Agenda Item No.












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




(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."