Local authority put in special measures

15th July 2011 at 01:00
Estyn report points to 'systemic failure of management' at Blaenau Gwent council

A troubled South Wales local authority has been placed in special measures after inspectors deemed its education services "unsatisfactory".

Blaenau Gwent is only the second council in Wales to be put in the most serious category of follow-up activity following an Estyn inspection.

A report released this week says children do not make good progress in the authority's schools and standards are well below what is expected. It also highlights a "systemic failure of management" leading to poor value for money, and a "history of instability" in the leadership of education services.

The council's executive member for education, Stephen Bard, has resigned over the report.

The independent-run council has had several directors of education with different job titles and roles in the last few years. Learners have not been served well by the rapid turnover of senior staff and shifting priorities and strategies, Estyn said.

Perhaps most seriously, it said the council has "unsatisfactory prospects" for improvement, partly because it has a poor track record of responding to recommendations from previous school inspections.

In Blaenau Gwent schools, performance in all key stages has been among the lowest in Wales over the last four years, and the gap in performance between boys and girls is wider than average.

The council did not meet any of the three main secondary school performance targets last year, and the percentage of learners leaving school without a recognised qualification remains the worst in Wales.

Blaenau Gwent is the third smallest authority in the country, and has the highest percentage of pupils entitled to free school meals. However, the 201011 education budget of #163;5,487 per pupil was the highest in Wales, and well above the Welsh average of #163;4,816 per pupil.

Council leader Des Hillman said everyone at the authority accepted the need for a "step change".

"The council is wholeheartedly committed to building capacity and boosting standards in our education service," he said. "But we clearly aren't improving at the rate we want. Estyn's report has strengthened our resolve further."

But sources within Blaenau Gwent told TES Cymru they felt they did not get a fair judgment.

They said the council had been more proactive and radical than many authorities in responding to the Government's post-16 transformation agenda. A recent Freedom of Information request also revealed that the Welsh Government ranked Blaenau Gwent third out of all 22 local authorities for value added based on GCSE results.

However, senior educationalists have privately described Blaenau Gwent as a "basket-case council".

Dr Philip Dixon, director of education union ATL Cymru, called the report a "disturbing read" and added: "This demonstrates that smaller local authorities cannot provide the sort of support and resources schools needed to step up to the education minister's agenda."

Education minister Leighton Andrews called it a "damning report" and announced the formation of an Independent Recovery Board to oversee the improvements needed.

The council has been told it must respond to the recommendations in the next two weeks. It will be re-inspected in a year's time.

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