BLAENAU Gwent council has failed its children after an inspection reveals shocking levels of pupil performance and the worst performing authority in Wales when it comes to children leaving school without any qualifications.
An investigation carried out by Wales’ school inspectors Estyn reveals the authority has major failings in its education provision and has been graded as “unsatisfactory”
which is the worst grade awarded.
As a result, inspectors have recommended the Welsh Assembly step in and place the department in special measures.
It is understood the damning report reveals children and young people do not make good progress and standards are well below what is expected; there is a lack of support for school improvement and additional learning needs; and systemic failure of management has resulted in the authority providing poor value for money.
The council spends £4,740 per primary pupil and £5,317 per secondary pupil compared to the Welsh average of £4,415 and £4,726 respectively.
It also says that too many young people who have been involved with the Youth Offending Team do not continue education when they leave school.
In 2010 Blaenau Gwent did not meet any of the Assembly targets for secondary education and even though the council is aiming to raise its standards of literacy, improvements have not had a significant impact on very low reading standards.
The report hits out at the education department’s prospects for improvement because senior officers and councillors of successive administrations have provided unsatisfactory leadership that has not challenged underperformance and poor outcomes for children effectively.
Among its main failings are:
* Pupils’ performance in all stages has been among the lowest in Wales;
* The percentage of Blaenau Gwent learners leaving school without a recognised qualification remains the worst in Wales;
* The gap in performance between boys and girls is larger than the average across Wales
* Since 2007, pupils’ attendance in Blaenau Gwent primary schools has slowly got worse and remains among the worst in Wales in secondary schools.
The changing leadership of the council and in particular its education department also came under fire.
Only seven months ago the council appointed a new director of education Sylvia Lindoe and in March Chief Executive Robin Morrison left the council.
Former Director of Resources Dave Waggett took over the post as part of the council’s senior management restructure and saved the council tens of thousands by reshuffling staff.
Councillors are also believed to be in the firing line, with talks of political point-scoring at education scrutiny, taking away from the important issues.
The report casts a shadow over the ruling Independent administration and talk of the axe falling on key council figures including executive member for education Stephen Bard and even leader Des Hillman is rife.
Council chiefs were hauled up in Ebbw Vale Civic Centre yesterday to come up with an action plan of how to tackle the biggest crisis to hit the authority since the social services department was placed in special measures around ten years ago.
The council has 50 days to come up with an action plan which an Assembly-nominated board from another council will implement.
The council has not yet provided a comment.
EDITORIAL COMMENT: Gross betrayal of our children
AT EVERY stage of their education, and defined by any measure, Blaenau Gwent council has failed its schoolchildren.
Those in charge over the past few years, and not just in the current administration, should be hanging their heads in shame.
It has been easy over the years for various factions to point the finger of blame and to make sweeping statements. But it is apparent that within the local education authority in Blaenau Gwent the failings are endemic.
And it is nothing short of a disgrace. For far too long children in what is one of the poorest parts of Wales have been let down by a relatively well-funded education service.
Even when the economic deprivation is taken into account, the schools are still underperforming.
Too many children are leaving schools without any qualification at all.
In the 21st century that is an appalling indictment.
Failings within the system were flagged up years ago and it is of grave concern to us that it has taken so long for the extent of them to be uncovered.
The education of our children is of paramount importance especially in an area such as Blaenau Gwent, where it can help the children rise above the legacy of the past.
Now decisive action is required by the Assembly and the council itself.