Education chiefs grilled over damning Estyn report
Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter
Education chiefs in Torfaen have been grilled over a lack of progress in bringing about improvements to secondary schools in the borough following a damning Estyn report.
An inspection report by the education watchdog found Torfaen council is “a local authority causing significant concern” due to shortcomings in secondary school performance.
An extraordinary full council meeting to discuss the report’s findings and raise questions was held on Tuesday.
The Estyn report criticised the pace of improvement among secondary schools, and said Torfaen council needed to strengthen self-evaluation and scrutiny processes to improve outcomes for learners.
While performance in primary schools was found to be “generally sound”, inspectors said “the weak performance in secondary schools over time is a significant issue for the local authority”.
At the meeting on Tuesday, Cllr Richard Clark, executive member for education, said the council accepted the report’s findings and had to “learn from the process”.
“We have to learn from this report and then drive forward change, but at pace,” he said.
Llantarnam councillor David Thomas raised questions over action to improve performance at Cwmbran High School, which has been in special measures for five years.
Dermot McChrystal, the council’s chief officer for education and lead director for children and young people, said outcomes at Cwmbran High School were not what the council wanted them to be.
Mr McChrystal said the pace of improvement at secondary schools has “not been good enough”.
“We recognise we have a lot of work to do in a short period of time,” he added.
Cllr Alan Slade raised questions over information given to councillors about education performance, and why members had to wait for Estyn to “point out the shortcomings”.
Cllr David Daniels also called for reassurance that members would be kept informed of “where we are at” going forward.
Cllr Elizabeth Haynes said it was ‘appalling’ that some children had spent “their entire secondary school education in schools in Torfaen that caused concern”.
Stephen Vickers, chief executive at Torfaen council, said work has started on a post inspection action plan to address the recommendations, and that the authority recognise the need to “respond at pace”.
Mr Vickers said Torfaen’s children “deserve the very best from us”.
“We have to acknowledge that they are not currently getting this,” he said.
“Our job going forward is to ensure that that’s exactly what we give them.”
Council leader, Cllr Anthony Hunt, said the authority has to “recognise the criticisms in the report and to drive improvement”.
He added the message from the meeting should not be “that everything is wrong” and paid tribute to the work of staff in schools.
“I am really positive after today that if we all work together and focus on solutions, we can build a better future for our schools and those who work and learn in them,” he said.
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