Failing Blaenau Gwent schools remain a concern, inspectors say

A Welsh government commissioner is running education in the county which has been in special measures since 2011

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Education services are still failing in Blaenau Gwent, two years after the education authority was placed into special measures.

A report by inspectors from Estyn found that services were "unsatisfactory", but noted some improvement in matters such as school attendance.

Blaenau Gwent council said it has had "limited time" to deliver progress.

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said there had been some improvements but "significant challenges" remain.

In 2011, a report found "systemic" management failures and Blaenau Gwent accepted changes were needed for its 34 schools.

Start Quote

Turning an authority around does take time”

End Quote Leighton Andrews, education minister
Underperformance

A task force led by Neath Port Talbot council was also brought in by Mr Andrews.

Since then, five other authorities have faced recommendations to be placed in special measures - Anglesey, Merthyr Tydfil, Monmouthshire, Pembrokeshire and Torfaen.

In Estyn's latest report on Blaenau Gwent it found standards of achievement were unsatisfactory, particularly in secondary schools.

The authority had also failed to meet any of the Welsh government benchmarks for attainment.

According to the report:

ANALYSIS

Prof David Reynolds

Prof David Reynolds, an expert in education improvement at Southampton University.

He said there has seen some signs of improvement in Blaenau Gwent but said the issues could not be resolved by throwing money at the problems.

"The tragedy of Blaenau Gwent is that almost so much help went in, that everybody tripped over themselves trying to help.

"I think the message from Blaenau Gwent is that we need help but we actually need to systematise, prioritise and organise that help.

"Also, frankly, the message is there must be some desire to fight, as it were, from a local authority to give its children the best possible chance.

"I don't think that's the case in Blaenau Gwent."

Prof Reynolds was speaking to BBC Radio Wales and is a Welsh government education adviser

  • The rate of longer fixed-term exclusions of pupils and the number of days lost to exclusion are increasing
  • Initiatives for school improvement are too fragmented and are not coordinated effectively
  • Leadership in the delivery of education had not generated improvements in areas of underperformance
  • Business planning and risk-assessment processes have not been robust enough to identify and address the slow pace of progress in education services and schools
  • Arrangements for safeguarding children do not meet requirements and give serious cause for concern
  • However, attendance rates in Blaenau Gwent primary schools have improved
  • The council now has more accurate information about school performance and is beginning to tackle problems more systematically.

In response, Blaenau Gwent council said: "Whilst the overall judgement of the report was unsatisfactory it has to be recognised that there has been limited time since the council was first placed in special measures in September 2011 to deliver progress in many areas.

"There are signs of improvement.

"As a result of the work that the council and the south east Wales Education Achievement Service (EAS) has been undertaking, the council has more accurate information on schools' performance and is beginning to use the data more systematically.

"There has also been good progress in improving attendance in Blaenau Gwent schools.

"An action plan needs to be prepared now that the council's inspection report has been published by Estyn."

A Welsh government commissioner remains in charge of education in the county, which has been in special measures since 2011

The education minister said it was "clear that we underestimated the difficulties within the corporate culture within Blaenau Gwent".

'Better understanding'

"There are still very significant challenges facing us, but I think we can see some improvements have been made along the way," he told BBC Radio Wales.

"I think we have put in very significant support. We have had input from experienced council officials from educational backgrounds in good education authorities.

"Turning an authority around does take time."

The minister said he would be discussing the reports findings with officials on Monday, but also said Estyn had recognised some improvements at Blaenau Gwent.

"Attendance is going up, and we know that improved attendance is a bedrock for establishing improved attainment," he said.

"The support put in by the regional consortium in south-east Wales in respect of school improvement is making a difference.

"Thirdly, I think the report does say that local councillors now have a better understanding of what they have to do and have made significant progress in changing the way they work."

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