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Agenda Item No.

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET: 9TH MARCH 2015

 

REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (LIFELONG LEARNING): 9TH FEBRUARY 2015

  

“ NATIONAL CATEGORISATION - OUTCOMES FOR VALE SCHOOLS (DLS) -

  

The Head of School Improvement and Inclusion advised that National Categorisation was a new three step process that resulted in each school being assigned to a category.  The category indicated whether the school was on its improvement journey and the level of challenge / support required to ensure further improvement.  Categorisation replaced the former banding of secondary schools and the regional arrangements for categorising schools as A, B, C or D. 

 

The first step in the process was the assigning of the school to one of four standards groups, 1-4, this being determined by Welsh Government using a range of data. The details for which could be found at Appendix 1a for Primary and Appendix 1b for Secondary attached to the report. The second step was to assign the school to one of four groups, A-D that reflected the school's ability to improve. This to be determined by the school's Challenge Advisor based on a range of evidence, including the school's improvement processes. The third step used the outcomes of the first two steps to determine the category and resulting level of support / challenge needed.  The categories being: Green, Yellow, Amber or Red.

 

Members were then advised of the definition of each of the categories as detailed below:

 

“Green Categorisation – these are the best schools who:

  • know themselves well and identify and implement their own priorities for improvement;
  • have resilience within the staff team;
  • are rewarded by greater autonomy;
  • will be challenged to move towards or sustain excellence; and
  • have the capacity to lead others effectively (school to school support).  

Yellow Categorisation – these are our good schools who:

  • will know and understand most of the areas in need of improvement;
  • have many aspects of the school's performance which are self-improving; and
  • will receive bespoke challenge and support deployed according to need.

Amber Categorisation – these are the schools in need of improvement who:

  • do not know and understand all the areas in need of improvement;
  • have many aspects of the school's performance which are not improving quickly enough;
  • will receive bespoke challenge and intervention deployed according to need
  • will receive an automatic letter from consortium;
  • self-evaluation and school improvement plan will be signed off by the consortium;
  • will be expected to remain in an amber category for only the short-term; and
  • will receive time limited, focused challenge and intervention to support improvement. 

Red Categorisation – these are the schools in need of greatest improvement who:

  • will receive critical intervention;
  • receive an automatic warning letter from LA and subsequent use of statutory powers where necessary;
  • trigger intensive and effective collaboration between LA and consortium;
  • trigger the all-Wales common school causing concern arrangements; and  
  • will lose autonomy and be subject to a more directed approach.”

Following the categorisation of a school the Local Authority and Joint Education Service would subsequently agree a bespoke programme of support, challenge and intervention. Those schools categorised as amber and red would receive a greater level of support than those categorised as yellow or green.  The details for which were provided at Appendix 2 and which had been taken from the Central South Consortium's Framework For Challenge and Support.

 

The position of Vale schools within the National Categorisation process was referred to as a grid which was detailed at Appendix 3 to the report.  The Head of Service advised that the standards group and capacity to improve were plotted along the ‘y’ and ‘x’ axis respectively to determine the level of schools category.  A revised version of Appendix 3 and Appendix 4 was also tabled at the meeting, due to the fact that information in respect of schools was updated on a regular basis and as such the categorisation had therefore changed since the agenda for the meeting had been despatched.  It was accepted that the information was as accurate at the time the information was recorded and would therefore be an ever evolving process. The Head of Service took the opportunity to point out to Members that the number of the PIs assigned by Welsh Government to categorise the schools, in the main, referred to numeracy and literacy and did not take into account other measures e.g. wellbeing issues etc.  However, the tool was seen as an informative tool for schools, local authorities and the Consortium in order to identify the schools that needed assistance for improvement.  It was noted that the majority of Vale schools were either green or yellow with one of the primary schools being referred to as red as it was currently in Estyn monitoring.  

 

A number of Members queried the use of the system stating that this could cause anxiety for some parents who may use the tool to move their children from school to school depending on the categorisation.  Some Members felt uneasy with the decisions in relation to some schools in their wards which they themselves considered to be similar in standard but they had been placed in different categorisations. The Head of Service advised that although some schools appeared to be of a same standard the categorisation tool highlighted where some improvements in certain areas may be required.  The tool would also show, over the forthcoming years, the progress and improvements made year on year and allow the school to receive the level of support it needed at the time it needed it.

 

A Member informed the Committee that they were aware of a school that had itself asked to be placed in an improvement category in order to receive the support they wanted.  The Chairman reiterated his belief that the importance of the tool was that schools received the support when they needed it with another Member welcoming the flexibility of the tool.  A co-opted Member queried how the information would be conveyed to parents being of the view that this should be undertaken in a positive way.  The Director of Learning and Skills confirmed that it would be the responsibility of the Headteacher and the Governing Body as to how they decided the information should be disseminated to parents, in the way they felt appropriate. Headteachers had been informed of this view at a recent meeting and would continue to be advised at future Headteacher meetings.

 

In recognising that National Categorisation was a pilot project the Director further stated that it had a number of benefits as opposed to the previous banding system that had been introduced for secondary schools.  In particular, she anticipated that there would not be as much volatility as in previous years as the information relied on a three-year average which she advised should result in more stability in the rate of progress. 

 

A Member took the opportunity to refer to the recent excellent work that had been undertaken at Colcot School by leadership team which had resulted in other schools requesting to utilise the good practice.  The Chairman also expressed the view that the work of the Committee’s Progress Panels in monitoring school performance was positive to the process and that it was reassuring to know that the schools receiving visits had also been identified in the National Categorisation grid as those needing support. 

 

Following a discussion as to whether the schools categorised as green should be formally congratulated by the Committee, it was subsequently accepted that this not be undertaken at this stage in view of the number of schools also identified in the yellow category, the fact that the tool was new and that the data was changing on a regular basis.

 

Although some Members considered that school categorisation could have a negative effect, in general, the Committee concluded that it was a useful tool to identify the support required and where resources should be placed.  Members also recognised that Estyn reports were currently in the public domain for all to view and assess in a similar way.

 

In referring to Barry Comprehensive (red category) the Chairman enquired about progress to date at the school.  The Head of Service stated that it was evident that Barry needed to improve and the categorisation tool had confirmed that diagnosis. The school was currently receiving a bespoke package to assist progress and improvement, and had been defined as a Challenge Cymru school. 

 

The Director of Learning and Skills advised that the Committee’s Individual School Progress Panel was due to visit Barry Comprehensive and she was aware that the school was keen to demonstrate to that Panel, improvements to date. The Committee would then receive a report of the Panel’s findings shortly thereafter. 

 

Following considerable discussion on the report it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED -

 

(1) T H A T the report be noted and that the Committee acknowledges and welcomes the large percentage of schools in the Vale categorised as green.

 

(2) T H A T the support being provided to the schools categorised as yellow, amber and red for further improvement, be noted.

 

(3) T H A T the report and the comments of the Scrutiny Committee be forwarded to Cabinet for its consideration.

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1) In recognition of the new process put forward by Welsh Government and in recognising the number of schools identified in the green category within the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

(2) In recognising the support being identified for schools improvement.

 

(3) In order for Members to be apprised of the National Categorisation system and the support being provided.”

 

 

Attached as Appendix – Report to Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning): 9th February 2015

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