Education Consortia 'Held Back by Lack of Planning'

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), June 3, 2015 | Go to article overview

Education Consortia 'Held Back by Lack of Planning'


Byline: Gareth Evans Education Editor gareth.evans@walesonline.co.uk

Weaknesses in the four regional bodies charged with improving Wales' schools are "hindering the development of the whole system, reports warn today.

Two separate reports into the "regional education consortia" created by the Welsh Government painted a mixed picture suggesting they are beginning to take effect but a lack of medium-term planning, insufficient focus on value for money and weaknesses in governance are holding them back.

The first snapshot of performance by the consortia, which are responsible for all school improvement services, by the Wales Audit Office (WAO) found "continuing uncertainties about the nature and scope of consortia".

It said: "We concluded 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 regional consortia.

"The governance of regional consortia is developing but we found progress was hindered by limited capacity, incomplete management structures, inadequate scrutiny of overall consortia arrangements, weaknesses in financial and performance management and insuffi-cient openness and transparency."

A separate report by Wales' education watchdog Estyn focused more on school improvement and the consortia's impact on outcomes. The inspectorate visited each region - North Wales, South-West and Mid Wales, Central South Wales and South-East Wales - and interviewed key staff from each consortium and its composite local authorities.

It said: "Although the general improvements in standards of pupil attainment over the past three years cannot be solely attributed to the development of regional consortia, the published data reflects a gradual improvement in pupil attainment across all four regions.

"All the consortia prepared business plans for 2014-2015 that focus appropriately on the most important areas for improvement. However, all the plans have important weaknesses in them.

"In particular, the plans do not identify well enough what impact is expected from actions taken and how and when this will be measured...

"None of the consortia has a medium-term plan in place to guide a strategic approach to school improvement."

Estyn said all regional consortia had struggled to fill senior posts, which "adversely affected their capacity to direct and manage work" and highlighted the "lack of a national strategic approach to develop senior leaders".

It said none had a "coherent strategic approach to reduce the impact of deprivation on attainment" and the regional consortia had not monitored closely enough how well schools are using the Pupil Deprivation Grant.

"Overall, regional consortia are better at challenging schools about their current performance than supporting them to improve," said the report.

"Regional consortia usually provide appropriate and timely information to local authorities about schools causing concern.

"Although local authorities are using their statutory powers of intervention more readily, a minority are still reluctant to intervene even when their regional consortium provides a clear mandate for action."

Estyn said the Education Achievement Service (EAS), serving schools in South-East Wales, and the Central South Consortium had more than twice as many schools involved in the Welsh Government's Schools Challenge Cymru programme as the other two regions.

But it warned that they were "unclear about their working relationship with the schools in the programme" and "about how they will evaluate their specific role in improvements in these schools".

Estyn, which visited the regions late last year, added: "All the consortia have suitable arrangements in place with local authorities for sharing useful information from many service areas relevant to their work, such as additional learning needs, social inclusion and wellbeing, finance and complaints. …

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