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Written Statement - Estyn report on Anglesey

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Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills and Carl Sargeant, Minister for Local Government and Communities

Today Estyn has published its inspection report on education services in the Isle of Anglesey County Council. We are making this statement to inform Members of the action that we propose in response to the report.

In its overall judgements the inspection team found that the current performance of the local authority education services is unsatisfactory and also found the local authority’s prospects for improvement unsatisfactory.  In light of these very serious shortcomings, Estyn believe that special measures are required in relation to this authority.  

There can be no doubt that this is a highly damning report.  The shortcomings identified are unacceptable and we have moved swiftly to put arrangements in place to secure the necessary improvements.  

Estyn’s key findings are as follows:

In respect of current performance the Inspection found key issues across a range of areas.  For example, the standards for children and young people are below what could be expected at all key stages; attendance rates in secondary schools are unacceptably low; the school improvement service is judged to be inadequate; a lack of progress has been made in planning for school places; operational leadership in the delivery of education has not driven improvements in areas of underperformance and schools and officers have not been held to account; and business planning and risk-assessment processes have not been robust enough to identify and address the slow pace of progress in education services and schools.

The prospects for improvement were judged as unsatisfactory because there has been long-term underperformance at service level and the pace of action to bring about improvement has been too slow in the past to assure inspectors that improvement can follow this inspection without external support and challenge.

We were very concerned to note the findings and the recommendations of the Estyn report.  The service within the authority is in an unacceptable position and urgent action is needed to address the issues.

Anglesey is of course already run by Welsh Government Commissioners who were appointed in March 2011 to address fundamental failures of corporate leadership and governance.  The role and remit of these Commissioners is at that corporate level.  They were not appointed to improve education or any other specific service.  The corporate problems they have been addressing may well have contributed to the failures in education during the period which the Estyn report covers.  So recovery in education needs to go hand in hand with the corporate recovery which the Commissioners are leading.    

The Welsh Government Commissioners have made good progress in their work.  The Council’s corporate governance is now nearing a state where we can contemplate returning some power to Councillors, under the Commissioners’ supervision and direction.  But that should not diminish the strength or seriousness of Estyn’s findings and the need to tackle them promptly.  The Commissioners will clearly be part of that.    

We therefore intend to establish a Recovery Board to sustain and advise the Welsh Government Commissioners and to challenge and support the Council’s officers and members in respect of Anglesey’s education services.  This is similar to the approach used with Denbighshire’s education services in 2008.  The main difference is that the Commissioners will be able to step in directly if the Council is not taking adequate, or prompt action to put things right.    

The Board will include a senior education official from the Welsh Government and from the WLGA.  There will be an appointed Chair of the Board, and two further education professionals will complete the initial arrangements; we will announce further details of these in due course. The Board will report directly to Ministers and will provide regular monthly updates.  We intend to review the progress and impact of the Board after six months.

Given the unacceptable nature of the situation our priority must be to put in place adequate support and challenge to realise improvements as quickly as possible for the children and young people of the area.  We will therefore finalise our proposed arrangements as quickly as is possible, and ensure that the necessary support is provided urgently.
In considering the options we and our officials are working closely with the Welsh Government Commissioners, the Isle of Anglesey County Council and the Welsh Local Government Association to ensure that an appropriate and robust solution is in place as soon as possible.  We are pleased to note that all concerned fully support our approach and have contributed effectively to developing it.  In particular, it is good to see that the Isle of Anglesey County Council’s political and officer leadership has accepted the report’s findings fully, has welcomed the appointment of a Board which is fully aligned with the progress of the corporate governance recovery and has committed at an early stage to engaging effectively with the Board to put matters right.  There has been none of the denial and complacency that we have seen elsewhere recently.    
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish us to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns we would be happy to do so.