Failing schools: Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire warned of special measures

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Media captionMr Andrews said smaller authorities lacked quality in leadership

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.

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.


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."

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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