Failing schools: Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire warned of special measures

Mr Andrews said smaller authorities lacked quality in leadership

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The education services in two more areas of Wales should be taken into special measures, according to the education watchdog Estyn.

Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire are the latest councils deemed to be failing pupils, following Anglesey, Blaenau Gwent and Pembrokeshire.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said he will take action, blaming the quality of education management.

Both Merthyr and Monmouthshire councils said they were taking steps to improve.

The reports point to a number of failings in both education services, and say the councils are not doing enough to support struggling schools.

Analysis

The verdicts for both Monmouthshire council and Merthyr are very similar, even though the two areas are so different from each other.

Estyn says both should be doing much better with what they've got.

For Monmouthshire, having some of the best schools in Wales isn't enough, according to the inspectors.

When you have so many well-off parents, schools should be doing much better than they are - that's the gist of the report.

And for Merthyr, yes, there are problems with poverty there, but even taking that into consideration, schools don't do well compared to similar areas.

There is also a far broader issue here, because Merthyr and Monmouthshire now bring the tally of councils' education services in special measures to five.

Four more are being monitored by Estyn.

It means they're not up to scratch and that a lot of further work is required to improve the performance of schools.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews has said time and again there are too many local education authorities in Wales - they're too small and pupils are suffering as a result.

Following the latest Estyn reports, his response was that too many small councils are failing, and that there needs to be a new structure with fewer education authorities.

They've already commissioned a review into this - which will report back to them around Easter.

But the clever money is on fewer local education authorities in future.

Estyn said that while Monmouthshire council was above the average for Wales and among the best in Wales in primary schools, it was falling short of the standards that could be reached.

It said when the relatively low level of deprivation in the county was taken into consideration, it was not achieving as much as it should, and concluded that "given the levels of funding and the outcomes achieved overall, the education service provides unsatisfactory value for money".

Meanwhile Merthyr Tydfil council had high levels of deprivation and its performance was "well below average", the inspectorate said.

The report found that Merthyr council had "not responded well enough to the recommendations from past inspections, including those going back to 2004".

"As a consequence, many areas for improvement have not moved forward fast enough to secure better services, provision and outcomes for all learners in the local authority," it added.

'Depressing'

It said both should be placed in special measures - a status applied by Estyn when it considers that schools fail to supply an acceptable level of education and appear to lack the leadership capacity to improve.

Mr Andrews said that the Welsh government will be taking action over the next few days with, he hoped, the co-operation of the local authorities concerned.

Speaking to BBC Radio Wales, he called the reports "disappointing" and "depressing" but agreed the problem seemed to be a systemic one.

He said it stemmed from the "whirlwind" of what was set up in the 1990s, when Wales went from having eight county councils responsible for education to 22 unitary authorities responsible for education.

"I think what that led to was a dissipation of resources, it meant we didn't have sufficiently strong school improvement services as the older counties had had, we didn't have expertise in human resource support for head teachers," Mr Andrews said.

Consortium model

"A lot of the decisions taken around information and communication technology have been for the benefit of councils and not for the benefit of schools and are not for the benefit of learning."

SOME ESTYN FINDINGS

MONMOUTHSHIRE:

Percentage of pupils leaving without recognised qualification worse than Wales average and has not compared well enough to other authorities in Wales.

Progress between primary and secondary schools well below average.

Arrangements for supporting and challenging schools are not robust enough and have not had enough impact on "improving outcomes".

Council officers have often reacted to requests from individual schools for support and review, rather than target interventions at those schools where they are most needed.

MERTHYR:

Primary school attendance is not good enough and the pace of progress is too slow.

The number of fixed term exclusions has steadily increased and in 2011 was among the worst in Wales for both shorter and longer exclusions.

Percentage of learners continuing in full-time education has improved, but the gap with the Wales average has not closed significantly.

Where schools are causing concern, the authority has not intervened early enough or effectively.

Source: Estyn

A review into the structure of education services in Wales is underway and due to report to the minister around Easter with a statement to follow in the summer.

Last year Mr Andrews set up regional consortia of local authorities to drive up standards in schools.

He said he believes the consortium model is a "good one to look at".

However, Labour's Brendon Toomey, leader of Merthyr Tydfil council, said he believes the responsibility for education should remain with local authorities "because of accountability".

He said: "The consortia definitely has a major role to play in this and we will work with the consortia. But the delivery of local education should be one for local authorities."

Peter Fox, leader of Monmouthshire council, said it was "inevitable" that local authorities will have to deliver more "in a regional approach".

"I don't think that worries lots of authorities, as long as authorities maintain sovereignty."

Both councils said they have already started to improve their educational services.

Liz Hacket Pain, Monmouthshire council's cabinet member for education, said it would work with the Welsh government to develop and implement an action plan of improvements.

"We mustn't forget that our children and young people are already doing well, but we need to help them achieve even more," she said.

Merthyr council said it has established an improvement board to hold officers and councillors to account.

Harvey Jones, cabinet member for schools for Merthyr, said he will be keeping a close watch over all aspects of current developments throughout the process.

"This month, I shall be presenting a report to council that includes a new structure for the schools department, together with the full financial implications for funding the new proposals," he said.

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