Mid Wales

Powys schools: Estyn says education progress too slow

Schools inspectors have told Powys council to make "significant improvement" to its education service.

Inspection body Estyn criticised performance and gave the authority 50 days to prepare an action plan.

It has been monitoring the council since February 2011 and a team of six inspectors carried out a follow-up visit last month.

Powys said its chief executive Jeremy Patterson has been put in charge of the county's education service.

In a letter to Mr Patterson Estyn says another inspection will be carried within 12 months.

The letter - which has also gone to the Welsh government and Wales Audit Office - says key councillors and officials are aware of what needs to be done.

"However, progress is slow and at a very early stage," it said.

It added: "As a result of these findings, and the slow progress against recommendations, the authority will move from Estyn monitoring and be placed in the category of an authority in need of significant improvement."

The authority's self-evaluation was "too positive" and did not identify shortcomings or a lack of progress towards inspectors' recommendations.

Estyn said council officers had not presented information clearly and the quality of written records about school visits was "variable".

Powys has four schools requiring "significant improvement" and three needing special measures - more than any other authority in Wales.

However, it has only made limited use of its powers to intervene and individual officers have not been held to account for their performance.

Recovery plans

Despite closing 14 primary schools and removing 180 surplus places from secondary schools, Estyn said attempts to "modernise" the education service have been too slow and pupil numbers are continuing to drop.

Powys council leader David Jones said the inspectors' verdict was "very disappointing".

"As a result we have taken immediate and decisive action to tackle the shortcomings," he said.

"Our first action was to appoint the council's most senior officer, the chief executive, to take on the statutory role of chief education officer with immediate effect and lead our response to the report."

He said education was the council's highest priority and that asking the chief executive to lead the recovery showed its commitment.

The recovery plans will need the approval of Education Minister Leighton Andrews.

In August it emerged that 12 schools in the county were to be offered a 10-year council loan in an attempt to tackle budget deficits totalling more than £1.7m.

Estyn said it was "unclear" if proposed budget cuts would help improve standards at overspending and under-performing schools.

Since introducing a new inspection framework in 2010, Estyn has rated five education authorities across Wales as good, six as adequate and four as unsatisfactory. None have been rated excellent and two - Blaenau Gwent and Anglesey - have been put in special measures.

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