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Written Statement - Estyn Reports on Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire

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Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills

Today two reports have been published by Estyn in respect of education services in Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire local authorities.  I am making this statement to highlight to Members the judgements in those reports.

Both reports contain important criticisms of the performance of each of the local authorities.

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

There can be no doubt that these are very critical reports.  The shortcomings identified are unacceptable and we will move swiftly to put arrangements in place to secure the necessary improvements.  The fact that both of these authorities have been found in need of special measures is a damning reflection.

Despite the differences in their demographic context and the challenges the authorities face both are judged to be unsatisfactory in their current performance and in their prospects for improvement.

In terms of the individual reports I will provide a brief overview in respect of each.  

In Monmouthshire the authority’s education services are found to be unsatisfactory because performance when compared to similar schools, according to free-school-meal entitlement, has been well below average. The progress between primary and secondary schools is also well below average.  The overall number of days lost to fixed term exclusions is too high. The inspection team found that the authority’s arrangements for supporting and challenging schools are not robust enough and have not had enough impact.  Their strategic planning for additional learning needs is weak.  It is also of considerable concern to note that the authority’s arrangements for safeguarding do not meet requirements.

Estyn also judged Monmouthshire’s prospects for improvement as unsatisfactory.  This is because of the lack of strategic and operational capacity in the Children’s and Young People’s Directorate which has contributed to the failure to improve in key areas.  The inspection team also found that elected members do not receive the information they need to hold officers to account fully.  The inspection team found that self-evaluation processes are not rigorous enough and that within the directorate corporate planning arrangements are not effective.  Furthermore, the inspection determined that officers do not use quality assurance processes or evaluate data consistently enough to know where resources and services should be directed to achieve the best outcomes for its learners.  Performance management processes are not consistently implemented within the directorate and leaders and managers are not always able to direct staff or hold them to account well enough.  

In respect of Merthyr the local authority’s performance is unsatisfactory as, at all key stages, standards for learners are unsatisfactory, exclusion rates are too high, too many young people are not in education, employment or training, and attendance rates in primary schools are unacceptably low.  Support for school improvement and for promoting social inclusion and wellbeing is unsatisfactory; and the impact of youth services is not evaluated to check that the provision addresses needs.  Overall, the failure of leaders to implement systems to identify strengths and weaknesses in schools has resulted in a lack of challenge and too little improvement in standards.  

Estyn also judged Merthyr’s prospects for improvement as unsatisfactory.  Senior officers and elected members of the council have not challenged underperformance or poor outcomes for learners.  Officers have not provided reports to members that analyse performance data well enough to identify progress and key areas for improvement.  The inspection team found that the local authority does not have in place a robust and continuous self-evaluation process for its education services.  Nor has it responded well enough to the recommendations from past inspections including those going back to 2004.  The inspection team concluded that the authority lacks effective systems to judge whether initiatives and services have a positive impact on children and young people or offer good value for money.

I am very concerned to note the findings and the recommendations of both of these Estyn reports.  Both authorities are in a serious position and it is abundantly clear that urgent action is required now to turn this around.

I have spoken to the Leaders of Merthyr and Monmouthshire.

I intend to intervene in both authorities in order to put the necessary arrangements and support in place to secure improvement as quickly as possible.  I have a range of options.  I am considering the establishment of independent recovery boards to oversee the improvements needed, monitor progress made and provide accountability.  A further option I am considering is the handing over of some or all of the executive functions in relation to education services to another body.  

I will provide a further update to Members outlining decisions and actions in the coming weeks.