Academics hail turnaround

A year after damning report, local authority's 'exciting' work improves its poor performance

Darren Evans

More than a year after the standard of education in Denbighshire was criticised in two damning reports, the North Wales authority has won plaudits for its "exciting" work to improve the situation.

Two of Wales' leading academics in the field of education praised the council's efforts to turn around its fortunes at a special event last week.

School heads and class teachers from across the county took part in secondary and primary school improvement conferences in St Asaph, organised partly to prepare for the authority's re-inspection by Welsh inspectorate Estyn in March 2009.

In a report last September, Estyn outlined significant failings, mostly with bad management. Consultancy firm Cambridge Education also criticised standards.

In Estyn's report, the county scored a below-par 4 - the next to lowest - in all key service areas.

It said leaders at all levels in the authority had not addressed "robustly and comprehensively enough the continual poor performance of schools".

The fallout from the reports led to a vote of no confidence in council leader Rhiannon Hughes and her nine-man cabinet, and director of lifelong learning Huw Griffiths went on indefinite sick leave.

In November a 40-page action plan aimed at raising standards and attendance was drafted and an extra Pounds 700,000 was found to bring services up to scratch.

Last week Professor David Egan, director of the institute of applied education research at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, said in his keynote speech to the LEA conference that "exciting work" is being carried out in the county. "I think in a lot of ways you can point the way ahead for Wales," he said.

Fellow speaker David Reynolds, professor of education at the University of Plymouth, who lives in Wales, said Denbighshire deserved better than the "public kicking" it had received. "It's difficult to compare the perception that people have of Denbighshire and things that have been said by Estyn and others with the quality of people that I met today," he said.

Professors Egan and Reynolds both told teachers at the conferences that high quality teaching is the key to school improvement.

Speaking to TES Cymru after the conferences, Gareth Wyn Jones, Denbighshire's head of school improvement, welcomed the "tremendously encouraging" comments of the two academics, and said the authority is "cautiously optimistic" about its upcoming re-inspection.

He said measures are in place to address school improvement, including a monitoring group of councillors and officers and a tri-county curriculum support team.

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Darren Evans

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