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Wales’ Education watchdog: “…Torfaen is a local authority causing significant concern”

Estyn has published an inspection report on Torfaen Council’s education service.

The last paragraph of the report’s summary said : “Overall, leaders’ lack of capacity to address long standing issues in secondary schools, and to evaluate their work accurately and bring about improvements swiftly, lead us to conclude that Torfaen is a local authority causing significant concern.”

Inspectors visited the education service in March 2022. During 2021/22 the education budget was around £96m. The budget per pupil was £4,877 (close to the average in Wales).

Inspectors said they took account of key information about the local population alongside the national population. Key data included:

  • Over a three-year average, 26% of pupils aged 5 to 15 are eligible for free school meals, higher than the Wales average of 20%

  • 11% of pupils aged 5 and over are fluent in Welsh, which is lower than the Wales average of 16%

  • 6% of pupils aged 5 or over are from ethnic minorities, lower than the Wales average of 13%

  • 21% of pupils have special educational needs (SEN), just above the Wales average of 20%.  (Please note this data is from January 2021, before changes to how SEN provision is allocated)

  • 229 children per 10,000 were looked after by the local authority in 2021, which is the highest rate in Wales


Inspectors found that:

Senior leaders in Torfaen have recently collaborated with their partners to set out their shared ambition for all learners. This work has helped to strengthen relationships between local authority officers and school leaders and demonstrates a joint commitment to improving outcomes for pupils.

Performance in primary schools is generally sound overall, but the weak performance in secondary schools over time is a significant issue for the local authority. Work to address this and to improve pupils’ outcomes has been too slow and causes concern for young people’s educational attainment and well-being as well as their opportunities for future education, training and employment. Senior leaders have a broad overview of the work of the education service, but they do not hold officers at all levels to account well enough or focus sufficiently well on the impact of their work. Officers report to elected members, including the scrutiny committee, regularly.

However, the information they share does not enable elected members to hold the cabinet to account robustly to help to ensure the provision of effective education services. Evaluation and improvement planning processes across the education directorate lack rigour. The service’s self-evaluation is weak and officers do not evaluate the impact of their work well enough. This means that they do not identify important aspects of the service’s work that need improvement.

There is no clear link between self-evaluation and improvement planning processes. As a result of this, priorities for improvement are often too broad and lack precision, and officers do not set measurable targets and appropriate timescales against which they can evaluate progress. These weaknesses are evident in plans at all levels. There are strengths within the access and engagement team including the delivery of school re-organisation plans.

There are also notable examples of very strong practice in the youth service provision, but the planning and provision within the learning and pupil support teams are weaker. Priorities for the learning team do not focus sufficiently well on school improvement or hold the regional consortium to account and, as a result, there are pupils in Torfaen who have spent their entire secondary education in schools that cause concern. The pupil support service provides a range of helpful specialist support services but does not have a systematic approach to collecting and analysing information about its provision. Strategic planning for pupils with ALN is not comprehensive enough and does not include the breadth of provision for which the local authority is responsible.

Estyn’s recommendations:

  • Improve outcomes for learners, particularly in secondary schools
  • Strengthen performance management
  • Strengthen self-evaluation and improvement planning processes and the link between them
  • Improve strategic leadership of learning and Additional Learning Needs (ALN)
    Estyn will now review progress through a post inspection action plan and continue to monitor the service.

The service must update their improvements plans to show how it will tackle the recommendations. Estyn will review progress and carry out a monitoring visit in about 30 months.

Council ‘accepts’ the findings

The council’s Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Vickers said: “We fully accept the report’s findings, and recognise the much needed improvements identified by inspectors. It is good that Estyn also recognise the ongoing investment and strong political leadership, our good work to deliver high quality school buildings and the very strong practice in our youth service and some aspects of ALN, however the pace of change in the areas outlined must increase quickly.

“The council has already started a post inspection action plan to address the recommendations and we will work with Estyn, the regional consortium and school leaders to improve outcomes for pupils.

“Given recent appointments in the education service and the work already underway to improve performance, I’m confident that with continued political backing we will have significant progress to share when inspectors return to monitor the service’s progress.”

Cllr Richard Clark, Torfaen’s executive member for education, said: “Clearly there is a lot of urgent improvement needed and although Estyn recognise the progress that has been made, the pace of change, particularly in a number of secondary schools at the time of this inspection has not been quick enough. We must focus on improving our self-evaluation and performance management processes to demonstrably improve outcomes for learners.”

Download the Estyn report on Torfaen’s education service

The full 17-page report is available on Estyn’s website.

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Wales’ Education watchdog: “…Torfaen is a local authority causing significant concern”

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One reply on “Wales’ Education watchdog: “…Torfaen is a local authority causing significant concern””