WREXHAM Council’s education department is no longer a cause of ‘significant concern’ for inspectorate Estyn.
Towards the end of 2019 the Welsh Government’s inspectorate demanded urgent action be taken to improve pupils’ achievements at GCSE level after carrying out a review of education in Wrexham.
At the time officials said high schools in Wrexham did not compare well to others in Wales and highlighted concerns over the behaviour and attendance of youngsters.
Almost four years on after another inspection earlier this summer, the authority is found to have made significant progress, being judged against four recommendations, which were to:
- Urgently improve outcomes for learners, particularly at Key Stage 4.
- Improve attendance, well-being and behaviour of secondary school pupils.
- Strengthen joint working across service areas relating to all aspects of well-being.
- Improve the quality of self-evaluation and improvement planning across all education services.
Against the first recommendation, the inspectors noted: “Since the core inspection, the local authority has reviewed beneficially its arrangements to support school improvement.
“A few key appointments have added valuable capacity to the work of the service.
“The local authority now has a firmer grasp of the overall strengths and weaknesses of its schools, particularly regarding leadership and provision. In general, officers identify schools causing concern at an earlier stage, particularly when support is needed for leadership.
“There are fewer schools causing concern in the local authority than at the time of the core inspection.
“However, the local authority’s evaluation of the learning and progress of pupils overall does not draw well enough on first hand evidence and relies too heavily on recent outcomes at key stage 4.”
Against the recommendation to improve pupil attendance and behaviour, the report states that this work is still ongoing.
And the council has recently appointed an officer to take responsibility for the development of a positive behaviour strategy in schools from September this year.
It adds: “The local authority is beginning to support pupils who are at risk of permanent exclusion appropriately through the alternative pathway service.
“The local authority has developed an effective strategic approach to improve attendance. The local authority analyses attendance data forensically to identify patterns and trends across schools, clusters, year groups and groups of learners, including pupils with additional learning needs and pupils who are eligible for free school meals.”
Commenting on the recommendation that the council works with other services to improve wellbeing, such as mental health support, inspectors have noted progress.
The report states: “To further strengthen multi-agency working the authority has established a well-being group with representation from the child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHs), school improvement services, schools, and local authority officers.
“Officers work well with schools for the development of whole-school approaches to emotional health and mental well-being to further strengthen arrangements for pupils.
“As a result, schools have a better understanding of the factors that negatively impact pupil well-being to target support more effectively.”
Addressing the final recommendation, the inspectors were satisfied with the response from the authority’s senior leadership to address the failings highlighted four years ago, notably the appointment of chief officer for education, Karen Evans.
The report said: “The chief executive has provided measured and thoughtful strategic leadership to effectively support improvements in education services since the inspection in 2019.
“A new chief officer for education and early intervention was appointed in 2020, and she has led a cultural shift in how education services work together to address the recommendations from the inspection.
“She also led a restructure of the department and made some key appointments to build capacity in important areas of work.”
The report adds: “The council leader and lead member for education were both in post at the time of the inspection.
“Despite initial disappointment at the outcome of the inspection, they recognised the need for improvement and have ensured that the council prioritises this. For example, the council committed an additional £500,000 to the annual budget for education and early intervention services.”
A tightening up of scrutiny was also noted in the report, adding: “The membership of the council’s lifelong learning scrutiny committee changed following local elections in May 2022.
“Members of the committee have received useful training to support them to carry out their role. The committee is providing a satisfactory level of challenge to the council’s lead members in relation to the post-inspection action plan and wider education matters.”
The report can be read in full at Monitoring report Wrexham 2023 (gov.wales)