Agenda and minutes

Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee
Tuesday, 20th April, 2021 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.

 

WELCOME

 

The Chair welcomed Luisa Munro-Morris as the new Head of School Improvement & Inclusion to her first formal meeting of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee.

 

2.

Apologies

To receive.

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors G. Collier,

L. Elias, C. Meredith and D. Wilkshire

 

Co-opted Member

A. Williams

 

Strategic Education Improvement Manager

 

3.

Declarations of Interests and Dispensations

To consider any declarations of interests and dispensations made.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest or dispensations reported.

 

4.

Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee Minutes pdf icon PDF 342 KB

To receive the Minutes of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee held on the 9th March, 2021.

 

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

Minutes:

The Minutes of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee Meeting held on 9th March, 2021 were submitted whereupon:-

 

A Member requested that acronyms be shown in brackets after a title or phrase.

 

The Chair requested that a list of acronyms be prepared for the first meeting of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee for the next Committee cycle.

 

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

 

5.

Action Sheet - 1st April 2021 pdf icon PDF 173 KB

To receive the Action Sheet.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The action sheet arising from the meeting of the Education & Learning Scrutiny Committee held on 1st April, 2021 was submitted, whereupon:-

 

Welsh Government Grants

 

School Summer Activity Project (SHEP programme)

 

A Member enquired if the scheme could be extended to other schools across the borough in the future.  The Education Transformation Manager said there were strict rules around the grant spend and the criteria, for example, associated with free school meal status etc. and had undertaken engagement with a series of schools throughout the school estate.  Moving forward she would look to engage with other schools in the borough regarding eligibility for the scheme. 

 

In relation to grants, a Member said that in the previous meeting he had requested an update on grants received from the Education Achievement Service (EAS) etc.  He believed that nearly £2m had been received for Pupil Development Grant (PDG) etc. and felt it was important to have those figures.  The Corporate Director of Education confirmed that finance officers were preparing a note for consideration by the Scrutiny Committee on the Pupil Development Grant (PDG).   He advised that in broad terms the grant was to support the more disadvantaged learners, there were specific areas of spend and these would be included in the note to give Members a better understanding of where the grant money was planned and spent.  He said it was a sizeable grant approaching £2m across the school estate and the Education Directorate needed to ensure that the grant was spent appropriately to ensure that through the schools; families, children and learners who were eligible for free school meals had the opportunity to take advantage of that funding to support their development.

 

The Committee AGREED, subject to the foregoing, that the action sheet be noted.

 

6.

Blaenau Gwent Education Services Self–Evaluation and Business Planning pdf icon PDF 536 KB

To consider the report of the Corporate Director of Education.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the report of the Corporate Director of Education which was presented to provide Members of the Scrutiny Committee with an opportunity to scrutinise the findings of ongoing self-evaluation and business planning processes undertaken within the Education Directorate, across the Council and with key partners.

 

The Corporate Director of Education advised Members that this was a new report but some of the data would relate back to 2019-2020 as there had been a relaxation of the performance and data management arrangements, however, this was an updated report on the current position from a self-evaluation perspective. 

 

The Corporate Director of Education spoke to the report and highlighted areas where good progress had been made and where further improvement was required.

 

A Member referred to scrutinising 2019 data and enquired regarding the reason for this, as he felt that this data had already been scrutinised in a previous report.  The Corporate Director of Education reiterated there had been a relaxation in reporting arrangements. A report had been presented to Scrutiny on the Key Stage 4 results, in particular within secondary schools, however, they were based on Centre Assessment Grades (CAGs).  He pointed out that it was not possible to undertake stringent benchmarking linked to the fact that they were not externally verified results.

 

The Member raised concerns regarding the different methods of assessments and felt it was important that schools did not fall into a false sense of security moving forward.

 

The Corporate Director of Education said that the results achieved at Key Stage 4 were in line with targets set in the School Development Plans.  Future reports could include a connection between performance at Key Stage 4 against the School Development Plan, but the Council had to be cautious against holding schools to account against that data at this juncture.

 

A Member referred to paragraph 6.2 – Schools Causing Concern (SCC) and felt that the improvement work that these schools had undertaken over the last two years had not been recognised as Estyn had not been undertaking normal monitoring activity for some time.  The Corporate Director of Education said that both schools had raised this issue as Estyn monitoring visits had been put on hold, which meant that both schools continued to be in an Estyn category for a period of time. Schools Causing Concern meetings had been held and had highlighted that satisfactory progress had been made.  A meeting with Estyn had been planned and they had strongly indicated, dependent on any potential increases related to Covid, that monitoring visits would recommence in the autumn term, which would provide both schools with the opportunity to have their progress assessed by the Inspectorate.

 

A Member enquired regarding the areas for improvement, in particular, poor language acquisition skills in very young children and suggested a possible solution would be to increase pre-school and nursery provision across the borough.  He also enquired regarding the key area for improvement on school exclusions and commented that if school exclusions continued to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Education Directorate - Response to COVID-19 pdf icon PDF 601 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 opportunity to scrutinise the Education Directorate’s response to the COVID-19 situation, particularly supporting the schools during the emergency period.

 

The Corporate Director of Education spoke to the report and highlighted that verbal updates regarding the Education Directorate’s response to Covid-19 had been provided at Committee meetings to ensure that Members were appraised of the latest developments.  This report reflected on the activity for both the autumn and spring terms and covered the most pertinent up-to-date information.

 

The Head of School Improvement and Inclusion commented, that as a Headteacher and from colleagues’ experiences also, they all felt extremely supported by Blaenau Gwent and included in all discussions in terms of reopening schools and then the further lockdown, and also how they were going to get young people back into school safely.

 

The Chair thanked the officer for her comments and noted that the Committee welcomed the feedback from Headteachers’ perspective.

 

A Member raised a question regarding pupils taking home IT equipment supplied by the Authority and pupils using their own devices in and out of school, and enquired how the Council would ensure that the pupils using their own equipment was adequate, and with face to face learning returning, would the children continue to be supplied with the IT equipment by the LA.

 

In response, the Director of Education said there would potentially be components of blended learning for the foreseeable future, in particular learners having the opportunity to learn in home settings with appropriate equipment was absolutely critical to making that successful.  In relation to Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) the Directorate were working closely with SRS to ensure that any learner using equipment that it was secure and did not create any potential risks for them, this was part of the wider infrastructure and connectivity project.  There had been approximately 1,600 devices released to learners and a number of them had benefited from blended learning, he felt there were strong elements of learning that had taken place over the last year that could be built upon moving forward. 

 

The Service Manager - Education Transformation and Business Change added that the team had been working closely with schools looking at the needs of digitally disadvantaged learners, the current plan was for the devices that had been distributed to be retained by the learners until the summer term, this would include laptops and mi-fi units which enable connectivity.  This would be reviewed going forward but the Authority was committed to providing support for the remainder of the academic year. Currently the team were working with schools, the EAS and SRS on the development of the ICT Strategy looking at how best to enable learners to have access across the board both at home and in school.   There was approximately 1 device to every learner throughout the school estate and the aspiration was to retain and possibly increase this wherever possible.  With  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

School Organisation Policy (2021/24) pdf icon PDF 384 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 seek the views of Education and Learning Scrutiny Committee in relation to the review of the School Organisation Policy (2021-24), prior to presenting the policy to the Council’s Executive Committee. It is proposed that the revised policy is adopted and implemented from the start of new academic year 2021/22.

 

The Service Manager - Education Transformation and Business Change spoke to the report and highlighted the main points contained therein.

 

A Member enquired if an aspect of well-being could be included in the policy.  The Service Manager said that the policy focused on school organisation priorities such as the management and vision for the school estate going forward, the well-being aspect would form a key part of the recovery plan and could look to potentially include that in the policy in line with education recovery plans.

 

In response to a Member’s question regarding federation models, the Service Manager said they would consider this as one of the options associated with the Welsh-medium school.  The Director of Education said that several years ago Blaenau Gwent was one of the first Local Authority’s to have a federation school i.e. Briery Hill School, in line with the Ebbw Fawr Learning Community.  He felt that across the school estate there were highly effective Headteachers and Leaders which well placed the Authority to consider federation models going forward to have quality leadership spread across the school estate.  He pointed out that Federation models could be taken forward in two approaches; a Local Authority led federation model or by Governing Bodies, and felt there were opportunities going forward, particularly in supporting schools with low pupil population numbers.  In relation to 6th Form collaborations the Director said there had been a number of federated models across Wales for post 16 provision because of the relatively small number of pupils that schools catered for.  Within the context of Blaenau Gwent, however, a tertiary model had been established with Coleg Gwent in the County Borough. With regard to the Welsh-medium school the preferred option would be to have collaboration between Ysgol Bro Helyg and the new school once it was developed but this would form part of the consultation exercise.

 

A Member referred to secondary schools being no smaller than 600 places.  The Service Manager - Education Transformation and Business Change said that they were in the process of establishing pupil projections and had undertaken an annual review of capacities.  There were a few schools who were relatively close to this number but none that fell into this category at the moment.  With the annual review of capacities and the annual review of projections they would work closely with Secondary Headteachers to monitor this going forward.

 

The Director commented that from a strategic perspective in line with the school organisation policy, they had undertaken significant secondary school reorganisation over the last 10 years and Blaenau Gwent was very much a four secondary school setting,  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.