Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills
Members will be aware of the intention to intervene in Pembrokeshire following the critical Estyn inspection reports of the authorities published in December 2012. I am making this statement to inform Members of the action I am taking.
Before I do that, I think it is worth reminding Members of the issues involved.
The authority’s education services were found to be unsatisfactory because performance in primary schools does not compare well to that of similar schools in other authorities across Wales; and although there have been improvements in attendance, too many primary schools are in the lower half in comparison with similar schools on the free-school-meal benchmarks. The authority’s arrangements for supporting and challenging schools are not robust enough and have not had enough impact on improving outcomes and the authority is responding too slowly to the increasing level of surplus places in the secondary sector.
Estyn also judged Pembrokeshire’s prospects for improvement as unsatisfactory. This is because corporate leaders and senior elected members have been too slow to recognise key issues in safeguarding and to change the culture in, and improve, education services; leadership at directorate and service level is weak; and elected members have found it difficult to scrutinise decisions adequately and hold services to account. Furthermore, operational and partnership plans do not consistently identify relevant outcome measures and milestones to enable officers to track progress, accountability and performance effectively and performance management arrangements in the education directorate are not robust enough to sustain and drive improvement. Alongside this self-evaluation arrangements lack rigour and do not identify accurately areas in need of further improvement and the authority has made limited progress in addressing recommendations from previous inspections.
Notwithstanding those criticisms Estyn did identify some aspects of the education service which were positive and alongside that the authority has made a number of new appointments to support its service delivery. Estyn found that corporate leaders have recently begun to understand and engage more fully with the challenges facing education in Pembrokeshire and have taken appropriate actions to initiate improvement and that key elected members, together with senior corporate officers, are influencing a steady cultural change, which is contributing to a more open, realistic and productive approach to working with others.
The evidence, strongly points to the need for a Recovery Board to oversee the improvements needed, monitor the progress made and provide accountability. I have decided that this is the right course of action to take.
I have issued a Direction to Pembrokeshire County Council ensuring their co-operation with the Recovery Board and providing reserve powers for the Board to issue such instructions as it considers reasonable to ensure the compliance of the local authority. However, the Authority will continue to be solely responsible for ensuring its education functions are performed to at least an adequate standard. I will consider it a serious failure by the Authority if the Recovery Board finds it necessary to issue any instructions.
The membership of that Recovery Board is comprised of:
- Professor Ian Roffe– former Director of the Centre for Enterprise, European and Extension Services, University of Wales, Lampeter;
- David Williams – former director of Children and Young People’s Services at Reading and Durham Councils;
- Karen Evans – Chief Education Officer Denbighshire Council a local authority previously found to be unsatisfactory during an Estyn inspection but more recently improving to be judged as good; and
- representatives of the Centre for Public Scrutiny namely Jessica Crowe and/or Rebecca David- Knight who will be undertaking the review of the Council’s constitution and scrutiny functions.
The Recovery Board held its first meeting on 17 July 2013 and will from that point provide me with reports in respect of the progress being made. While the Recovery Board is being established I have instructed a senior official from within my Department to Chair the Board, on a purely interim basis. I intend to appoint a Chair in due course from amongst the Recovery Board members.