Huw Lewis, Minister for Education and Skills
Today we see the publication of two separate reports in respect of our newly constituted regional education consortia for school improvement.
The purpose of the reports was to provide an update on consortia progress in relation to school improvement and consortia governance arrangements
I welcome the positive progress noted in both reports considering that the implementation of the National Model only commenced in April 2014.
Reflecting on the development of the consortia, we can not lose sight of the substantial pace of change since April 2014; which is still ongoing as these organisations continue to develop. I welcome the positive feedback contained in these reports and the overall reflection that things are improving.
For example, the Estyn report notes that although the general improvements in standards of pupil attainment over the past three years cannot be solely attributed to the development of the regional consortia, the published data reflects a gradual improvement in pupil attainment across all four regions. It also states that all of the consortia 2014-15 business plans focus appropriately on the most important areas for improvement.
Estyn also reports that consortia have engaged effectively with LA officers, school leaders and trade unions when developing their regional priorities and policies for school improvement, and that quality assurance arrangements for challenge advisers have been strengthened, ensuring greater consistency in the work of the advisers.
It is pleasing to note that the consortia generally know how well many of their schools are performing through the work of the challenge advisers, supported by their analysis of attainment data and that most headteachers and chairs of governors report that the performance of their school is scrutinised closely and fairly by challenge advisers.
The WAO report concludes that “after an uncertain start, the foundations for regional school improvement services are being established and there are positive signs of progress but remaining weaknesses are hindering the development of the whole system and the effective governance and financial management of the consortia.’
It is important to note that the reports have been published some time after the completion of the field work, I am, however, pleased to note that progress continues to be made at great pace. For example, in respect of strategies to address deprivation each consortium has taken different approaches to supporting schools to tackle the impact of poverty on educational attainment. The consortia have acknowledged the need to develop the skills of their staff and/or challenge advisers. To facilitate this Welsh Government granted each consortium £50k to build capacity towards the end of 2014-15
However, that is not to say that I do not accept that there are still some significant issues that consortia and Welsh Government need to address. I think these areas are well articulated by both of these reports.
The Estyn report highlights whilst the consortia business plans focus on areas for improvement, they do not identify well enough what impacts are expected from actions and how this will be measured.
The report also refers to work that needs to be undertaken to address some weaknesses in scrutiny committees holding senior officers and representatives to account well enough for their role in ensuring that the consortium meets the needs of the authorities schools.
Estyn has also reported that whilst the consortia have suitable arrangements in place with authorities for sharing information from many service areas, none have a fully developed and consistently used system to collate, analyse and share information about the progress of pupils in schools, and none of the regions have a coherent strategic approach to reduce the impact of deprivation on attainment.
Whilst I accept the point that Estyn makes that the consortia have been slow to fully implement governance arrangements, I also accept that it is too early to judge the effectiveness of those governance arrangements, the senior leadership and management of consortia.
The WAO report also highlights that further work is required to clarify a number of operational points in relation to, roles and responsibilities, longer term planning, sustainability at senior management level and scrutiny functions.
The Estyn report has made 13 recommendations and the WAO report has made 5 and overall the findings of both reports concur and reinforce the overall picture presented.
In particular, I accept that there is a real need to move to a longer term planning time frame for consortia, and that short term planning timeframes have created a degree of uncertainty about the future of consortia (particularly in light of the ongoing issue of Local Government change).
In summary, I accept the recommendations made by the regulators, and I can assure Assembly Members that I am committed to ensuring that my officials work with consortia and local authorities to help them address these issues and the recommendations put forward by both Estyn and the WAO.