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Declarations of Interest.
The committee agreed to record any declarations of interest as and when appropriate in discussing the reports.
Ed Pryce and Darren Jones from the EAS introduced the item by explaining that the EAS delivers a wide range of school improvement services to all schools in the local authorities who form part of the consortia. Ed explained he would focus on key elements of the report before Darren would take specific questions relating to Monmouthshire schools. The report was being brought to the committee to provide members an opportunity to comment on the contents of the annual business plan and in doing so, to consider the strengths and areas for improvement in Monmouthshire’s schools.
Ed advised that the business plan had been written in the context of the changing situation with the covid 19 pandemic and the extent to which we can predict the future for the next 12 months. The EAS had discussed the main priorities for the region with senior leadership in schools and the focus for the next 12 months was on hope and optimism and evolving and adapting learning during the covid 19 recovery phase. Ed reiterated that the EAS would be sensitive to the needs of the school workforce and be supportive and responsive as an organisation. Whilst support would align to the expectations of local authorities and Welsh Government, the EAS is considering emerging research on blended learning. The EAS would also seek to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy for schools. Ed confirmed that mid-year evaluations that are reported to EAS governance groups are available to view. Members heard that a ‘Professional Learning Offer’ would be available to all schools to meet developmental needs as the pandemic draws to a close and that grant permitting, all schools would be funded to deliver a large proportion of the professional learning activity. Schools would also benefit from bespoke support packages that meet the priorities identified in their School Development Plans and that there would be flexibility to allow for changes in circumstance in light of the pandemic. Ed confirmed that the EAS’s centralised model has enabled it to realise efficiencies and secure economies of scale and has enabled a high level expertise to be developed across the region.
The EAS would continue to work in partnership with councils to address their recommendations from Estyn and their strategic priorities. Monmouthshire’s strategic priorities are to improve outcomes for some of our most vulnerable learners, to increase the number of pupils achieving excellent standards, to articulate clear strategy for special educational needs and to strengthen the use of self-evaluation evidence to inform improvement planning. Some of the key priorities for the EAS would be to provide well-being support for practitioners and learners, to provide bespoke support to schools, to improve the quality of learning and teaching (including blended learning) and to support specific groups of disadvantaged and vulnerable learners, including those disproportionally affected by school closures. Other priorities would be to help schools to realise the Curriculum for Wales, to ensure access to a range of regional and national professional learning, to include ... view the full minutes text for item 2.
Members were advised that this topic had been brought to the select committee to engage the members on the Free School Meals strategy in advance of drafting the strategy. The Head of Achievement and Attainment advised members that they had a draft Free Schools Meals (FSM) Strategy ready to bring to the committee last year, however, a visit from Estyn and the Covid 19 pandemic had brought about new considerations. Estyn had suggested the council may want to consider having a targeted resource for FSM and they identified that the absence of performance information to provide indications on progress posed difficulties in measuring improvement. The Head of Achievement and Attainment explained that this period of reflection had led officers to conclude that what they would have presented to members last year would be very different to they would present today and that this would be very different to what they would be likely to present in the future.
The presentation would provide an overview of the various issues that need to feed into the strategy, some issues having been raised earlier in the meeting, such as how best to help children catch up on their learning and achieve their best. The officer explained that they had begun by considering the definition of poverty and had worked with the ‘Tackling Poverty and Inequality Group’ to reach a consistent definition, also contributing to the action plan of this group. The definition that has been used is “when a person’s resources (mainly their material resources) are not sufficient to meet their minimum needs (including social participation)”. She explained that covid 19 has had an impact and will change the picture for poverty in Monmouthshire.
The officer advised that the presentation presented the average picture of poverty across Wales rather than the picture for Monmouthshire specifically, as we are still awaiting local data to provide a useful comparison. She explained that poverty can affect any child at any stage of life and that it may always have been a factor or could be a new factor due to covid. She described some of the impacts on young people which include poorer physical and mental health, poorer achievement and lower life prospects together with other considerations such as whether the child has experienced bullying or problems at home. In terms of child poverty in Monmouthshire overall, whilst the data shows we do not have high levels of deprivation, it doesn’t provide the full picture. She explained that Monmouthshire has pockets of high deprivation and the overarching figure does mask the challenges in those areas. The distribution of pupils in receipt of FSM is also not linear across schools, so in some schools there could be several pupils whilst in others, the number may equal a 3rd of the total pupil numbers. Members heard that early intervention for families is critical and that Flying Start ... view the full minutes text for item 3.
Next Meeting: Tuesday 9th March 2021 at 10.00am.