Minister ire at LA 'feet dragging'

24th September 2010 at 01:00
Leighton Andrews attacks underperforming councils for holding back reform and collaboration

The education minister has launched a scathing attack on Welsh local government, claiming that many councils are underperforming and "dragging their feet" over educational reform.

Speaking exclusively to TES Cymru, Leighton Andrews said he was "sceptical" about whether Wales's 22 local authorities were serious in their commitment to work more closely together for the benefit of pupils.

He also revealed that his officials are preparing to examine the strategic capabilities of council education departments amid concerns that they are not properly supporting and challenging the performance of their schools.

Over the summer, the minister warned council education chiefs that they were not working quickly enough on their post-16 transformation plans, and set them a challenge to work together collaboratively on a regional basis as part of the wider effort to move more educational funding to the front lines.

Mr Andrews said: "Although we are seeing some good collaboration there's still clearly a lot more to do."

Referring to the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), he said: "I'm not convinced some people in local government know what needs to be done. We are aware that there are still significant numbers of local authorities not performing as well as they should.

"I am sceptical about the ability of local authorities to demonstrate that they are serious about the collaboration agenda, and now they have an opportunity to prove it. Some local authorities are doing very well - they have got a clear focus, strategy and are able to implement change."

He said ministers were "getting tired of some local authorities that are dragging their feet on joint appointments and collaboration".

Mr Andrews said there were also "fundamental issues" about the strategic capabilities of some local education authorities, and hinted that they would soon come under closer scrutiny from the Assembly.

"We will have a significant focus on looking at the strategic capacity of the education system at a local level to support and challenge performance," he said. When pressed for a time scale he said: "Watch this space."

But councillor John Davies, leader of the WLGA, refuted the suggestion that local government had not embraced the collaboration agenda, pointing out that the current regional education consortia were set up by WLGA and the Association of Directors of Education in Wales (ADEW) in 2003, "well before anyone within the Welsh Assembly government had ever used the word collaboration".

"All 22 local authorities are currently engaged in a range of collaborative projects all aimed at raising standards, using resources more efficiently and improving outcomes for children," he said. "Collaboration should take place where it adds value and not as an end in itself.

"The irony is that on numerous occasions the Assembly government has refused to put any resources into the regional consortia despite various requests from local government. The major collaborative initiatives have been funded by local authorities, the WLGA and the UK government."

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