Andrews: Blaenau Gwent's failure is a challenge for our school system

22nd July 2011 at 01:00
We must show we have the appetite for improvement, says education minister

The decision to place a local authority's education services in special measures is a challenge for the whole school system in Wales, according to education minister Leighton Andrews.

A damning report from schools inspectorate Estyn last week said Blaenau Gwent council was failing to provide an acceptable standard of education for its pupils and highlighted a "systemic failure" of management.

Mr Andrews said the findings represented a challenge for local government to support the rebuilding of education, as well as a challenge for Wales and its "ability and appetite" to drive up performance.

"We accept no less than high standards and I look to do everything in my power to achieve better outcomes for young people," Mr Andrews said.

Blaenau Gwent is the first local authority to be placed in special measures under Estyn's new inspection framework, launched last September, and only the second ever after Denbighshire.

However, last month the inspectorate rated Cardiff council's education services "adequate", which Mr Andrews said was "barely good enough".

Professor David Reynolds, a policy adviser to the Welsh Government, told TES Cymru that Estyn's recent judgments highlighted the "unreliability" of local authority education services.

"Until local government gets its act together we won't have the drivers we need at local level to drive through changes to the education system," Professor Reynolds said.

"The quality of that second tier is so important. These findings are not good, to say the least. They support the view that we need an alternative to the current 22 local authorities."

A task force, led by Neath Port Talbot council and its director of education Karl Napieralla, has been formed to support Blaenau Gwent, and officials from both authorities have held a series of meetings over the past week.

Councillor Alun Thomas, leader of Neath Port Talbot council, said: "This demonstrates the strength of the local government family in Wales and our willingness to help each other to address serious issues such as those identified in the report."

An Independent Recovery Board is also being established to oversee the improvements and monitor progress.

A number of heads and teachers in Blaenau Gwent told TES Cymru they were left in a state of shock after last week's news.

One primary head, who did not want to be named, said: "Historically, we knew we suffered from a lack of support, but we thought that was because of the size of the authority, and we just got on with our jobs and did the best we could for the pupils.

"Few people understand what this means, and nobody really knows what is going to happen now. Schools have to understand that things need to change. We need tighter systems and stronger leadership.

"But everybody's hoping that the focus isn't going to be on punishing teachers and making our jobs more difficult."

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