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THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

CABINET: 7TH SEPTEMBER 2015

REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (LIFELONG LEARNING): 20TH JULY 2015

REGIONAL EDUCATION CONSORTIA: REPORTS BY ESTYN AND WALES AUDIT OFFICE (WAO) (DLS) –

The Director of Learning and Skills presented the report, the purpose of which was to inform the Scrutiny Committee of the conclusions of Estyn and the WAO following visits to the four regional education consortia.

The report outlined that Estyn and the WAO visited the four regional education consortia between November 2014 and January 2015 to report on the progress being made by the regional consortia to provide school improvement services.  The reports by both Estyn and the WAO, which referred to the progress of the consortia collectively, were published on 3rd June and were attached at Appendices 1 (Estyn) and 2 (WAO).  

The WAO report concluded “that after an uncertain start, the foundations for the regional school improvement services are being established and there were positive signs of progress but remaining weaknesses are hindering the development of the whole system and the effective governance and financial management of regional consortia”.  The main findings of the Estyn report were set out in pages 6 to 8 of the report (Appendix 1).

Both reports contained recommendations for consortia, Local Authorities and Welsh Government.  The recommendations for Local Authorities were:

Estyn:

R6    Support their regional consortium to develop medium-term business plans and ensure that all plans take account of the needs of their local schools

 

R7    Develop formal working arrangements between scrutiny committees in their consortium in order to scrutinise the work and impact of their regional consortium

WAO:

R1    To clarify the nature and operation of consortia
Local Authorities should clarify whether consortia services are jointly provided or are commissioned services (services provided under a joint committee arrangements are jointly provided services and are not commissioned services).

 

R4    To build effective leadership and attract top talent
Local Authorities should collaborate to support the professional development of senior leaders and to ensure appropriate performance management arrangements are in place for senior leaders.

 

R5    To improve the effectiveness of governance and management of regional consortia

Local Authorities and their regional consortia should:

  • Improve their use of self-evaluation of their performance and governance arrangements and use this to support business planning and their annual reviews of governance to inform their annual governance statements.
  • Improve performance management including better business planning, use of clear and measurable performance measures, and the assessment of value for money.
  • Make strategic risk management an integral part of their management arrangements and report regularly at joint committee or board level.
  • Develop their financial management arrangements to ensure that budgeting, financial monitoring and reporting cover all relevant income and expenditure, including grants funding spent through Local Authorities.
  • Develop joint scrutiny arrangements of the overall consortia as well as scrutiny of performance by individual authorities, which may involve establishment of a joint scrutiny committee or co-ordinated work by Local Authority Scrutiny Committees.
  • Ensure the openness and transparency of consortia decision making and arrangements.
  • Recognise and address any potential conflicts of interest; and where staff have more than one employer, regional consortia should ensure lines of accountability are clear and all staff are aware of the roles undertaken.
  • Develop robust communications strategies for engagement with all key stakeholders.

The visit to the Central South Consortium had been carried out in November / December 2014 and tailored verbal feedback was provided to the Consortium at that time.  The Estyn report commented that the consortia responded positively to the feedback and had already begun to address many issues raised in the reports.

The Joint Committee of the Central South Consortium agreed on an Action Plan setting out proposed actions in relation to the reports at their meeting on 25th June 2015.  This report was attached at Appendix 3 to the report.  It was noted that discussions were taking place nationally in relation to the recommendations relating to the scrutiny function.

In terms of what happens next, the Director advised that Estyn / WAO planned to inspect individual consortia next year and all inspection reports would be in the public domain.

In answer to a Member’s concern around whether the Council was receiving value for money from membership of the Central South Consortium, the Director of Learning and Skills stated that each year the Council allocated £655,000 to support the work of the Consortium.  She went on to explain that there were a number of ways the Council could assess whether it was achieving value for money.  The first related to a direct comparison of the current amount allocated to the Consortium and to the amount that the Council used to spend on the school improvement service.  She confirmed that the amount spent now was lower.  In addition, the Council had not incurred any inflationary pressures in respect of its contributions to the Central South Consortium, which the Council would have to face if it was a stand-alone service.  She also advised Members that a number of enhancements had been delivered through the delivery of the Central South Consortium’s business plan and she cited the example of the “Moving on in Maths” scheme which was aimed at bridging the gap and improving the teaching of maths across the primary and secondary school transition in Vale schools.  For this, the Central South Consortium had allocated an amount of approximately £100,000.  Overall, the main key way of showing value for money was in respect of a rise in the pupil attainment levels particularly at GCSE level.

Further to this point, the Cabinet Member stated that during the first year of the Central South Consortium it was fair to say that it did not work as effectively as it should have.  There were a number of issues to begin with, particularly around the governance arrangements and the leadership structure of the Consortium which did not achieve the best outcomes for the member Local Authorities.  Since that time new senior officers had been appointed and a new structure had been put into place and this had resulted in a significant improvement into how the Consortium operated.  The Cabinet Member stated that improvement could be demonstrated through the fact that of the top five secondary schools in Wales, two were from the Vale of Glamorgan and that every secondary school within the Vale had shown progress last year.  He also commented that according to headteachers, the School to School approach was working and that overall a lot had improved and better results were expected this year.  He stated that he was unsure whether the Council, on its own, could afford the improvements made.

The Head of School Improvement and Inclusion also asked if he could make some comments and stated that further to the Cabinet Member’s points, it should be noted that all outcomes within the Key Stages had shown an improvement last year.  He also stated that at a recent meeting with the headteachers of eight amber primary schools, it was clearly evident that the challenge provided to the headteachers by the Challenge Advisor was significant.  This was something that headteachers had found demanding but that they had all recognised how important the challenge process was.  

A Committee Member, in referring to the WAO report, queried findings that there was a failure of educational staff to understand the role of Local Authorities within the accountability and governance arrangements.  In response, the Director of Learning and Skills explained that this related to a WAO comment around the development of a national model for Consortia and, in particular, the lack of understanding by civil servants around the role that Local Authorities played in maintaining schools.

In response to a Member’s query regarding the scrutiny functions, the Cabinet Member stated that one thing that the Consortium was developing was for information to be presented to all Scrutiny Committees across the region at the same time.  This would help staff within the Consortium and it would formalise scrutiny arrangements.

The Committee also noted that as part of the improvements to the scrutiny arrangements within the Central South Consortium formal meetings would be arranged with the Chairs of each individual Scrutiny Committee on a regular basis in order to discuss performance of the Joint Educational Service.

A Committee Member enquired as to whether educational improvement had been seen within all of the member Local Authorities.  In response, the Director of Learning and Skills stated that last year all five authorities had seen an improvement in pupil attainment and that some of the most significant improvement had been by those Local Authorities with the lowest rate of performance.  Each Local Authority in the region had been inspected by Estyn and all had been required to make some form of improvements.  

Further to this point, the Head of School Improvement and Inclusion informed Members that he met with the Senior Challenge Advisor from the Consortium on a regular basis and that during these meetings he challenged the performance of the Consortium.   In addition, on a termly basis he also met with all Challenge Advisors involved with schools in the Vale, who were made aware of the Vale’s priorities and regular update reports were discussed with senior officers within the Consortium.  Termly meetings including the Director of Learning and Skills and the Managing Director of the Consortium monitored progress in the Vale.  He stated that from his perspective he had seen an improvement in practices that ensured that schools were more robustly held to account and challenged to improve.  Challenge Advisors and Officers were now ready to have the challenging conversations.
 

Having considered the report the Committee

 

RECOMMENDED –

(1)    T H A T the contents of the two reports and the work that is being progressed by the Central South Consortium Joint Education Service be noted.

(2)    T H A T both reports be referred to Cabinet for consideration.

(3)    T H A T the WAO report be referred to the Audit Committee.

Reasons for recommendations

(1)    In order that the Scrutiny Committee scrutinises the work of the Central South Consortium and these reports include relevant comments about the development of regional education consortia across wales, they also include recommendations specifically related to scrutiny arrangements.

(2)    These reports include recommendations for Local Authorities as well as consortia and Welsh Government.

(3)    The report includes recommendations that relate to the responsibilities of the Committee.

Attached as Appendix – Report to Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning): 20th July 2015