'Doubtful' headteachers question LAs' impact
Welsh schools have endured a barrage of criticism in recent years after poor rankings in international league tables prompted a raft of reforms to improve their performance.
But now school leaders have joined the Welsh government in shifting the blame for poor results on to the country's local authorities, delivering an overwhelming vote of no confidence in their ability to raise standards.
When asked whether their local authority or regional consortium of authorities could help them raise standards, 89 per cent of delegates at heads' union ASCL Cymru's conference in Cardiff last week said they were "doubtful" or "very doubtful indeed".
Heads also cast doubt on the idea that so-called "system leaders" - specialist council officers or seconded school leaders - could help them improve, with 40 per cent saying they have "no confidence" that they will deliver results.
As TES revealed in October, the new regional groupings of councils have struggled to recruit enough suitable candidates for these key school improvement roles. This was reflected in the ASCL poll, in which 15 per cent of delegates said they did not yet know who their system leader would be, despite the fact that their work was supposed to have started in September.
ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said he was "shocked" by some of the findings of the poll, which contain some "devastating messages" about what is happening in Wales.
"Forty per cent of (school leaders) are essentially saying the people appointed to improve standards are not the people who are best placed to do that," he said. "Nearly 90 per cent are doubtful about the consortia, so who is going to make sure we have an infrastructure that can raise standards?"
Mr Lightman, who was a secondary head in South Wales before starting his role at ASCL, told delegates they must have the "courage" to drive improvement themselves.
"The expertise is in this room," he said. "External organisations do not seem to be delivering, so I think you have to take control."
The poll's findings will add weight to the argument for major reform of how education is organised in Wales, which was put forward by education minister Leighton Andrews in November. Mr Andrews shocked the educational establishment by announcing that he was bringing forward a review that could mean local authorities being stripped of their role in running schools.
The minister said local authorities have failed to "get their house in order", despite being given time and money to do so.
Other options being explored by the review include forced mergers of education services and regional school boards answerable to the Welsh government.
The announcement prompted a backlash from the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) and even some within the Labour Party. WLGA leader Bob Wellington said the organisation is "vehemently opposed" to any removal of education from local government. "This will fundamentally damage the principle of local democratic control and accountability, and undermine the ability of local communities to shape the educational future of young people," he said.
Mr Wellington, leader of Torfaen council, which has come under fire for its "unsatisfactory" education service, admitted there are "major issues" that need addressing. "Performance needs to radically improve and it is vital that, as a key component of the system, local authorities are functioning to an optimum level to best serve the interests of pupils across Wales," he said.
Mr Andrews said he accepts that new leaderships cannot be blamed for recent failures, given the change of control in many local authorities after the council elections in May. "However," he added, "it is clear that there are problems in our education structures, which are impacting on educational outcomes."
Around two-thirds of the lowest performing secondary schools in Wales have improved over the past year, it has been revealed.
Speaking at ASCL Cymru's annual conference in Cardiff last week, education minister Leighton Andrews said that two-thirds of schools in bands 4 and 5 of the Welsh government's system had shown improvements in their results this year.
The controversial banding approach, launched last year, placed all of Wales' 222 comprehensives into one of five bands. These were based on performance indicators, including attendance and GCSE results, with band 1 being the best and band 5 the worst. There were 27 schools in band 1 and 28 in band 5. This year's banding positions are due to be published later this month.