Concerned parents and guardians of our County’s children will be disappointed with the decision by the Welsh Assembly to appoint a Welsh Recovery Board to oversee improvements, once again, in Pembrokeshire County Council’s education service. This comes after nearly two years of our Council attempting to resolve this worrying situation, without, it would appear, satisfactory success.
In 2011, a report by Children Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, led to a team being sent by the Assembly with the purpose of overseeing change in Pembrokeshire County Council’s policies and systems for safeguarding children and young people. These were judged to be ‘unfit for purpose’ by ESTYN who had produced a report at that time.
Council leader at the time, John Davies, assured voters and County constituents that Pembrokeshire County Council were not hiding from the matters raised, and he promised improvements and change in order to meet the requirements of both ESTYN and the Welsh Assembly.
It will come as grim news, therefore, that now Ministers from the Welsh Government have stated that changes in how our Pembrokeshire County Council safeguards children are not happening fast enough. As a result of this dissatisfaction, Huw Lewis, the Assembly Education Minister, along with Local Government Minister, Lesley Griffiths, have decided to set up a Recovery Board to oversee these required improvements in Pembrokeshire’s Education Services.
Leader of Pembrokeshire County Council, Jamie Adams, is quoted as saying he welcomes the board, having already had productive meetings with them.
Reading from a local newspaper’s message board, and in response to this developing story, it was clear from the comments attached to the story, that parents are angered and dismayed by the seeming inability of Pembrokeshire County Council to resolve issues and problems directed at them from some two years ago, despite Assembly assistance.
In April of this year, the Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board was wound up after more than a year and a half advising the local authority on changes to its policies and operation for safeguarding children.
In a Welsh Government written statement, Huw Edwards, Minister for Education, commented on an ESTYN report published in December 2012 that had said of Pembrokeshire, ‘The Authority’s education services were found to be unsatisfactory’, and it further went on to say that they had, ‘judged Pembrokeshire’s prospects for improvement as unsatisfactory’. As well as that, it stated that, ‘corporate leaders and senior elected members have been too slow to recognise key issues in safeguarding’. Of Pembrokeshire County Council, Mr Lewis continued by adding that, ‘arrangements lack rigour and do not identify, accurately, areas in need of further improvement and the Authority has made limited progress in addressing recommendations from previous inspections’.
In support of those who provide the day to day education in our County, Angela Davies, Shadow Minister for Education and local AM, said that,
“Education services in Pembrokeshire have gone through a torrid time over the past few years but parents and pupils must hold fast to the fact that the majority of the teaching profession are totally committed to providing an excellent education for Pembrokeshire children”.
She was, however, quite clear as to where the blame should lie for the failings of the County Council education services and said,
“The ongoing problems stemmed from inadequate management practices within education services and a poor attitude to the proper safeguarding of children. Like all parents I know that I expect my children to be treated well and kept safe at school. Their well being and safety is of equal importance as the education they receive, and it was with a great sense of shock that we learnt of the adverse, and, at times, damning reports from Estyn and CSSIW which were the reasons for the initial Pembrokeshire Ministerial Board and for education services to be put into special measures.
The key issues appear to be inadequate oversight of key services, a lack of action when things went wrong, inadequate management, weak representation and an overly strong officer culture resistant to change. Since then a number of agencies have examined aspects of education and safeguarding in Pembrokeshire and there appears to be a sense that improvements are ongoing but are happening too slowly.
The fact that the Welsh Government have felt able to replace the Ministerial Board with a Recovery Board is good news and I am sure that Pembrokeshire’s appointment of a new Head of Education Services will usher in a more dynamic and constructive era.”
She also went on to make further comment on the Assembly’s role in education for Wales,
“I am concerned that there are so many local authority education services in special measures throughout Wales and I have called on the Welsh Government to explain why this is so.
It is also concerning to note that the General Teaching Council for Wales is not being inundated with lots of disciplinary cases arising from all these special measures and I would have thought that if education is so very bad in Wales, given the six Authorities in special measures, then the GTC would be flat out.
I am aware that the Government has an agenda for change and there are recommendations that there should be fewer local education authorities, ultimately, perhaps, leading to fewer county councils. However, I do not want to see education services, teachers and, above all, our children’s present and future being used to crowbar change. So I challenge the Government to ensure their actions are crystal clear and their motives pure.”
It is to be hoped that for the sake of our County’s children and for the peace of mind of parents and guardians alike that this Recovery Board is able, finally, to steer our County Council’s education services in the right direction, and resolve the safeguarding issues that remain of grave concern to all those who work in those areas where children are involved. As one local teacher put it, “No one wants to see a repeat of what happened at the Pupil Referral Unit in Neyland or read again about twenty-five cases of alleged professional abuse, as happened between 2007 and 2011”.