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Written Statement - Ministerial Intervention in Monmouthshire and Merthyr Tydfil

Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills

  Members will be aware of my intention to intervene in Monmouthshire and Merthyr Tydfil following the critical Estyn inspection reports of both authorities published in February 2013. I am making this statement to inform Members of the action I am taking in respect of each of these authorities.

Before I do that, I think it is worth reminding Members of the issues involved.

Turning first to Monmouthshire, the authority’s education services were found to be unsatisfactory because school 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.  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.  

Notwithstanding those criticisms Estyn did identify some aspects of Monmouth’s education service which were positive and alongside that the authority has put in place a new senior management team and appointed a new director of education.  

I informed you in February that in response to the authority’s failings, I was considering the establishment of an independent recovery board as the evidence, strongly pointed to the need for an independent recovery board to oversee the improvements needed, monitor the progress made and provide accountability.  I have decided that this is the right course of action to take.

I have issued a Direction to Monmouthshire County Council ensuring their co-operation with the Board and providing reserve powers for the Board to issue such instructions as it considers reasonable to ensure the compliance of the local authority. However, the Authority will continue to be solely responsible for ensuring its education functions are performed to at least an adequate standard. I will consider it a serious failure by the Authority if the Board finds it necessary to issue any instructions.

The membership of that Board is comprised of.  

  • Mark James – Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire  
  • Janet Jones – Principal Officer Youth & Community Neath Port Talbot Council
  • Rod Alcott – formerly with the Wales Audit Office; and
  • Jonathan Morgan – former Assembly Member

The Board will hold its first meeting on 27 June 2013 and will from that point provide me with reports in respect of the progress being made.  While the Recovery Board is being established I have instructed a senior official from within my Department to Chair the Board, on a purely interim basis.  I intend to appoint a Chair in due course from amongst the Board members.

Turning now to Merthyr Tydfil, Estyn found 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.

As I said in my oral statement in February there are systemic weaknesses in Merthyr Tydfil and therefore I can have no confidence that Merthyr will resolve these problems itself, even with support. I have reflected on how best to address this issue and have determined that the responsibility for Merthyr’s education should be held by a recovery board which will oversee education in Merthyr, Its first task is to determine how best those functions are delivered and by whom..

The membership of that Recovery Board is comprised of.  

  • Dr Mohammed Mehmet – Chief Executive of Denbighshire  
  • Gareth Williams – former Director of Children and Young People’s Services in Leicestershire
  • Dr Tom Entwistle – expert in Public Policy and Management from Cardiff University; and
  • Councillor Paul Hannon – elected member of Newport City Council

On an interim basis, while the Recovery Board is being established, I have asked Karl Napieralla, who has been seconded from Neath Port Talbot Council to my Department, to Chair the Board.  

The first meeting of this recovery board took place on the 11 June; I understand that the meeting was both challenging and productive and that the authority responded positively to the support and challenge provided by the board.  

I will be keeping the structure and membership of both of the boards under review as this work progresses; should there be a need to augment the board membership in the future I will move to add additional members to these small expert taskforces as quickly as possible.  Should this be the case I will of course make a further statement to the Assembly to update them on those details.