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Education chief: School strikes’ impact council’s effort to improve schools

TEACHER strikes have impacted a council’s efforts to address concerns raised about its schools by inspectors Estyn, an education chief has said. 

Torfaen Borough Council was last year told by the inspection body to improve how it supports schools and challenges them over performance. 

It has produced a Post Inspection Action Plan to set out how it will address the issues raised in the critical inspection, but the council’s deputy director of education, Andrew Powles, has been asked by councillors what barriers to improving outcomes for pupils have been identified. 

Mr Powles, who was appointed in August and his assistant shortly before him, said staffing challenges within the council’s education department had only recently been addressed and industrial action, and even the weather, has disrupted work in schools. 

He said: “This term we’ve had difficulty with things like industrial action taking place in schools that has limited the work we’ve been able to complete and even things like the snow day have an impact.” 

The education boss outlined to the council’s education scrutiny committee the series of regular meetings held with schools and support offered to head teachers. The council also works with the Gwent Educational Achievement Services to support schools and there is pairing with heads to share good practice. 

Upper Cwmbran Labour councillor Lucy Williams asked what impact the numerous activities and forums outlined are having by taking headteachers out of schools and additional “pressures” they were creating. 

Mr Powles replied: “This is part of the industrial action taking place about workload and the impact on wellbeing. It is definitely a legitimate question and it’s a really challenging time with ALN (additional learning needs) reform, curriculum reform, managing coming out of the pandemic and financial pressures.” 

But he said “networks” had been created so heads do not have to try and manage those pressures on their own. 

Schools are also able to take part in the Celebrate, Share, Support, Refine (CSSR) teaching approach, which is an additional self-evaluation approach to help them adapt to the new curriculum being introduced in Wales. 

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Three primaries in Torfaen have already undertaken it with a further seven, since January, having confirmed participation but the council says “more schools would benefit from engaging in this approach to enable a greater focus on improving the forensic elements of teaching.” 

But in response to questions on why more haven’t taken part Mr Powles highlighted the industrial action. 

While strikes in Wales have been called off teachers and heads are continuing to take industrial action short of striking, which typically means they are not taking on additional responsibilities. Mr Powles said the CCSR activity is “non-statutory” and schools aren’t required to do it. 

Jonathan Keohane, of the improvement service, said the right to take industrial action was “respected” but said it is impacting work with schools. 

The former primary head teacher also said schools often thought of well being “as putting a box of chocolate biscuits on the staff room table” but said it should also include “access to good professional learning” and he said there are well being checks for heads. 

The committee, which had been asked to look at how the council has responded to the Estyn report, has said it wants continued monitoring of how the council’s primary school clusters are working and the transition of pupils to secondary schools with the new curriculum removing performance measurements. 

It also wants the improvement service to develop case studies of the CCSR approach so heads can see its impact and learn from it and more involvement for school governors in how schools respond to self-evaluation and to know how pupils are involved and how they can be encouraged to be more engaged in the process.