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Education

Pembrokeshire County Council Failings lead to set up of Education Recovery Board

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huw-lewis-265017737-2512757Concerned parents and guardians of our County’s children will be disappointed with the decision by the Welsh Assembly to appoint a Welsh Recovery Board to oversee improvements, once again, in Pembrokeshire County Council’s education service. This comes after nearly two years of our Council attempting to resolve this worrying situation, without, it would appear, satisfactory success.

In 2011, a report by Children Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, led to a team being sent by the Assembly with the purpose of overseeing change in Pembrokeshire County Council’s policies and systems for safeguarding children and young people. These were judged to be ‘unfit for purpose’ by ESTYN who had produced a report at that time.

Council leader at the time, John Davies, assured voters and County constituents that Pembrokeshire County Council were not hiding from the matters raised, and he promised improvements and change in order to meet the requirements of both ESTYN and the Welsh Assembly.

It will come as grim news, therefore, that now Ministers from the Welsh Government have stated that changes in how our Pembrokeshire County Council safeguards children are not happening fast enough. As a result of this dissatisfaction, Huw Lewis, the Assembly Education Minister, along with Local Government Minister, Lesley Griffiths, have decided to set up a Recovery Board to oversee these required improvements in Pembrokeshire’s Education Services.

Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Jamie Adams, is quoted as saying he welcomes the board, having already had productive meetings with them.

Reading from a local newspaper’s message board, and in response to this developing story, it was clear from the comments attached to the story, that parents are angered and dismayed by the seeming inability of Pembrokeshire County Council to resolve issues and problems directed at them from some two years ago, despite Assembly assistance.

In April of this year, the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board was wound up after more than a year and a half advising the local authority on changes to its policies and operation for safeguarding children.

In a Welsh Government written statement, Huw Edwards, Minister for Education, commented on an ESTYN report published in December 2012 that had said of Pembrokeshire, ‘The Authority’s education services were found to be unsatisfactory’, and it further went on to say that they had, ‘judged Pembrokeshire’s prospects for improvement as unsatisfactory’. As well as that, it stated that, ‘corporate leaders and senior elected members have been too slow to recognise key issues in safeguarding’. Of Pembrokeshire County Council, Mr Lewis continued by adding that, ‘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’.

In support of those who provide the day to day education in our County, Angela Davies, Shadow Minister for Education and local AM, said that,

“Education services in Pembrokeshire have gone through a torrid time over the past few years but parents and pupils must hold fast to the fact that the majority of the teaching profession are totally committed to providing an excellent education for Pembrokeshire children”.

She was, however, quite clear as to where the blame should lie for the failings of the County Council education services and said,

“The ongoing problems stemmed from inadequate management practices within education services and a poor attitude to the proper safeguarding of children. Like all parents I know that I expect my children to be treated well and kept safe at school. Their well being and safety is of equal importance as the education they receive, and it was with a great sense of shock that we learnt of the adverse, and, at times, damning reports from Estyn and CSSIW which were the reasons for the initial Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board and for education services to be put into special measures.

The key issues appear to be inadequate oversight of key services, a lack of action when things went wrong, inadequate management, weak representation and an overly strong officer culture resistant to change. Since then a number of agencies have examined aspects of education and safeguarding in Pembrokeshire and there appears to be a sense that improvements are ongoing but are happening too slowly.

The fact that the Welsh Government have felt able to replace the Ministerial Board with a Recovery Board is good news and I am sure that Pembrokeshire’s appointment of a new Head of Education Services will usher in a more dynamic and constructive era.”

She also went on to make further comment on the Assembly’s role in education for Wales,

“I am concerned that there are so many local authority education services in special measures throughout Wales and I have called on the Welsh Government to explain why this is so.

It is also concerning to note that the General Teaching Council for Wales is not being inundated with lots of disciplinary cases arising from all these special measures and I would have thought that if education is so very bad in Wales, given the six Authorities in special measures, then the GTC would be flat out.

I am aware that the Government has an agenda for change and there are recommendations that there should be fewer local education authorities, ultimately, perhaps, leading to fewer county councils. However, I do not want to see education services, teachers and, above all, our children’s present and future being used to crowbar change. So I challenge the Government to ensure their actions are crystal clear and their motives pure.”

It is to be hoped that for the sake of our County’s children and for the peace of mind of parents and guardians alike that this Recovery Board is able, finally, to steer our County Council’s education services in the right direction, and resolve the safeguarding issues that remain of grave concern to all those who work in those areas where children are involved. As one local teacher put it, “No one wants to see a repeat of what happened at the Pupil Referral Unit in Neyland or read again about twenty-five cases of alleged professional abuse, as happened between 2007 and 2011”.

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Community

Education Chief to leave Council

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IAN WESTLEY, Chief Executive of Pembrokeshire County Council, announced to staff and Members on Wednesday (Dec 11) that Kate Evan-Hughes, the Director for Children and Schools, will be leaving the Authority at the end of January, 2020.

She is taking up an appointment as Strategic Director with a local authority in England.

Interim arrangements have been discussed with the Leader of the Council, David Simpson, and the Cabinet Member for Education and Lifelong Learning, Guy Woodham.

Following Kate’s departure Steven Richards-Downes will act up as Chief Education Officer and James White will undertake the duties of deputy.

Discussions about permanent arrangements will begin in the New Year.

Mr Westley said he wished Kate all the very best as she embarks on the next phase of her career.

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Community

‘Just do it’, advises 91-year-old leisure centre member

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ARE you struggling to find the motivation to keep fit?

Then help is at hand! Meet the inspirational Valerie Coleman – one of Pembrokeshire Leisure’s oldest members at 91 years of age.

Valerie attends an astonishing 10 classes a week at Fishguard Leisure Centre, from swimming to Pilates, chair aerobics and back care classes.

Centre manager Lisa Starkey said she was amazing. “Val really is an inspirational woman,” she said. “We are always so pleased to see her once, twice and sometimes three times a day. Her determination to keep healthy and active is inspiring to us all.”

A former nurse, Valerie was also an active PTA member who helped to fundraise for Fishguard’s old Leisure Centre which was replaced by the new centre 14 years ago.

“Val has been involved with leisure for some time and absolutely loves it,” said Lisa. “She has made so many special friends and coming to the leisure centre now is such an important social aspect of her life.

“Her mental health along with her physical health and wellbeing all benefit from her visits to the centre that she loves.”

Valerie praised staff at Fishguard for their support in helping her to recover after suffering a fractured femur, and said the centre had a ‘great atmosphere’.

“They have very helpful and understanding staff who are there for everyone and give encouragement to all of their customers,” she said.

“If you’re thinking about joining a leisure centre, just do it. The staff and facilities are here for everyone and all the encouragement you will ever need will be given.”

For information on leisure centre facilities and classes, or how to join as a member, please visit www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/leisure or pop into your local leisure centre.

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Community

School careers fair was ‘best day in school so far’

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YEAR Four pupils at Prendergast CP School have held their own Careers Fair.

The children undertook the challenge of planning and fully organising the event inspired by this term’s class topic ‘Who Do You Want To Become? focusing on the world of work and looking forward to the future.

In preparation, pupils wrote emails to the head teacher, Mrs Davies, and deputy head teacher, Mr Voros, asking for permission to hold the careers fair.

Letters – drafted and written asking a variety of businesses, professionals, and public health service men and women to attend – met with an enthusiastic response.

Representatives from Princes Gate Water; Sport Pembrokeshire; RNLI Lifeguards; Torch Theatre; Horse Warehouse; Dyfed Powys Police; the Armed Forces; University of Wales Trinity St David; Haverfordwest AFC; Jewson; local charity the DPJ Foundation and a local beekeeper all attended.

Year Four teacher, Joshua Layzell, said: “The reaction from the pupils, teaching staff and stall holders involved was outstanding.

“The hard work that everyone has put in to make it happen has been worth it. And as far as I’m concerned if just one child left the fair with a focus, or an idea of what they now want to do in the future, then I will consider the whole experience a complete success.”

One of the attendees, PCSO Zoe Monk, said afterwards: “What an amazing event! I wish I’d had opportunities like this when I was in Year Four.”

Another, Jac Davies from Princes Gate Water, said “It was great to see such a variety of stalls – the children are very enthusiastic about asking questions and finding out about what we do.”

And one of the boys from Year 4 described it as “the best day we’ve had in school so far!”

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