South West Wales

Pembrokeshire safeguarding children: Report calls for special measures

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Media captionAndrew Parry says this video shows his son Aeddan being locked in a padded "time-out" room

A council accused of failures in safeguarding children should now be placed in special measures, according to the schools inspectorate Estyn.

Advisors were sent to Pembrokeshire after claims that children were locked in a padded "time-out" room.

In a separate report, the auditor general has called for the Welsh government to intervene over concerns about the "speed and rigour" of change.

Pembrokeshire council says it is committed to resolving serious issues.

The Welsh government said ministers would respond to the reports and said it hoped the council leadership was taking the findings seriously.

Special measures is a status applied by Estyn when it considers that schools fail to supply an acceptable level of education and appear to lack the leadership capacity to improve.

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Media captionAlan Morris, group director at the Wales Audit Office, told Oliver Hides what their investigation found

The council's education services have been under scrutiny since 2011.

Last year the Welsh government sent a panel of experts in to oversee the council after serious problems were highlighted in safeguarding children.

Allegations had emerged about children being locked in rooms and of one's hands being tied by a teacher.

In its latest report, Estyn identifies what it says are important shortcomings in leadership of the education services.

It says that officials and senior councillors have been too slow to recognise key issues in safeguarding children and to change the culture within the education service.

Estyn said Pembrokeshire's education services were unsatisfactory because:

  • Performance in primary schools does not compare well to that of similar schools in other councils across Wales
  • Although attendance has improved, too many primaries are in the lower half in comparison with others on free school meals benchmarks
  • Arrangements for supporting and challenging schools are not robust enough and have not had enough impact on improving outcomes
  • It has not made enough progress in the management and governance of safeguarding children "by embedding the changes" made to practices
  • It is responding too slowly to the increasing level of surplus places in the secondary sector

In a separate report, the Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas said while the council had made some positive changes in its arrangement for safeguarding children but had not responded "with sufficient speed and rigour".

Wales Audit Office group director Alan Morris said: "In an area such as child safeguarding, it is very important that the council has strong arrangements to make sure that reports are thoroughly reviewed, tested and checked.

"Last year we found weaknesses. We have found progress in terms of strengthening those arrangements but there are still weaknesses in the system and we don't feel that the council has fully grasped the significance of some of these issues and addressed the underlying causes of them.

"The board [sent in by ministers] has helped but that hasn't really brought about the scale of change necessary so we do think ministers need to consider further action."

Jamie Adams, leader of Pembrokeshire council, said: "Clearly, the two reports published today identify serious issues which the council is committed to resolving.

"We acknowledge the areas where we need to continue improving. In many of these areas we have already begun to take the necessary steps to improve outcomes for children."

He said in response it would be signing an agreement with Carmarthenshire council to develop a shared school improvement service.

He said the council had addressed a number of issues and "much had been achieved" since the WAO inspection in August.

"I am under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge that faces the authority," he added.

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Media captionTory AM Angela Burns and Pembs Labour group leader Paul Miller share their views

A Welsh government spokesman said: "We are aware of the serious concerns which the Auditor General and Estyn have expressed. We hope that the council leadership in Pembrokeshire is taking this seriously.

"Ministers will respond to the reports as soon as possible."

Conservative education spokesperson Angela Burns said: "These reports should act as a massive wake-up call to all those involved in the continuing problems in Pembrokeshire - particularly the education minister.

"The promised improvements simply aren't working and our children are being repeatedly failed."

Paul Miller, leader of the council's Labour group, said: "It's not good enough and needs to improve quickly."

Plaid Cymru education spokesman Simon Thomas AM called on the Welsh government to take direct control of Pembrokeshire's schools.

"Parents and children in the county have been let down by the failings in the education system," he said.

"The onus is now on the education minister to show leadership in rectifying the situation as speedily as possible.

"It is essential that confidence in the county's schools is restored."

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