MONMOUTHSHIRE Council has been spared losing control of its education services following a damning report from Estyn.

But Welsh Education Minister Leighton Andrews says an independent recovery board is needed to oversee improvements at the border authority.

In the same statement, given to the Assembly yesterday afternoon, Mr Andrews said he was taking away Merthyr Tydfil’s responsibility for education.

He told a Senedd debate that Monmouthshire is not a “coasting authority” but a “failing authority” after one AM said the council had “good schools but could do better”.

Mr Andrews has called for the council to provide a response to Estyn’s report by March 6, and expects to see plans on how it intends to work more closely with its neighbouring authorities.

Last week Estyn said that both Merthyr and Monmouthshire’s education services were unsatisfactory, calling for them to go into special measures.

In the case of Monmouthshire, the authority was found to be unsatisfactory because performance when compared to similar schools was well below average when free-school-meal entitlements were considered, among other issues.

Mr Andrews said the authority has put in place a new senior management team and has appointed a new director of education, who will start in May.

“The evidence, however, strongly points to the need for an independent recovery board to oversee the improvements needed, monitor progress made and provide accountability,” he said.

“I also expect the education achievement service – the consortium in South East Wales – to provide additional support to Monmouth in relation to its school improvement agenda.”

Angela Burns, AM, of Plaid Cymru, said: “We have two councils that are very different. We have one authority that appears to be doing very well... good schools, could do better.”

But Mr Andrews said Monmouthshire is not a “good but coasting authority, it is a failing authority.

“It is not simply judgements about performance in schools, and performance in schools should be better given the advantages that Monmouthshire has, but there are serious issues with regard to safeguarding, exclusion and additional learning needs.”

AM: Criteria difficult to grasp

NICK Ramsay, AM for Monmouth, told the chamber many people didn’t understand the free-school-meals criteria used by Estyn, and were happy with educational provision in the county.

Asking for the entitlement to be revisited so it was understandable, he added: “You can’t possibly be saying they have to provide more free school meals to get a better rating.”

But Mr Andrews said the Tories were embarrassed about the Monmouthshire conclusions. He said he has spoken to the leader of Monmouthshire council, Cllr Peter Fox, who had “responded in a very mature way, held his hand up and understood the challenges that his authority faces”.

He said: “We cannot persist in trying to pretend that Monmouthshire is not a failing authority... it is unsatisfactory both in present delivery of services and unsatisfactory in terms of its prospects for improvement.”