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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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Education

Apprentices deserve better financial support

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More and better funding: Committee calls for better deal for apprentices

APPRENTICES in Wales should have similar access to financial support as University students.

That’s the main finding from the Assembly’s Economy Infrastructure and Skills Committee, which published its latest report on Apprenticeships in Wales on Thursday​ (Feb 14)​.

Committee Chair, Russell George AM, said: “Parity of esteem between vocational and academic routes needs to be underpinned by parity of support for learners.

“There is a strong moral case for the Welsh Government to apply similar levels of support to apprentices as would be available to their peers in full-time education.”

The Welsh Government has this week launched an advertising campaign to promote a new package of measures for university students which it describes as ​’​the most generous student support package in the UK​’​.

While apprentices receive a wage while they train, they are not eligible for the support available to students, which can make being an apprentice seem less attractive.

The Committee heard that some young people are deterred from entering apprenticeships by the initial costs involved. These can be relatively minor sums of money to travel to interviews, or the first few weeks of work before they get paid.

The Committee’s work found that while there is much that is positive about Apprenticeships in Wales there were a few surprises.

Mr George added: “We were surprised that the number of disabled apprentices in Wales was far below the rate achieved in England.

“We were also concerned that a lack of providers may be preventing young people undertaking apprenticeships through the medium of Welsh.

“There is still a stubborn gender segregation when we talk about apprenticeships. Both the Welsh Government and stakeholders are committed to address this, and are taking steps to do so, but progress has been slow. This issue is not unique to Wales.

“We are recommending annual publication of figures to maintain pressure and ensure that apprenticeships in Wales are available to all.”

The Committee also looked at the role of careers guidance for young people – particularly in schools – to ensure they are being made aware of vocational as well as academic options.

Mr George added: “During the course of our investigation we heard concerns about the way careers advice is delivered in schools. Our additional scrutiny in this area has given us assurance that Careers Wales has a credible plan, and is working closely with the Welsh Government and schools to address these issues. We will keep an eye on whether this proves successful.​”​

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Education

Minister visits adult learning initiative

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Eluned Morgan: Inspired by visit to Monkton School

WELSH Language and Lifelong Learning Minister, Eluned Morgan visited Monkton Primary School in Pembrokeshire on Friday, February 9, to hear more about a successful community adult learning initiative run from the school.

Started in September 2012 with support from the Welsh Government, the Launch Project aims to raise adults’ skills standards and education attainment within the community by making learning accessible to everyone.

Both accredited and non-accredited courses and workshops are delivered at the school and other community venues and have been specifically designed to remove barriers so that people in the community can gain the confidence and skills needed to seek employment.

The provision has also been designed to cater for a wide range of learner needs, from basic skills and IT courses to various accredited courses including a foundation degree in Education and Social Inclusion.

During the visit the Minister met with some of the adult learners who have benefitted from the project and heard their personal accounts about how it has helped them to turn their lives around, gain new skills and seize new employment opportunities.

Speaking after the visit, Minister said: “This project is a great example of a community-driven learning initiative that has been designed by the community for the community and I applaud Monkton Primary School for its pivotal role in that.

“The school is clearly committed to lifelong learning and building an ethos of working and learning together, built on mutual respect between adults and children.

“It was also inspiring hearing from those who have benefitted from the project and seeing first hand the positive impact it has had on their lives and their confidence.”

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Education

Extra investment in 21st Century Schools

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Announced £100m extra: Kirsty Williams

£100​M ​is to be invested over the next three years to accelerate the delivery of the flagship 21st Century Schools and Education programme, Cabinet Secretary for Education, Kirsty Williams and Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning Eluned Morgan ​has said.

An extra £75m, has been allocated to the 21st Century Schools and Education Programme a major, long-term and strategic capital investment programme to modernise education infrastructure.

In addition, £30m will be released from the programme in future years for immediate investment in capital projects that will contribute to the goal of reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050. This is a shared priority with Plaid Cymru.

The money will bring the total invested over the life of the programme to almost £3.8bn. The first phase of the programme will finish in 2019 having invested £1.4bn to support the rebuild and refurbishment of more than 150 schools and colleges across Wales. The second phase will see a spend of £2.3bn.

Kirsty Williams said: “Our national mission is to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and confidence. Our 21st Century Schools and Education Programme plays a key part in this and is the largest investment in our schools and colleges since the 1960s.

“Having a comfortable, modern, fit-for-purpose environment in which to learn is vital to ensuring young people have the best possible education. This extra funding will mean that even more of our students will be able to benefit from having the best possible facilities in their schools and colleges.​”​

Eluned Morgan said: “Reaching a million Welsh speakers by 2050 is a significant challenge and education is key to the success of this ambition. This means we need to invest in new Welsh medium schools and improve and increase the teaching of Welsh in English medium schools. Bringing forward this funding for immediate investment allows us to ensure there is no delay in the work to achieve this target.”

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