Agenda Item No.
THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL
CABINET: 12TH JANUARY 2015
REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (LIFELONG LEARNING): 8TH DECEMBER, 2014
“ ESTYN MONITORING VISIT LETTER AND OVERVIEW –
The Estyn Inspector, Mr. G. Kerslake was present in order to deliver an overview following the Estyn monitoring visit that took place during 13th – 15th October 2014.
He advised the Committee that this was the first such visit to a Scrutiny Committee within Wales which had come about following the recommendation from the Welsh Government around the improvement in co-operative working across Wales.
As a brief background summary he advised that the Local Authority’s Education Services Inspection took place approximately 18 months ago and, as a consequence, the Inspectors’ overall judgement had been that the service was adequate.
A Post Inspection Action Plan (PIAP) had been prepared to address the recommendations of the Estyn Inspection Report and an Estyn monitoring programme has been put in place.
The Committee was advised that the overall outcome following the monitoring visit was that the authority was making good progress in areas evaluated. The purpose of today’s overview was to provide an update in respect of progress made against Recommendations 2 – Improve the rigour and the level of challenge provided to schools about their performance and quality of leadership and also recommendation 6 – Strengthen arrangements for monitoring and evaluating the wellbeing of children and young people.
Recommendation 2 – Improve the rigour and the level of challenge provided to schools about their performance and quality of leadership
Mr. Kerslake advised the Committee that during the visit held during October it had been reported that the Authority was making good progress in addressing this recommendation. At the time of the inspection it had been found that officers did not evaluate provision well enough and relied too heavily on performance data to categorise schools. There was also too much variation in the quality of work undertaken and the quality assurance of work was not robust enough to make sure that schools were challenged consistently.
During the year since the inspection, Challenge Advisors had taken steps to evaluate provision and leadership more effectively and it had been noted that the Authority had worked well with Headteachers, Governors and the Regional School Improvement Service, Central South Consortium Joint Education Service to secure improvements.
Overall the Authority had responded appropriately to shortcomings in leadership in several schools since the inspection.
Mr. Kerslake also made reference to the evaluation of the Authority’s use of intervention powers around school improvements. He commented about the Authority’s use of formal warning notices to three secondary schools outlining concerns about performance and other issues. In one case, the letter was issued in response to shortcomings highlighted during an Estyn inspection of the school, but in the other two cases the Local Authority had acted on its own evaluations. Estyn had judged that the Authority had used its powers effectively and, in all cases, the Authority had clearly set out targets for improvement and ensured that, primarily through the Regional Service, support was available to help schools address the shortcomings.
Recommendation 6 – Strengthen arrangements for monitoring and evaluating the wellbeing of children and young people
In summarising the Authority’s progress in relation to this recommendation, Mr. Kerslake advised that the Local Authority had responded well to this recommendation.
The implementation of the Local Authority’s Wellbeing in Education Strategy 2012-2015 had developed well since the inspection. The Monitoring and Evaluation Group effectively drove forward the management of this strategy, through a better focus on both a thematic approach to wellbeing as well as interventions and support for schools.
An important outcome of the Wellbeing Strategy was the production of two very useful data packs on wellbeing measures. However, the Estyn Inspectors had considered that these were not being used to best effect and that there was opportunity to develop these further.
The first data pack related to the National Behaviour and Attendance Review (NBAR) and it had been felt that the use of these data packs did not fully take into account the wider life aspects of what impacts on pupils’ daily lives. The second data pack provided clearly laid out and easily understandable data from across a range of indicators. These data packs provided the basis for discussion between Local Authority officers, Challenge Advisors and senior management teams and the Governors within schools. It had been felt that although the presentation of the data was clear, the evaluations arising from this information did not pose key questions effectively enough. Challenge Advisors were also not involved in the evaluation of data prior to the packs being distributed to schools and this meant that there may be inconsistencies in the evaluation messages being given by the Authority and by the Regional Service.
Members were advised that impact evaluations provided a useful snapshot of wider work undertaken by many services but generally they did not include enough detail or quantitative measures to support the conclusions drawn.
In referring to the rate of exclusions within secondary schools, it had been noted that rates of exclusion for five days or fewer and six days or more had increased. The Authority demonstrated that it clearly understood the reasons for this and it was thought that this matter was being addressed appropriately.
Improvement had also been noted around how the Local Authority tracked, identified and supported young people who had the potential to become NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training). It had been judged that the Authority used appropriate measures and had targeted intervention at school level. This partnership had also improved the exchange of information between stakeholders and, as a result, partners identified more quickly those that dropped out of the system and kept a better track of those young people who needed help and support to remain engaged. It had been highlighted that the sustainability of this work was not financially secure and it was not clear whether the work would continue after grant funding finished.
In referring to the next steps of the evaluation, Mr. Kerslake advised that a final visit would be held in due course. This would lead to a judgement of whether the Authority could be removed from the Estyn monitoring or, if not, what further follow-up was required. The final visit would result in a published report.
Opportunity was then afforded to Members to make any comments or observations.
The Chairman commented that the Estyn plans for an interim monitoring visit in the Spring was no longer envisaged due to the progress to date made by the Authority. This therefore offered a measure of confidence from Estyn that sufficient progress was being made. He went on to ask if further information could be provided around children and young people not in employment, education or training. In reply, the Director of Learning and Skills provided some up to date performance information regarding NEETS and she advised that for Year 11 leavers there had been a reduction from 3.9% to 3.8% and that on the basis of unpublished data for Autumn 2014 this had now dropped down to 2.76%.
In respect to changes around Welsh Government grant funding, she commented that the service was anticipating a year on year reduction. The service was now planning for the full year from April 2015 and she advised that 11 grants would be consolidated to one overall Education Improvement Grant allocated on a regional footprint. Members were advised that at present the Authority received grant funding through the 14-19 Initiatives and that this money, when allocated on a regional basis, would come under control of the Central South Consortium. The Committee was further advised that the current Engagement and Progression Grant provided funding for a Progression Officer and that a decision would need to be taken in the future as to how this would continue.
In response to a query regarding the Authority’s use of data packs, Mr. Kerslake advised that there was a need to develop the process and that it was important to ensure that all relevant parties were able to contribute at the necessary stages. A Committee Member, in querying as to what was being done differently around the data packs, was advised that officers had been able to gain a greater insight following detailed discussions with Inspectors. Officers had been able to use commentary around data packs to help inform improvements; the data pack would be updated on a termly basis.
Referring to the development of School Progress Panels, a Committee Member sought Estyn’s opinion as to whether this approach was a step in the right direction. Mr. Kerslake advised that the Progress Panels had not been seen during the period of inspection but the principle had been adopted by a number of Local Authorities in Wales. Estyn would encourage Local Authorities to exercise closer observations around service delivery, not just around underperformance but also in relation to identifying good practice. It was important for Authorities to drill down and address specific issues within schools and it was important not just to rely on data and performance information.
At this point the Chairman stated that the Panels had provided Members with an invaluable amount of knowledge and he found that in each school that they had visited there were various shortcomings highlighted and that all issues were being addressed.
A Member made reference to the importance of school Governors and the findings of the Inspection around the lack of training for Governors. The Member queried whether this was due to the inadequacies of training or due to Governors’ unwillingness to attend sessions. In response Mr. Kerslake advised that the findings were highlighted during 2013 but that since then there had been a number of areas of improvement and some excellent progress made. He was not however able to expand further on the 2013 evaluation. At this point the Director of Learning and Skills advised that previous Governor feedback to Inspectors had highlighted the need for improved training. Since then, Governors were now in a much better position and more able to challenge the school and its leadership team. Further to this point, a Committee Member voiced the opinion that as a Governor of the school, he did agree that the level of information provided to Governors had improved.
The Cabinet Member, in offering some of his thoughts, stated that overall the evaluation letter was good, but the Authority would not rest on its laurels and that work around improvements would continue. It was important to make good on progress achieved and he offered his reassurance to Committee that this work would carry on. He alluded to the importance of challenging schools and he advised that all parts of the Estyn inspection would be addressed and that it should be hoped that the Authority would be placed outside of Estyn monitoring following its final visit.
Mr. Kerslake was thanked for providing the overview and the Committee subsequently
(1) T H A T the letter received from the Estyn Assistant Director attached at Appendix 1 to the report be noted.
(2) T H A T the Estyn monitoring report, letter and the Committee’s comments be forwarded to Cabinet for consideration.
(3) T H A T the progress and improvements made to date be noted.
(4) T H A T the Committee’s thanks and gratitude be passed on to the staff within the Directorate.
Reasons for recommendations
(1) To note the information contained therein.
(2) To inform Members and Cabinet of the outcome of the recent monitoring visit by Estyn.
(3) To highlight the progress made following the recent monitoring visit.
(4) To pass on the thanks of the Members of the Scrutiny Committee.”
Attached as Appendix – Report to Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning): 8th December 2014