Agenda and minutes

Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee
Tuesday, 15th December, 2020 10.00 am

Venue: virtually via Microsoft Teams - if you would like to attend this meeting live via Microsoft Teams please contact committee.services@blaenau-gwent.gov.uk

Contact: Democratic Services  5100

Media

Items
No. Item

1.

Simultaneous Translation

You are welcome to use Welsh at the meeting a minimum notice period of 3 working days is required should you wish to do so.  A simultaneous translation will be provided if requested.

Minutes:

It was noted that no requests had been received for the simultaneous translation service.

2.

Apologies

To receive.

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors G. Collier and L. Parsons.

 

Co-opted Member

T. Baxter

3.

Declarations of Interests and Dispensations

To consider any declarations of interests and dispensations made.

Minutes:

The Chair and Councillors J.C. Morgan and T. Smith declared an interest in Item 5 – Welsh-medium Education Consultation Proposal / Cynnig ymgynghori ar addysg cyfrwng Cymraeg.

4.

Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee Minutes pdf icon PDF 277 KB

To receive the Minutes of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee held on the 3rd November, 2020.

 

(Please note the Minutes are submitted for points of accuracy only).

Minutes:

The Minutes of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee Meeting held on 3rd November, 2020 were submitted, whereupon:-

 

Summary of inspection outcomes for Educational Establishments – autumn term 2019 and spring term 2020

 

In relation to the above item a Member requested that his question regarding Brynmawr Foundation School, be included in the Minutes to show scrutiny challenge.  The report read:-

 

“In a majority of lessons, pupils of all abilities generally do not make enough progress.  They do not recall or use prior learning well enough, nor do they develop their skills sufficiently, particularly in literacy and numeracy.  This is an important shortcoming.”

 

The Member wanted assurances that Brynmawr Foundation School were engaging in professional learning with other schools and other organisations.

 

The Committee AGREED, subject to the foregoing, that the Minutes be accepted as a true record of proceedings.

 

VERBAL UPDATE - COVID-19 PANDEMIC

 

At the request of the Chair, the Corporate Director of Education provided a verbal update on the COVID-19 Pandemic.

 

Blaenau Gwent, across the whole of the school estate had moved to remote learning from the 10th December.  The decision was not taken lightly and feedback from Headteachers was that remote learning was working well, with learners continuing to be engaged. 

 

A Welsh Government directive was issued around two aspects of provision.  The first aspect, vulnerable learner provision, he felt the Authority were in a secure position in relation to vulnerable learner provision as there was strong provision in place to support learners that were Children Looked After and those learners that were on the Child Protection Register whose families may require support.

 

The second aspect of the directive was around key worker childcare provision prior to the Christmas break.  A special Headteachers meeting had been held and they had agreed that a communication be sent out to parents for them to advise of any childcare requirements that maybe needed for Thursday and Friday this week.  It had been made clear that this should only be as a last resort due to learners being safer within home settings.   The Director advised Members that the Authority was responding to the directive.

 

The officer continued, that Headteachers and the Council were working towards the 4th January start to the new term and were anticipating further information from the Welsh Government in terms of expectations for provision for the spring term for schools.

 

A Member enquired regarding the Welsh Government’s announcement around testing all pupils in schools. The Director of Education said that this was not expected to have this in place from the start of term, they were awaiting further details from the Welsh Government around testing provision in schools.

 

A Member said that, as a group, they had written to the Director of Education in November to request a switch to blended learning, he expressed his thanks to the Director of Education and his staff on the decision to switch to blended learning. He understood that it had been a difficult decision but infection rates had been rising  ...  view the full minutes text for item 4.

5.

Welsh-medium Education Consultation Proposal / Cynnig Ymgynghori ar Addysg Cyfrwng Cymraeg pdf icon PDF 510 KB

To consider the report of the Corporate Director Education.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chair and Councillors J.C. Morgan, and T. Smith declared an interest in the following item and upon advice from the Monitoring Officer remained in the meeting. Therefore, the Vice-Chair, Councillor J. Holt took the Chair.

 

Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education which was presented to seek the views of the Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee, in relation to the proposal to consult upon the creation of a new 210 places Welsh-medium primary school in the Tredegar/Sirhowy valley.

 

The Director of Education spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.   The Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee would be statutory consultees upon the proposal. 

 

In response to a Member’s question regarding the £6.2m allocated by the Welsh Government, the Director of Education said the allocation had been made on an ‘in principle’ basis and earmarked for this initiative.  There had been recent dialogue with the Welsh Government indicating that this allocation was still available for use within Blaenau Gwent, subject to the consultation.  The Member had concerns that if the consultation goes against the proposal the Welsh Government would look to have the £6.2m back. The Director said a lot of work had been undertaken by the Education Transformation team to access the capital funding, and that clearly it was a priority within the WESP to increase the numbers of Welsh learners to meet statutory obligations.  There was a now a need to formally seek stakeholder views as part of the consultation process before formally taking the proposal forward.

 

A Member enquired if the school was to be built in phases as only 48 places would initially be used leading up to the 210 places over the next six years.  The Director said that, subject to approval of the proposal, Technical Services had indicated that from a capital cost perspective it would be better to have one contract for construction of the school, and then subsequently open aspects of the school as learner capacity increased.  

 

The Education Transformation Manager said there were opportunities for phasing that would be looked at, and subject to the outcome of the statutory processes, a detailed analysis around the costs and benefits associated with the phasing and the development of the proposal would be considered.

 

With regard to the site investigation work already carried out, a Member enquired regarding the budget for those works.  The Director explained those costs had been charged against the Education Capital programme and were minimal costs i.e. mining investigations and desktop studies that would be charged back to the capital cost associated with the initiative.

 

A Member commented that he supported the consultation going forward and only when the facts were put before Members could a decision be reached regarding this proposal.

 

Another Member said he supported the consultation and hoped it would be Blaenau Gwent wide with every school, and staff and parents involved.  He said that capital resources to build the school was one thing, but he had concerns with  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Blaenau Gwent Welsh in Education Strategic Plan 2019/20 and Welsh Medium Grant Proposal Progress Report Cynllun Strategol Cymraeg mewn Addysg 2019/20 Blaenau Gwent ac Adroddiad Cynnydd ar y Cynnig Grant Cyfrwng Cymraeg pdf icon PDF 534 KB

To consider the report of the Corporate Director Education.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education which was presented to provide Members with the opportunity to scrutinise progress in relation to the Blaenau Gwent Welsh in Education Strategic Plan (WESP) 2017-2020 and the associated Welsh medium grant proposal.

 

The Education Transformation Manager spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.

 

A Member referred to forecasting growth and enquired if there was increased demand for Welsh places.  The Education Transformation Manager said that it was difficult to forecast growth in relation to Welsh medium education, consideration was given to the catchment areas and projections in relation to trend and birth data, there were also in year transfers.  The Directorate were looking to work more closely with the Early Years sector around growth and transition. She also noted that accessibility, e.g. transport was still a key issue in Blaenau Gwent.

 

A Member enquired regarding budget implications. The Education Transformation Manager said there was no direct financial implications associated with the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan, however, the Welsh-medium proposal for the development of a new 210 place primary school, which was subject to statutory process and to political approval, could mean there may be some revenue implications associated with the Welsh in Education Strategic Plan of which the proposal was a part.

 

The Committee AGREED to recommend that the report be accepted and endorse Option 1, namely that the report and associated course of action be accepted.

7.

Improving Schools Programme 2020 pdf icon PDF 490 KB

To consider the report of the Corporate Director Education.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education which was presented to provide Members with an overview of those schools over the last 3 years that have presented as a cause for concern, their progress and the work delivered or currently underway to continue to support improvement.

 

The Director of Education spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.  He said Members would be aware that there had been changes and a relaxation of performance arrangements linked to COVID-19, but the report was being put forward so Members had the opportunity to scrutinise developments.

 

A Member raised concerns that two secondary schools seemed to show no improvement in performance year on year and without categorisation Members were relying on quarterly reports to indicate current performance.  He raised further concerns regarding the two all through schools within Blaenau Gwent which had a financial deficit and enquired what the deficit was for that school and what plans were in place to reduce the deficit.  The Director of Education said that Abertillery Learning Community had been a cause for concern for a period of time, however, he was cautiously optimistic for the future of the school.  He felt that the leadership arrangements, from a professional and Governing Body perspective, had been strengthened over the last 12-18 months and felt confident moving forward.  With regard to the financial position across the school estate, at the end of the financial year 2019/20 overall, schools across Blaenau Gwent were in a favourable position, however, all through schools were in deficit.  The projected deficit for ALC was in excess of £1m but the actual amount was in the region of £600,000.  A savings target of £175,000 had been set linked to their budget reduction deficit plan. The school had indicated that the savings target could be met, a Corporate Group had been re-established, led by the Managing Director of the Council, to closely monitor the financial sustainability and the educational standards of the ALC moving forward.  He reassured Members that plans were in place to keep the school under close scrutiny in terms of their financial planning arrangements.  He advised Members that over the next two years they would be looking to undertake a review of the ISB and the funding formula.  That review would be taken forward and ultimately reported back to scrutiny as some of the proposals were taken forward. 

 

A Member requested that future reports include information on school budgets that may be areas of concern.

 

The Committee AGREED this course of action.

 

Councillor M. Cook left the meeting at this juncture.

 

In response to a Member’s question regarding the deficit of the all through schools and if the performance of junior and primary schools in the area were also a cause for concern, the Director of Education said that in relation to the deficit there were financial deficit projections before the Abertillery Learning Community was established based upon the former comprehensive school in Abertillery.  Pupil population  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

Management of Pupil Places and the School Estate 2019/2020 pdf icon PDF 411 KB

To consider the report of the Education Transformation Manager.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Education Transformation Manager which was presented to provide Members with the opportunity to scrutinise the management of pupil places and the school estate, throughout the 2019/2020 academic session.

 

The Education Transformation Manager spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.

 

A Member enquired regarding the surplus places at Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Helyg and the drop in figures for Welsh education in primary schools and enquired if this information would be included in the consultation document.  He commented that Pen-y-cwm school did not have sufficient class rooms for the number of pupils yet there were surplus places at other primary schools.  The Education Transformation Manager said the consultation document captured the context associated with pupil numbers and trends for Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Helyg.  It had been the only Welsh medium primary school at that time and the Local Authority was responsible for promoting demand and growth.  Initially, there had been issues around standards highlighted in the Estyn Inspection but the school has significantly improved and pupil numbers had increased and were growing year on year in both nursery and reception classes.  Work was also being undertaken with the Early Years sector to increase the provision of Welsh medium childcare options with a view to elicit further demand for uptake especially at nursery and reception age group.  It had been a significant improvement journey and the Authority were mindful about how to manage the surplus places within Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Helyg to ensure sufficiency in the medium to long term, in line with the potential for increased demand.

 

In relation to Ebbw Fawr, a review of capacity of Pen-y-Cwm school had been undertaken but as pupil numbers had increased significantly and the school had to rework its operations, a further full scale review with the school needed to be undertaken to look at reconfiguring the learning environment and additional capacity they may need in line with potential projections. A consultation document with a draft design and schedule of accommodation had been developed to address the needs of Pen-y-Cwm school in the short to medium term, the long term developments would include the potential use of aspects of Ebbw Fawr primary facility. Negotiations were taking place and the team were looking to bring forward proposals to increase capacity and therefore the space within Pen-y-Cwm school in early in 2021.

 

A Member commented that a number of schools had been oversubscribed year on year, some were due to a significant influx of pupils from new residential developments in the catchment area and enquired if this was being addressed and were significant increases in pupil projections taken into account in the design of new schools.  The Education Transformation Manager explained how projections were undertaken, there was an established formula and the team worked closely with the Planning Department to factor in housing developments, etc.

 

The sets of projections were:-

·        Developments which were yet to be approved (including a look at Section 106 developer  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.

9.

Education ICT - Infrastructure Connectivity Project pdf icon PDF 482 KB

To consider the report of the Corporate Director Education.

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education which was presented to provide Members with the opportunity to scrutinise progress in relation to the ICT - Infrastructure Connectivity Project (ICP). In addition, the report will provide an overview of the Welsh Government’s Hwb EdTech Programme and its alignment with the Blaenau Gwent ICP.

 

The Education Transformation Manager spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.

 

A Member commented that the use of technology had changed dramatically this year and enquired if this new infrastructure would be able to cope with changes to blended learning and if it would help with learning across schools in subjects in low demand e.g. languages, etc. so that pupils from other schools in the Borough could join in with those particular subjects.  The Education Transformation Manager said that from a consistency and infrastructure perspective schools were in a better position with equitable standards across the school estate.  Work with schools on replacement of end of life devices was ongoing.  An ICT Strategy was being developed with schools and the Education Achievement Service, the Strategy would be drafted over the spring term for consultation and implementation from September 2021.  The infrastructure as facilitated had improved opportunities for remote learning across the board.

 

The SRS representative supported the Officers comments and said that IT was constantly changing and Wi-Fi installed in classrooms 10 years ago was now out of date.  The new technology would enable blended learning, remote learning and classroom based learning in the most secure way with monitoring and support by an SRS Education team.  They were putting out a specific network to accommodate the use of iPads and Chromebooks, there was also guest access to enable guest speakers to come into schools, and a BYOD platform rolled within it, which schools were looking at ways they could make use of this within the classroom setting.  IT was a big enabler, the same classroom device being the same device taken from home, this was seen to some degree with the devices put out as part of the Digitally Disadvantaged Programme (DDP).

 

He continued that with regard to enabling schools to intercommunicate and allowing learners from one school to join with learners from other schools there was evidence that the technology enables that to happen, however, SRS could not direct schools on how best to use the technology installed but they were working with Blaenau Gwent and other partners to incorporate some of this in to a wider strategy.

 

The Member felt that this would be a big advantage moving forward to have specific schools teaching certain subjects right across the board.

 

In response to a Member’s question on the Data Centre, the Education Transformation Manager said that this linked into schools migrating from BG learning to schools EDU platform.  The SRS representative said the Blaenavon Data Centre would move elsewhere but the services that were provided on the schools EDU platform would continue.  There was a move to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9.

10.

Forward Work Programme: 26th January 2021 pdf icon PDF 394 KB

To receive the report.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Chair of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee.

 

A Member requested information on Consultant fees for the Education portfolio.  The Director of Education would provide a briefing note for Members information.

 

The Chair said that after the briefing note had been provided a report on Consultant fees for the Education portfolio could be included in the next Committee cycle if needed.

 

The Committee AGREED that the report be accepted and endorse Option 2; namely that the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee Forward Work Programme for the meeting on 26th January, 2021 be approved.

 

It was FURTHER AGREED that a Members Briefing Note on Consultant Fees be prepared and forwarded to Members; and a Special meeting of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee be arranged when appropriate to consider:

 

        Review of capacity at Pen-y-Cwm Special School

        S106 Agreements