'Significant concerns' raised over Powys schools service
School inspectors in Wales have raised “significant concerns” about Powys County Council’s education service in a highly critical report.
The Welsh education watchdog, Estyn, said it would monitor the council’s school service for improvement, following its visit in late June and early July.
Powys County Council is the only authority in Wales causing significant concern to Estyn.
But it does point out that there had been some improvements since previous critical reports in 2007 and 2011.
The concerns are for school organisation, financial management, school governance and lack of action regarding schools spaces.
As well as the provision for pupils with special educational needs who may require extra support.
Estyn said that these issues affect school leadership, staffing structures, curriculum planning and staff morale and have given the authority five recommendations to help improve.
A spokesperson for Estyn said: “The local authority has not made strong, sustainable improvements to address many of the shortcomings identified during previous inspections.
“Many of the issues remain areas of significant concern.
“Recommendations within the last two Estyn inspection reports continue to be areas of concern.
“In addition, the issues raised during this inspection are similar to those raised in two Wales Audit Office inspection reports issued in 2012 and 2017.”
Estyn also said over the last five years, too many schools were in a category of causing concern and too many schools continue to have high deficit balances.
The report goes on to say that councillors have been “reluctant” to take tough decision to reorganise schools, especially around post-16 (sixth form provision). A review into this sector is due to start soon.
The report also highlights the loss of senior council officers in key roles.
Estyn said: “Over the last three years, there has been a significant change in senior officers, including at chief executive, director and head of service levels.
“At the time of the inspection, further change in key senior education posts are forecast for the near future.
“The high proportion of significant personnel changes has affected the continuity and delivery of action plans.”
But chief executive, Dr Caroline Turner, who has been in the role for six months has received praise in the report.
Estyn said: “The newly appointed chief executive has understood the main strengths and areas for development well and is realistic about the gravity of the challenges facing the authority.
“She has brought a new vigour to addressing key areas and for strengthening the joint working within the local authority’s departments and across elected member groups, but these are at an early stage of development.”
The recommendations are:
Improve standards in secondary schools, and especially the performance of more able learners
Improve the evaluation, planning and coordination of provision for learners with special educational needs and other pupils who may require extra support
Improve the consistency and impact of senior leaders in improving the quality of education services and continue to strengthen the rigour, scrutiny and challenge about performance of the authority’s services
Ensure that the organisation of provision for non-maintained, post 16, Welsh medium education and secondary education meets the needs of the children and young people of Powys
Continue to improve the quality of financial management in schools and take appropriate action to address schools with significant deficit budgets.
Estyn has said it will review the authority’s progress through a post-inspection improvement conference and progress conferences.
A monitoring visit will take place after the last progress conference to consider how well the local authority has addressed each of the recommendations and how much progress has been made overall.
County Council’s response
The work to respond to a highly critical report of Powys County Council’s (PCC) education service is already underway, says the authority’s leadership.
The council says it will accept and use the highly critical Estyn report to improve the service.
Responding to the report , council Leader, Councillor Rosemarie Harris said: “We accept the findings of the inspection.
“We have already started to implement improvements to address the recommendations set out in the findings.
“The report will form the basis of an action plan that is being developed to address areas of weakness and improve our education service.
“A great deal of work is already underway.
“We have a new leadership team in place who are already developing an action plan to address issues highlighted in the findings.”
Councillor Harris added that the inspection had highlighted strengths but acknowledge that the council had failed to reach the standards it aspires to.
Education and Welsh language portfolio holder, Councillor Myfanwy Alexander added: “We need to work more effectively with all our schools, our governing bodies and communities to sustain and improve performance.
“We already have a number of very successful schools delivering excellent standards but know we have to do more to ensure that all our youngsters have the same opportunities throughout the county.”
Councillor Alexander went on to say that turning things around and achieving excellence while budgets are under “severe pressure” will be difficult.
Chief executive Dr Caroline Turner added: “We have a good team in place to deliver the improvements that are necessary.
“We will be working with schools, and drawing on the resources of ERW (Education through Regional Working) to ensure that we are able to quickly address the findings of Estyn’s report.
ERW is the education consortium of of six local authorities delivering school improvement services. The local authorities include Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Neath Port Talbot, Pembrokeshire, Powys and Swansea.