A TORFAEN school, Llantarnam Comprehensive School, is in special measures just months after the authority’s education department narrowly escaped the same fate. Education director Mark Provis talks about the authority’s plans for improvement.

WITH a failing school and education department, Torfaen council has a lot of work to do.

Last week Llantarnam Comprehensive School was put into special measures after inspectors Estyn said its current performance and prospects for improvement were “unsatisfactory”.

It said GCSE pupils’ performance was lower than similar schools, incidents of bullying were increasing, pupil behaviour was poor and senior management roles were not defined. It also said marking was inconsistent, only a minority of teachers planned lessons well, and few knew how to properly manage bad behaviour.

The school must now draw up an action plan and Estyn inspectors will continue to monitor the school each term until it is judged to have improved.

Just months earlier, the council’s own education department was judged as needing “significant improvement” because performance in the borough’s secondary schools had not improved in 2011.

Too many of its schools are in the bottom quarter for performance when compared to similar schools, and the percentage of 16-year-olds not in education, employment or training is too high, they said.

The department was also criticised for the rising number of fixed-term exclusions, and its pupil referral unit has also been identified as needing significant improvement in the last year.

Torfaen’s chief officer for education, Mark Provis, is the man tasked with turning it all around.

Following February’s report on the education, an overarching improvement board, chaired by the council leader, Bob Wellington, with external representatives from the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association, was set up.

They meet every two months and have helped compile an action plan, which is to be submitted to Estyn in January, setting out how the department will improve.

Two other boards, made up of governors, teachers, head teachers and school improvement specialists, meet monthly to scrutinise ongoing performance.

With the help of the new Gwent-wide Education Achievement Service (EAS) launched in September and Torfaen council’s own education partnership guide - published before the inspection in October, Mr Provis believes they are well placed to improve.

The guide aims to make sure all schools are working from a shared framework to improve consistency, while the EAS is a collaboration between Gwent’s local authority that will share good practice in a bid to raise standards.

Meanwhile, at Llantarnam Comprehensive School, immediate action was taken to address concerns raised about pupil safety and behaviour.

New fences have been installed to make it easier for staff to monitor children entering and leaving the site, while additional governors will be appointed on the request of existing ones, to give support.

Someone will also be appointed to assist head teacher David Bright to help iron out issues raised within the senior management of the school, but Mr Provis said he could not say if the long-term leadership of the school would change in future.

Typically, schools take around two years to come out of special measures but Mr Provis said he expected to see significant improvement at Llantarnam in about a year.

He said: “We can be optimistic about where it (the school) is going. It knows what it needs to do to – to develop a strong performance culture – and it is working to achieve that.

“This is very do-able, it’s very achievable, partly because of the self awareness of the governors, everybody is committed to do something about it. There’s no denial in this and no lack of willingness to address these issues.

“They were all shocked and surprised and ready to address the problems.

“As a result I am very supportive of them – they can really make a difference there.”

Minister calls for a review of the system

LAST week education minister Leighton Andrews called for a review into how education services are delivered.

It will look at whether they should merged under joint management by different councils, if they should be delivered regionally or should be removed from local government control to be directly accountable to Welsh Government. It will also examine whether schools should be directly funded by Welsh ministers.

In Gwent, Newport’s education department was found to be good, Blaenau Gwent is being run by commissioners after being put in special measures and Caerphilly’s was deemed adequate.

Inspectors focusing on improvements

ONCE a school is identified as requiring special measures, inspectors Estyn will inform the Welsh Government.

The school’s governing body and the local authority must form an action plan to Estyn for approval.

A small team of inspectors will then visit the school every term following the publication of the inspection report.

Inspectors will focus on the progress the school has made towards addressing the recommendations highlighted in the report. They will visit classes, talk to staff and pupils and look at documentation.

If the team judges the school has made enough progress towards achieving the recommendations, Estyn will recommend to HM Chief Inspector that it is removed from the list of schools requiring special measures.

If progress is insufficient Estyn will continue to until such progress is proved, with most schools removed from special measures within two years.

If Estyn continues to report unsatisfactory progress, education minister Leighton Andrews may take control of the school.