Council criticised for lack of progress improving secondary school performance
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
A lack of progress in bringing about improvements to education services in Torfaen, particularly among secondary schools, has been criticised in an Estyn report.
An inspection report by the education watchdog found Torfaen council is “a local authority causing significant concern” due to lack of progress in tackling long-standing issues in secondary schools.
Performance in primary schools is “generally sound overall”, but inspectors said “the weak performance in secondary schools over time is a significant issue for the local authority”.
“Work to address this and to improve pupils’ outcomes has been too slow and causes concern for young people’s educational attainment and well-being as well as their opportunities for future education, training and employment,” the report says.
The report recommends improving outcomes for learners, particularly in secondary schools; strengthening performance management; strengthening self-evaluation and improvement planning processes and the link between them; improving strategic leadership of learning and Additional Learning Needs.
Estyn said judgements from inspections for primary and secondary schools in Torfaen between September 2017 and March 2020 were “weak compared to national findings”.
Of the secondary schools, one was judged adequate and one was judged unsatisfactory.
The secondary school judged adequate later went into special measures, while another secondary school has been in special measures since 2017.
The report says that raising educational outcomes has been one of Torfaen council’s three corporate priorities for the past five years – and the ambition has been supported by the leader and deputy leader.
Council funding to schools has “increased substantially”, and councillors have made “bold decisions” to support their vision such as establishing the Torfaen Learning Zone for 16 to 19-year-olds.
But the report says that overall, actions to bring about improvements within education have been “too slow”.
“The local authority has not secured the improvements needed to ensure that all children and young people, particularly in the secondary sector, have access to high quality provision,” it adds.
Councillors on the council’s education scrutiny committee “do not always receive the information that they need to carry out their function effectively”, which “hampers their ability to challenge the cabinet over improving the quality of education provision”, the report adds.
Inspectors also said the quality of planning improvements across the education service is ‘inconsistent’.
The council’s chief education officer holds termly performance review meetings with colleagues, but these are “not sufficiently rigorous and do not hold officers suitably to account for service level outcomes”, Estyn said.
Stephen Vickers, chief executive at Torfaen council, said a post inspection action plan to address the recommendations has already started.
“We fully accept the report’s findings, and recognise the much needed improvements identified by inspectors,” he said.
“It is good that Estyn also recognise the ongoing investment and strong political leadership, our good work to deliver high quality school buildings and the very strong practice in our youth service and some aspects of ALN, however the pace of change in the areas outlined must increase quickly.”
Cllr Richard Clark, Torfaen’s executive member for education, said: “Clearly there is a lot of urgent improvement needed and although Estyn recognise the progress that has been made, the pace of change, particularly in a number of secondary schools at the time of this inspection has not been quick enough.
“We must focus on improving our self-evaluation and performance management processes to demonstrably improve outcomes for learners.”
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