THE leader of a Gwent council is being accused of not showing enough leadership to get his authority's education department out of special measures.
Yesterday it emerged Blaenau Gwent council leader Hedley McCarthy had turned down a suggestion that education mentoring and best practice advice could be provided from the leader of Merthyr Tydfil council Brendan Toomey, whose authority’s education department is also in special measures.
And in a letter to the council at the end of July, assistant director of Welsh education standards body Estyn Clive Phillips described the impact of leadership by councillors regarding safeguarding pupils across the authority as “unclear”.
Blaenau Gwent's education department is still in special measures, meaning there are serious concerns when it comes to standards in the area.
Leader of the minority opposition party cllr John Hopkins, member for Brynmawr, said: “As far as education is concerned, Blaenau Gwent is in absolutely dire straits. There seems to be no direction from the leadership in applying the right processes and actions to improve education.
“There need to be some changes within the authority. We are concerned with budgets and cuts to services and seem to be ignoring the importance of education and leaving it to others and hoping something is going to happen and it’s not.
“I’m very concerned that there’s no political input into improvements in education. People are just laidback and don’t seem to be able to administer improvements from a political perspective.”
He said his hopes rested with a new director of education starting on September 1 who could provide a catalyst for change.
Cllr McCarthy said that although final decisions on education were taken by the board set up to steer the council to recovery, board members were receptive to suggestions: “We have a good interface with the recovery board where we suggest and recommend things to them - and they do to us - on how we should be taking this forward.”
He said he believed upcoming GCSE and Key Stage exam results would show improvement and hoped decision making powers could be returned to councillors soon.
“It’s like fire on my skin to think people would make a political football out of this,” he added. “We are committed to pulling out all the stops to deliver the best for our children.”
Estyn’s Mr Phillips wrote to Blaenau Gwent’s chief executive on July 25 stating: “The impact of leadership by elected members for improving safeguarding across the local authority remains unclear.”
Cllr McCarthy said this was not a reference to his personal leadership but to the whole decision making structure.
He said possible mentoring with Brendan Toomey, leader of Merthyr Tydfil council, was only a suggestion made back in February and said he had taken advice from the Welsh Local Government Association instead.
Merthyr Tydfil was itself in special measures, he added, so he felt mentoring may not have been appropriate.
Since the suggestion was made he had been unanimously re-elected as leader, he added.