To consult on the EAS Business Plan for 2021/2022 prior to Cabinet agreement in April 2021 (report to follow).
- Meeting of Special, Children and Young People Select Committee, Thursday, 11th February, 2021 2.00 pm (Item 2.)
- View the declarations of interest for item 2.
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 access to mentoring and coaching and to promote regional practitioner networks. The EAS would continue to support the development of leaders in schools, build capacity of governing bodies through professional learning and develop a culture of accountability that values the characteristics of effective schools. They would also embed their internal evaluation model to ensure effective and efficient support is provided to all schools and settings. Ed drew members’ attention to the ambitions and risks sections of the report and explained that mitigations are in place. The resource implications were referred to in more detail, Ed advising Members of Monmouthshire’s financial contribution and the uncertainty at this time in respect of the grant funding situation.
The chair thanked Ed for his comprehensive presentation of the report and he offered thanks to the EAS for the services they have been providing during challenging and unprecedented times. He invited questions from the committee, as follows:
· My question is in relation to the local authority funding reduction referenced in paragraph 5.10. Given there is likely to be an increased demand to support vulnerable children as a result of the pandemic, I am wondering whether you were given less money by the Council this year or whether this was a planned reduction in funding?
This was a planned reduction as a result of offering up efficiency savings to all local authority partners.
· There is emerging evidence that learning outcomes for vulnerable learners have been impacted on due to the pandemic. If teachers have had to invest their efforts into developing online learning approaches, has work on progressing the new Curriculum for Wales been deferred and is there an argument to request Welsh Government to delay its introduction?
Recognising this is a decision for Welsh Government, I can appreciate this could be seen as an unnecessary burden at the present time, but as many of your schools are preparing for it as an ongoing process, as long as there is flexibility and understanding given to schools in its implementation, I see it as an opportunity rather than a threat. During the pandemic, the EAS has supported schools in working towards introducing the new curriculum and we will continue to help support any gaps.
· Can I clarify whether you are saying that because of the challenges of the last 12 months, schools may be less prepared for the new curriculum than they would have been under different circumstances?
I think there have certainly been challenges and schools may not feel as prepared as they would like to be, but this has been ongoing work and has not paused entirely. Professional learning is much more flexible now and in some respects, professional learning in respect of the new curriculum may be more advanced.
· In terms of the strategic priorities for Monmouthshire listed under paragraph 3.21, Monmouthshire’s strategic priorities seem to be staying the same, whilst two of the other local authorities’ list closing the covid gap as their priority. Should this also be one of ours, considering that children have missed out on full time education and the vulnerable children will have been impacted to a greater degree? Some of the strategic priorities appear to be absent for some of the councils.
Also, with regard to the Curriculum and Assessment Bill, some of the feedback suggested there was concern that there may be an extra burden on teachers in delivering the new curriculum as well as helping learners. You have said that schools were preparing for this on an ongoing basis, however, should more effort be focussed on helping children catch up after missing full time education in a classroom environment?
EAS ~ People will have their own views on the new curriculum but we need to align to the direction of the Welsh Government and feedback from schools suggests some schools feel ready for this, but there is inevitably some variation and we will do our utmost to support those schools. Some of the strategic priorities of the other local authorities were missing at the time of drafting our report, but they will all be included in the final version.
MCC ~ Estyn recommendations have guided our work going forward. We’re in a situation now where we have to support schools in different ways and our priorities have had to change. Our strategic aims are overarching and at the outset of the pandemic, the priority was to enable the children of key workers to return to school, which was not an easy task. Then the priority changed to supporting distance learning as discussed in the members’ seminar held a few weeks ago. More recently, the priority was for children to return to schools safely and to a degree, we have managed this, accepting that some children are currently still learning at home. Now the priority will be to prepare our children for whatever this year’s assessment process will look like and to support our schools. We are continually reviewing our strategic aims in line with the work we are doing with Estyn and when we next review our priorities after children have returned to school, we will talk to schools to see if a further priority will need to be added around closing the gaps in learning as you have referred to, however, it is very difficult to determine the extent to which this is an issue and actions to address it until we have our students back in school settings.
· I don’t think we should underestimate the work that needs to be undertaken to prepare for the new curriculum and I am concerned that there will be so many challenges for teachers so I think we need to be very mindful of this.
EAS ~ We need to be alert as to how schools respond to challenges but we will continue to listen and support teachers as best we can.
· I’d like to echo and support the concerns of Councillor Brown in relation to closing the gap for the vulnerable learners.
I’d like to offer our thanks to Ed and Darren from the EAS for their attendance and their input in this meeting and for answering our questions. To summarise, the reduced funding issue was explained, however, the committee’s key concerns remain whether there needs to be a new strategic priority to close the gap in learning for all children, but particularly vulnerable children who may have suffered disproportionally during the pandemic.
We have concerns about the introduction of new curriculum in 2022, but we recognise this is a political issue that Welsh Government will need to consider and that this cannot be influenced by the select committee. We have concern for the welfare of teachers and trust that the Council and EAS will listen to them and offer them the appropriate support.
- 2021 EAS Business Plan - Scrutiny Report - Monmouthshire 1, item 2. PDF 260 KB
- BP consultation 21-22 2nd draft, item 2. PDF 2 MB