Agenda Item No. 7
The Vale of Glamorgan Council
Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning): 7th September 2015
Report of the Director of Learning and Skills
Review of Individual Schools Progress Meetings
Purpose of the Report
- The report has been prepared as a result of the Committee's decision in June 2014 to monitor the action plan in 12 months of a review of the arrangements for the School Progress Panel Meetings that were established during 2013.
- That the contents of the report and the Action Plan at Appendix 1 and 2 detailing the lessons learnt to date in respect of the School Progress Panel meetings be accepted.
- That the Action Plan continue to be monitored and reviewed by the Scrutiny Committee in 12 months' time.
- That all reports of School Progress Panel meetings continue to be referred to this Scrutiny Committee for consideration.
- That the report be referred for consideration to Cabinet, advising of the lessons learnt in respect of the Progress meetings that have taken place to date, together with any additional views of the Committee itself.
- That a programme be developed for consideration by the Committee and Cabinet of Panels to take place to visit schools referred to in paragraph 49 or "coasting schools and high performing schools" in order to identify and share best practice.
Reason for the Recommendations
1-5. In recognition of the Scrutiny Committee's recommendation in 2013 that a review of the process be undertaken in 12 months.
- The Scrutiny Committee had previously considered a series of inspection reports which described the attainment of pupils attending schools in the Vale and referred the same to Cabinet for consideration. These reports described the success of pupils in those schools, highlighted the further progress that was required and provided information in respect of the support and challenge that had effectively been put in place.
- In January 2013, Cabinet had recommended to the Scrutiny Committee that invitations be extended to the Chairman of Governors and Headteachers of schools where performance issues had been identified, including those schools under Estyn follow up arrangements, to a meeting to consider issues of performance.
- On 18th February, 2013, the Scrutiny Committee subsequently agreed to establish School Progress Panels consisting of three Members (minimum of two Elected Members), to be drawn from the 10 Elected Members and 4 statutory Co-opted Members of this Scrutiny Committee. The Panels were established in order to ascertain whether the Schools to be visited had up to date and authoritative improvement plans, that they had in place arrangements to monitor the impact of the plans, to amend them as appropriate and to establish what progress had been made against each action within the plans and what further progress was required; this approach being deemed necessary in order to seek to improve the accountability of schools for pupil attainment.
- Prior to each Panel Meeting briefing sessions are held with the Members of the respective Panels to provide up to date information in relation to the school.
- At the Panel Meetings the Cabinet Member for Children's Services, the Director of Learning and Skills, the Head of School Improvement and Inclusion, the School Challenge Advisor and the Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer, together with the Headteacher, Chairman of Governors and/or a representative of the School Governing Body are all usually in attendance.
- The Chairman of the Panel is agreed amongst Panel Members, and following introductions and a short overview by the Chairman, the Head of School Improvement and Inclusion provides a verbal presentation regarding the current situation and why the School Progress Panel Meeting has been convened.
- Opportunity is then afforded to the Headteacher and/or Chair of the Governing Body to enable them to demonstrate the school's ambitions, capacity, and commitment to rapid and sustainable progress and to identify any barriers that the school may be facing that could be resolved by additional support from the Council.
- The findings of the Panels are to be submitted for consideration by the Scrutiny Committee and also to Cabinet for its consideration. The Panel is supported by an officer the Democratic and Scrutiny Services Section.
- To date Panel meetings have been held within four secondary schools and one primary school in the Vale, namely:
- Barry Comprehensive
- Bryn Hafren Comprehensive
- Llantwit Major Comprehensive
- St. Cyres Comprehensive
- Eagleswell Primary School
- Following the publication of GSCE results in August 2014, both Llantwit Major Comprehensive and St. Cyres Comprehensive schools were removed from the list of those requiring close monitoring. However, results achieved in Barry and Bryn Hafren Comprehensive schools were below the required targets and subsequent re-visits have been undertaken. In addition, two visits to Eagleswell Primary School in Llantwit Major were held during July 2014 and February 2015.
- Following a review of the process, on 23rd June, 2014 the Scrutiny Committee agreed an Action Plan and recommended that an update report be provided in 12-months' time. The Action Plan was developed following a desk top review of the work of the Panels and lessons learnt to date.
- A procedure note had been developed of the work of the Panels which had been reviewed as a result of the lessons learnt at that time. A copy of the procedure note is attached at Appendix 3 for Members' information.
- At its Scrutiny meeting in June 2014, the Committee agreed that meetings of the School Progress Panels continue in the format as outlined in the report. This recommendation was referred to Cabinet who resolved:
1) That the Contents of the report and the Action Plan appended to the report be noted.
2) That the section of the report indicating the lessons learnt to date be noted.
- In July 2015, the Committee was presented with a report which informed Members of the conclusions of Esytn and the Wales Audit Office following visits to the four regional education consortia. This report outlined the improvements recommended following the visits, which will likely coincide with some of the actions detailed in this report.
Relevant Issues and Options
- Attached at Appendix 1 is a detailed update of the Action Plan. It shows the progress that has been made with each individual action. Appendix 2 illustrates further improvement actions observed by Panel visits conducted over the past 12 months. A summary of progress made to date is also set out in the following paragraphs:
- One of the main issues identified by Panel Members, whilst undertaking the process, was that good practice should be disseminated throughout schools in the Vale. This has been progressed via the 'School to School' working initiative through strategies such as School Improvement Groups, Pathfinders and the use of 'Hubs'. This has led to a significant increase in the sharing of good practice throughout schools in the Vale.
- Data capture and tracking of information is considered essential to the process and should be regularly maintained and analysed. It was recognised that a number of schools operated different tracking/management systems and it was the Panel's view that one Management Record System could be utilised. Current progress around this included the close monitoring and evaluation of tracking systems by Challenge Advisors. The focus here will be on the effective use of the tracking tool as opposed to ensuring that all schools use the same tool. However, many schools in the Vale use the INCERTs system. Members should note that no progress has been made with regard to determining one such system to be used across the region. The Consortium is however considering the potential benefits of a 'Pupil Data Warehouse' to support regional monitoring of groups of learners.
- The use of appropriate tracking systems within schools has been identified as a way for schools to track the progress of different groups of learners, including that of the more able pupils that require additional challenge.
- It has been recognised that in some instances the visits to the schools were delayed for various reasons and it is considered essential that the Panels visit schools as early on in the process as possible. In order to ensure that accountability is acknowledged and challenged, it has been identified that a timetable of visits needed to be devised. Such a timetable would depend upon the number of schools identified as requiring significant improvement and officers would need to carefully consider the impact on the school that such visits may have.
- Panel Members had also identified that some schools had not established effective mechanisms for keeping teachers and the leadership team fully aware of issues. It was recognised that a framework for regular and robust meetings between staff be established and maintained in order that appropriate support early on in the process can be identified and addressed in assisting pupil performance. This was something in which individual schools will need to decide and to make the necessary arrangements.
- Schools should also ensure that parents are properly informed of the process in order that they are fully apprised of their child's needs and how they would be met. For this, schools use a range of communication channels to inform and engage parents. Further information regarding this for those pupils with additional learning needs, is also available from the Council.
- Another key message from the process was that Governing Bodies needed to be fully informed of all issues regarding performance and the support available. This will ensure that the Governing Body is able to challenge the school on a regular basis. In some schools visited this was not always evident. To improve this, training had been provided to Headteachers, which included a particular emphasis on the contents required within the Headteacher reports to Governors.
- Panel re-visits have highlighted that improved arrangements in respect to the Headteacher's report to Governors has been developed.
- During the evaluation process it was recognised that all Governors needed to fully understand their role and that ongoing development training needed to be pursued. To improve this, the Governor Support Unit sends information on roles and responsibilities prior to the appointment of Local Authority Governors.
- To ensure that there is sufficient rigour and self-evaluation of improvement planning, programmes and close monitoring of lesson observations have been developed by the Challenge Advisors and Headteachers.
- Concern was expressed by a Panel as to the undue delay that had been taken in the appointment process for a vacant Headteacher post in 2011. The Panel considered that such a delay (18 months) was an unacceptable period for the school to be without a Headteacher. Following this, it had been agreed for the Local Authority to work more closely with Governing Bodies to progress timely appointments. It has been identified that this will represent a continuing challenge for the Directorate.
- Following Panel visits that have been undertaken over the past 12 months or so, a number of additional observations have been noted.
- For instance, schools need to ensure that proper teachers' planning is completed in the correct manner and in the correct format. Teachers' planning, usually completed on a fortnightly basis, is seen as a vital part of medium and long term curriculum planning. Furthermore, the need for close monitoring of teachers' planning by the Senior Leadership Team of a school was also highlighted.
- At Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School, Panel Members were encouraged by the ME+3 project. This has created a more strategic approach and focus with in the school on those borderline C/D grade pupils.
- The use of 'Embedding Formative Assessments ', also at Bryn Hafren Comprehensive School, was emphasised as an important development. This includes materials schools need to deliver 18 monthly internal workshops ("Teacher Learning Communities") involving all teachers from across the school, working together in groups of 8-12. Formative Assessment involves teachers using evidence of pupils' understanding and learning to make decisions, about the next steps in teaching and learning. Evidence could also be used when planning lessons or differentiating activities for individual pupils.
- The links established through the 'School to School' initiative was highlighted as a positive and Members praised the good links that had been developed between the Head teachers through the Pathfinder project. In particular, for example, the Members who visited Barry Comprehensive School recognised the role of the Headteacher from Treorchy Comprehensive School for the development of leadership roles within the school. The success of the 'School to School' initiative should be something that could be assessed to ensure that a similar level of support and improvement has been observed across other schools in the Vale.
- One further aspect for improvement was the development of shared accountability for those schools which are part of the 'School Challenge Cymru' programme. Officers of the Directorate had observed that their knowledge of schools within this programme was not as complete as those schools supported directly through the Central South Consortium. Officers considered that there needed to be a strengthening around the sharing of information and consultation between the 'School Challenge Cymru' Advisor and the Learning and Skills Directorate. This would be progressed with discussion with the Managing Director of the Central South Consortium.
- One of the main aspects of the Panel has been to recommend changes to the structure of the Governing Bodies. For instance, some Panels have formally recommended to schools, that a 'Standards Committee' should be created in order to oversee the level of teaching within each individual school faculty. Although such an approach has not been adopted in each school, the Panel's recommendations have encouraged schools to re-visit and evaluate the way that Governing Bodies operate and monitor performance.
- Members also observed 'employee relations' as being an issue, particularly in two schools. Members have therefore considered whether escalating disputes could have been resolved at an earlier stage.
- As part of the self-evaluation process, during the summer of 2015, a survey of the Members of the Panel, Officers, School Representatives and the Challenge Advisors was undertaken.
- Participants in the process were asked to evaluate how well the Panels had operated, to assess the Panels' impacts and to highlight any aspects in which the Panels could operate more effectively. A summary of the results is as follows:
- The continued use of pre-briefing meetings was considered important and all Members praised the level of information and supporting documentation provided.
- All the respondents indicated that all Panel visits had been arranged in an organised and timely fashion and that all meetings had been held in an open and honest environment.
- During the Panel meetings, schools acknowledged that they were afforded sufficient opportunity to outline their improvement plans. Members appreciated the Headteacher's presentation and, on the whole, there were positive responses about the information provided by schools. However, it had been noted that engagement on the second visit was usually more effective.
- Members felt that all the Panels were effective at being able to appropriately challenge the school and its plans for improvements and all Members considered that the Panels were successful at operating within the assigned role. Members highlighted, that Panels were able to identify and drill down into specific aspects affecting the schools i.e. Teachers' Planning at Eagleswell Primary School. This highlighted a specific area requiring focus and allowed for rigorous challenge of the school's plans.
- There was a high regard for the impact of the Panels by Members, although there was a recognition that it was difficult to measure impact fully, as a number of improvements may have come about due to other events. It was noted that some individual improvements can, however, be linked to the recommendations from the Panels including the structure of Governing Bodies and reporting arrangements.
- In considering the impact of the Panels, responses from two school Chairs of Governors indicated that the Panels were both helpful and supportive and both schools appreciated the advice and guidance provided. There was an acknowledgement that the Panels were only interested in the provision at the school becoming more effective with guidance being offered.
- Schools recognised that the Panels were understanding of the diverse nature of pupils and there was an acknowledgment that the Panels recognised that not all pupils were academic and from fully supportive families for ensuring their child reaches their full potential.
- One secondary school acknowledged the work with its partners, particularly 'Schools Challenge Cymru' and the school was quick to stress the importance of being able to access additional resources to support efforts at raising school performance.
- With regard to the support from Challenge Advisors, Members of the Panels recognised that they had been effective at helping schools to improve. Schools expressed the beneficial impact that the input from Challenge Advisors had provided. In particular, a school praised the new strategies initiated, the increased use of best practice and the links established with other schools. Better 'Teacher Assessments' within schools had been developed with an agreed template on what a good and bad lesson looks like. A school also stated "that they were fortunate to have a good critical friend as well as a stimulating and thought provoking advisor".
- Throughout the process, both the schools and the Members of the Panels, acknowledged the good level of support provided by Officers from the Learning and Skills Directorate, with the schools keen to ensure that the close links established be maintained.
- In terms of how the Panels operated, the only specific recommendation for improvement was for a follow up report from the school to be made available before the second visit, which specifically addressed the points raised by the Panel.
- Members did consider whether there is a need to visit schools more quickly and Members also expressed the wish to visit 'coasting schools' in order to help push up standards even further. In addition, visits to high performing schools was also mentioned as a way to identify and share 'best practice'.
Future Panel Meetings
- In respect to Eagleswell Primary School, at the Panel's re-visit, Members were satisfied that progress within the school had been sufficient and following an Estyn Inspection to the school in March 2015, the school was removed from Estyn's list of those schools requiring close monitoring. In September 2015, the school will merge with Llaniltud Fawr to form a new primary school in Llantwit Major.
- Further re-visits to Barry and Bryn Hafren will be considered when GSCE results are published in August 2015 and the close monitoring of the performance of all schools in the Vale by the Directorate will continue.
- The current approach of selecting three Panel Members from 14 Members of the Scrutiny Committee has been considered and is to continue. This approach has allowed for a number of Members to be involved in the process (taking account of any potential conflict of interest), gaining experience and knowledge.
Support to the Panels
- The support to the Panels has been provided by the Director of Learning and Skills, the Head of School Improvement and Inclusion, the Challenge Advisor for the relevant schools and a Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer. The preparation for meetings includes the scheduling of a pre-meeting, agenda dispatch, research required, completion of notes of meetings and the preparation of reports to the Scrutiny Committee.
Resource Implications (Financial and Employment)
- As illustrated in paragraph 53 to be operated from within existing resources.
Sustainability and Climate Change Implications
- None as a direct result of this report.
Legal Implications (to Include Human Rights Implications)
- None as a direct result of this report.
Crime and Disorder Implications
- None as a direct result of this report.
Equal Opportunities Implications (to include Welsh Language issues)
- None as a direct result of this report.
- Improving outcomes and wellbeing for all learners.
Policy Framework and Budget
- The recommendations in this report are within the existing Policy Framework and Budget.
Consultation (including Ward Member Consultation)
- Not applicable, however, all Members who have been involved in Panel Members have been consulted on the report.
Relevant Scrutiny Committee
- Lifelong Learning.
Scrutiny Committee reports for Barry, Bryn Hafren, Llantwit Major and St. Cyres Comprehensive Schools along with Eagleswell Primary School which have been presented to the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning) and Cabinet.
Mr. Gareth Davies, Scrutiny Support Officer
Head of Democratic Services
Head of School Improvement and Inclusion
Jennifer Hill, Director of Learning and Skills