Councils lose responsibility for school improvement services

Classroom (generic) Welsh ministers have become frustrated by the performance of local council education departments

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Councils in Wales will no longer be responsible for school improvement services from April next year.

Education Minister Huw Lewis said the work would go to the four education consortia established to raise standards across council boundaries.

Nearly a quarter of council education services are or have been put in special measures following concerns.

But opposition parties said the consortia were criticised recently for providing patchy services.

Mr Lewis was giving his response to the recommendations of Robert Hill, who was an adviser to former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr Hill's report also called for up to a third of the 22 education services to be cut.

Mr Lewis said other such elements of the report were still being analysed and he would respond to those "in due course".

"I am not prepared to wait any longer for local government to get their act together," he told AMs.

"Decisive action needs to be taken now in order to support our schools and young people.

"I have made it absolutely clear to local government that I am minded for local authorities to retain their statutory responsibility for education and to put in place a national model for regional working."

He said money for the new system would be diverted from funding the Welsh government allocates for local government.

'Sticking plaster'

But the Conservatives described the changes as a "sticking plaster" for a failing education system.

Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns said: "Just a year ago there were concerns over the performance of regional consortia - today they have effectively been given a clean bill of health and direct funding.

"We need guarantees that improvements have been made and that this change will work effectively.

"The sticking plaster announced by Labour today is a drop in the ocean of what's really needed."

Plaid Cymru described Mr Lewis's response to the Hill review as a "damp squib".

Education spokesman Simon Thomas said: "The delivery of education services in Wales will continue to be a mess, unless other issues around governance, accountability, data sharing, targets, structures and appointments are sorted out first.

"Plaid Cymru would strengthen the accountability regarding the working of consortia at the same time as they got the money from Welsh government.

"If I was education minister I would chair twice yearly meetings of all consortia to hold them to account."

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