Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education and Skills
In my Statement last autumn, I advised Members of the action that is being taken to address the shortcomings identified during the May 2011 inspection of education services for children and young people in Blaenau Gwent, which led to the authority requiring special measures. I said that I would to keep Members informed of the progress of the Ministerial Direction issued to Blaenau Gwent in September 2011. Before I do that, I think it is worth reminding Members of what the Direction involved.
The Direction involved the appointment of two Education Commissioners and two Advisory Education Commissioners. The Education Commissioners assumed all of the education functions previously undertaken by the Executive and the Advisory Education Commissioners provide support and challenge to the Education Commissioners in their role.
The Commissioners provide me with monthly written reports on their work, and I meet with the Education Commissioners and Advisory Commissioners quarterly. My most recent meeting with the Commissioners was on 9 July 2012, when I discussed with them the progress to date.
Estyn undertook a monitoring visit to the authority during the week commencing 11 June 2012; in line with Estyn's protocol for the monitoring of local authority education services in special measures, the monitoring visit to Blaenau Gwent was a ‘lighter touch’ – the inspection team did not make any judgements on the authority's current performance or prospects. The inspectorate simply reported on the progress made against the recommendations in the 2011 inspection. Estyn will re-inspect Blaenau Gwent early in 2013, and at that, time will give new judgements against each key indicator.
The Direction has effect until 31 March 2013 but I said that I would review it regularly, and to this end, I am in the process of undertaking the first of those reviews. I have sought the views of all key stakeholders, including the Welsh Local Government Association, Blaenau Gwent Leader, Deputy Leader and Chief Executive, the Education and Advisory Commissioners, Estyn and the Neath Port Talbot Taskforce.
Indications from both the monitoring visit and the views of key stakeholders is that although progress in Blaenau Gwent was initially slow across the range of recommendations, more recently the pace and focus of change have improved. There have been considerable efforts by staff at all levels and in partner agencies to make change happen. Although, the direction of travel is broadly right, much important work remains to be done by the local authority, if it is to secure sustainable capacity.