and share best practice across the region.  The Vale of Glamorgan had also commissioned a number of pieces of work from the Consortium which were aimed at the specific needs of the Authority and these included a funded programme focused on transition, with a particular focus on achievement at the higher than expected level in mathematics, a specific programme looking at the use of the Pupil Deprivation Grant (PDG) and target setting processes for vulnerable pupils in the Authority. 

 

A Joint Committee of Cabinet Members oversaw the Consortium’s strategy, business planning and financial decision making, with the current Chair of the Committee being Councillor C.P.J. Elmore, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Schools within the Vale of Glamorgan. 

 

The Consortium had also taken steps to improve its quality assurance and performance management processes and had made progress in a number of areas as outlined below:

 

a.     “All Key Stages continuing to show faster progress than the Welsh average, particularly so at the level above the expected level (see LA Estyn progress report);

b.     Inspection outcomes showing standards for schools inspected to be at least good, excellence in leadership evident in most areas and good progress in schools being removed from Estyn or LA monitoring.

c.     Strong progress from schools in red or amber support categories particularly where the Authority has used statutory powers.  The final categorisation position will be published in January;

d.     Improved support for schools in relation to leadership, both from the induction processes and future leaders mapping, the system leadership development offered through the self-improving schools strategies and in more formal programmes of professional learning for headship. “

 

In referring specifically to the Vale of Glamorgan, there were a number of issues which the Council needed to make faster progress on as outlined below:

 

a.     “Sharper pace and urgency to focus on the achievement of children entitled to free school meals so that these children achieve accelerated improvement against their peers.  This is particularly a focus of our work in more affluent areas where there are smaller numbers of children in a larger numbers of schools.  It means sharp target setting for vulnerable learners as well as a continued bringing together of inclusion and wider LA services alongside the school improvement teams which is developing well in the Vale of Glamorgan;

 

b.     Sustaining improvement in relation to green schools to move from good to excellent.  This is a focus of our work across the Consortium, but is particularly an issue in the Vale of Glamorgan with a high number of strong schools.  A number of green schools have had a one year reduction in outcomes and we have analysed the issues in each school with the Authority and are confident processes are in place to improve and sustain performance. Our regional approach is driven by an increased focus on peer enquiry – heads working in disciplined ways to develop leadership capacity together and on focused self-evaluation working alongside Governors and the Challenge Advisor Team;

 

c.     Continuing to recruit and develop outstanding Challenge Advisors.   Some churn in Challenge Advisors is inevitable as we move to a model which draws more on experienced seconded heads, but we can keep a focus on the fair allocation of workload, rigorous professional development and a focus on reflection on practice and strong performance management;

 

d.     Alignment with Schools Challenge Cymru (SCC).  We have an SCC lead in the region and 6 SCC advisors.  We have Accelerated Improvement Boards in place and Improvement plans from all SCC schools, but we need to continue to focus on making sure SCC, the Consortium and the Authority are working together efficiently;

 

e.     Analysis of Key Stage 2 and 3 tests have indicated some continued variation of teacher assessment and moderation.  The national approach to verification of teacher assessment has been shown to be rigorous and impactful but sampled only 10% of schools.  This will be extended and the process started much earlier this year;

 

f.     Improved use of information systems across the region through the development of the Portal as a single point of information for schools, Authorities and Consortium colleagues.”

 

During consideration of the report, Members noted the strong improvement that had been made in the Vale and the Consortium’s focus on closing the gap in attainment for children with Free School Meals (FSM).  It was noted that there were a number of good schools throughout the region with the challenge for the Consortium being to move towards excellent schools. 

 

A Member queried the use of secondment for the challenge approach within schools and whether this partnership arrangement with Governing Bodies was working, in light of comments they had heard by some Governing Bodies not welcoming secondments as it put a strain on schools and their resources.

 

The Managing Director, in response, advised that it was important to develop Headteachers not only for the sharing of good practice throughout the region but also for their own personal development.  With regard to recruitment, reference was made to the amount of reporting that was required in the role of the Challenge Advisor as being a disadvantage and that the Consortium was wishing to increase the amount of practice in the role.  In order to assist the process and to try to alleviate the reluctance on behalf of some Governing Bodies, the programme for the Spring term was envisaged to try to get the message across further about improvements required in schools with the intention to hold a number of support sessions in and around the region as opposed to holding events at the Central South Consortium Ty Dysgu offices.

 

The Chairman referred to the considerable emphasis that was placed on improving performance for children up to the age of 16 and queried the Consortium’s planned proposals for A level students.  The Managing Director advised that traditionally Key Stages 1 to 4 were catered for or had been seen as the priorities but that post 16 was now an area where further work was required. 

 

The Chairman also took the opportunity to ask the Managing Director and the Chair of the Consortium’s Joint Committee as to when travelling around the region, what level of challenge by scrutiny was being made. Both the Cabinet Member and the Managing Director advised that in their view it was inconsistent, with the difference in questioning being vast, with the main issues being raised relating to the Consortium and its value for money for the LAs.  However, they stressed that it was important to note that LAs had different challenges in their respective areas with it being a priority of the consortium to bring together the sharing of best practice. 

 

The Chairman advised that for the Vale Scrutiny Committee the emphasis was on performance and referred to the Individual Progress Panel meetings that take place which offer additional challenge and support to underperforming the schools.

 

The Managing Director confirmed that the focus for the Consortium was always on performance and quality assurance and quality assurance mechanisms. 

 

Having considered the report, it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the Managing Director and the Senior Challenge Advisor be thanked for their attendance and continued commitment to attend Scrutiny Committee meetings of the Vale in the future as and when required.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

In order that the Scrutiny Committee can continue to scrutinise and monitor the performance and developments of the Central South Consortium.

 

 

572     LETTER TO ALL CHAIRS OF SCRUTINY COMMITTEES IN THE CENTRAL SOUTH CONSORTIUM –

 

The Scrutiny Committee considered a letter that had been received from the Managing Director of the Consortium which had been sent to all Children and Young People’s Education Scrutiny Chairs in the Central South Region.  

 

Following a review by Estyn and the WAO in 2014, one of the recommendations made was the need to consider the best model through which elected Members could effectively scrutinise the work of the Consortia.  A joint scrutiny model had at that time been suggested, but had since been ruled out by Welsh Government.  The letter also referred to a recent Joint Committee of the Central South Consortium by all five Authorities, where it had been agreed that a common programme would be put in place through which Scrutiny Committees, the Lead Officer from each Authority together with the relevant lead from the Consortium would meet with Scrutiny Committees to present outcomes against targets and any further areas of questioning that may be relevant.  It was suggested that this system takes place once a year in January, ideally when published data was readily available, together with the Consortium’s own self-evaluation report and draft business plan being available to be scrutinised.  It was also proposed that that it may be helpful if a termly meeting of the Scrutiny Chairs was arranged to share developments and areas of concern from each Scrutiny Committee with a view to sharing best practice.  The letter went on to say that both Councillor Elmore and the Managing Director would be more than happy to attend  meetings to brief Members on the latest developments of Consortium working as well as on the role and function of the Consortium, if required.

 

The views on the contents of the letter were therefore welcomed by the Managing Director from Scrutiny Chairs, and the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) had requested that the letter be also placed on the agenda for the Committee’s information and consideration. 

 

Following a suggestion from the Chairman as to whether Vice-Chairs should be included in the termly meetings, the Chairman of the Joint Committee advised that his intention was to initially meet with the Chairs of Scrutiny Committees as any formal arrangement including Chairs and Vice would have to be governed by political balance conditions, which could result in a number of Chairs and Vice-Chairmen from some of the Scrutiny Committees not being able to be part of the process. Further consideration could however be given later in the process but in the first instance he thought it important that the Chairs of the Scrutiny Committees in the region be invited to take part in such meetings with Vice-Chairmen attending in the Chairs’ absence.

 

Members, aware that Welsh Government had ruled out a joint scrutiny model, accepted the Chairman of the Joint Committee’s suggestions as a good way forward and subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the suggestions as contained within the letter dated 27th October, 2015 be accepted and the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee be the Committee’s nominated representative to attend such meetings with the Vice-Chairman attending in the Chairman’s absence.

 

(2)       T H A T the Scrutiny Committee’s work programme be amended to reflect the attendance of the Managing Director and representatives of the Central South Consortium to Scrutiny Committee meetings in January of each year.

 

Reason for recommendations

 

(1&2)  To ensure effective scrutiny is exercised.

 

 

573     LOCAL AUTHORITY EDUCATION SERVICES FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE INSPECTION REPORT: FOURTH PROGRESS REPORT (DLS) –

 

The report provided the Committee with a progress update since the Estyn inspection in May 2013.  Following the inspection the Inspectors’ overall judgement had been reported as “adequate” with the capacity to improve also being judged to be “adequate”. 

 

The report included six recommendations as outlined below:

 

R1       Raise standards in schools, particularly in Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3.

R2       Improve the rigour and the level of challenge provided to schools about their performance and quality of leadership.

R3       Use the full powers available to the Authority to improve schools that are underperforming.

R4       Make sure that planning for improvement is thorough and consistent throughout all services.

R5       Ensure that robust systems are in place for evaluating the outcomes of      initiatives and that they demonstrate good value-for-money.

R6       Strengthen arrangements for monitoring and evaluating the wellbeing of children and young people.

 

Cabinet had approved a Post Inspection Action Plan (PIAP) on 18th November 2013 which had provided a comprehensive plan to respond to the recommendations of the Inspectors and to address the shortcomings they observed.  PIAP progress reports had been reported to Corporate Management Team (CMT) and Cabinet in May and November annually and to the Children and Young People’s Programme Board. 

 

Reports on progress to implement the PIAP had been considered by Cabinet in May 2014, December 2014 and June 2015 and referred to the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) for consideration.  A second monitoring visit was scheduled to take place in the week of 16 November 2015 to assess progress in relation to the remaining four recommendations, as well as further progress in relation to Recommendations 2 and 6 which had been previously assessed by the first monitoring visit in 2014.  Six progress reports had been prepared and these were attached as Appendices to the report. Under each of the reports the Directorate had rated its progress with the Director advising that the Department was demonstrating to Estyn that it had high aspirations and needed to be tough on itself. 

 

In referring to the recommendations the Director stated that the majority referred to progress since the Estyn inspection in 2012 and of significant note was the fact that the Vale had improved faster than other Local Authorities (LAs) in Wales on many measures and although accepting that some Key Stage 4 data was provisional, no significant changes to this data was now anticipated.  The Department recognised that progress was required for pupils in receipt of Free School Meals (FSM) aswell as in respect of post 16 performance.  It had also been recognised that some of the secondary schools had not made progress at Level 2+ which was why some of the judgements had been judged as “strong progress” and not “very good progress”.  In Estyn’s interpretation strong progress was deemed to be less than very good progress.

 

In referring to the lack of information around post 16 (A level) students, a Member requested to receive more detailed information on the number of students who were going to university and the outcomes as a result of the A level results.  Following a Member query regarding pupils of an ethnic minority, it was reported that some schools were saying that the lack of English language had resulted in poor results, however, this was not always considered to be correct and it was this analysis of pupils’ performance post 16 that was now required. 

 

In referring to the use of the Director’s powers in relation to underperforming schools, the Chairman concurred that the Council had been “brave” with its powers and in engaging the support offered and that in his view the interventions that had taken place should be commended. 

 

A Member raised concerns at some Governors not being able to rise to the challenge in respect of their role and, in particular in his view, not having the “courage” to stand up to their Headteachers.  The Head of School Improvement and Inclusion advised that the framework for the Council was to challenge and support schools, Governor training had been enhanced and from his point of view he could confirm that increasingly the challenge was there.   He also stated that the Challenge Advisor’s role was to work with schools and the LA and that increasingly Chairmen and Headteachers were presenting performance data to their Governing Bodies. 

 

The Cabinet Member, with permission to speak, advised that the LA Governor Appointments process had been reviewed with a skills assessment now being required which identified the skills required by schools and that applications not fully completed were now not being accepted.   He was also aware that the Minister from Welsh Government was undertaking an internal review of guidance and governance for Governing Bodies, but that this would not be statutory legislation.  The Chairman concurred that the Department had the support of the Committee regarding its approach to the appointment of Governors as they had raised their concerns some time ago and had welcomed the subsequent changes to the process that had been established. 

 

With regard to closing the gap and the Pupil Deprivation Grant, the Head of Service advised that the Senior Challenge Advisor was currently leading on this work within the Vale and that good practice would be shared once assessments had been made. 

 

In referring to attendance under Recommendation 6, the Council acknowledged that the Vale had the best secondary school attendance in Wales, with the Chairman being of the view that higher attendance would hopefully mean higher attainment.  It was acknowledged that the Vale was particularly strong in this area and that the use of data and the introduction of a programme called “Selfie” were proving effective.

 

Having fully considered the report, Members, in acknowledging the improvements made to date and the challenge the Department had set itself with regard to its high aspirations,

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T following the Estyn monitoring visit in November 2015, any further report by Estyn be referred to the Scrutiny Committee for consideration.

 

(2)       T H A T the progress update reports in respect of the Estyn recommendations as contained within the Local Authority Education Services for Children and Young People Inspection Report: Fourth Progress Report be noted.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       To provide Members with details of the outcome of the Estyn monitoring visit.

 

(2)       In order that Members are aware of progress made to date.

 

 

 

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