COUNCILLOR Des Hillman, Leader of Blaenau Gwent Council, today issued a statement responding to the damning report on schools in the county borough.

He said: “Blaenau Gwent Council and all its elected politicians accept the need for a step change to improve our Education services for the benefit of all learners in Blaenau Gwent.

"It is a track we are on, having spent the last few years dealing with the tough issues in our ambitious Educational Transformation programme. There is however no room for complacency. The Council is already working with other councils in south east Wales to move towards a single integrated achievement service to boost capacity and to raise standards. By next year we aim to be part of the service, with four other councils, focussed on improving school attainment.

“The tough decisions we have already taken mirror the clear direction set by the Education Minister and the Welsh Government’s policy directives but clearly we need to do more. We, like the Minister, believe that these decisions will be the most effective and efficient route to boost capacity to improve educational standards in Blaenau Gwent. It is vital that Blaenau Gwent Council and the Welsh Government move forward in partnership to ensure that the recommendations in the report are implemented and children and young people go on to secure better outcomes.

“The local authority sees education as its top priority and despite these difficult financial times we, with the support of the Welsh Government, have made a huge investment in state of the art post 16 education facilities, a new 3-16 school and integrated Children’s Centre as well as a special educational needs school. We’ve built a brand new Welsh primary school and were the first in Wales to set up a federated school arrangement.

“Our comprehensive schools rationalisation programme has already made secondary education more efficient. It’s important to remember that whilst some areas need further improvement, a number of our schools do perform to a high standard.

“We – like the communities we serve – are passionate about empowering children and young people to achieve their full potential. It’s a core priority for the Council and our partners. Progress has not been as fast as we want, and more needs to be done. We look forward to working more closely with the Welsh Government, the WLGA, and with colleagues from Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and those on the Recovery Board. We are committed to driving forward improvements.

“Blaenau Gwent Council is wholeheartedly committed to building capacity and boosting standards in our education service. But we clearly aren’t improving at the rate we want.

In light of this, we have accepted the resignation of the Executive Member for Education.

“Cllr Stephen Bard, during his time, has seen through various difficult decisions designed to improve achievement in education. Cllr Bard now feels he has taken the service as far as he can.

“I’m confident that Estyn’s report has strengthened our resolve further, and that of our schools and school governors, who have a critical role in ongoing work to raise standards. I know that our ambitious programme will indeed deliver big transformation and better outcomes, and would reiterate that the Council and all its elected politicians are committed to deliver real changes to improve our Education services for the benefit of all learners in Blaenau Gwent.”