Feedback from Estyn: Verbal update from the Chief Officer on the feedback from Estyn recently communicated to the Council.
- Meeting of Children and Young People Select Committee, Thursday, 25th March, 2021 10.00 am (Item 4.)
Will McLean spoke to the members and answered their questions.
The letter that we have received from Estyn captures very well the work that we, our schools, and EAS colleagues have done, to ensure the transition throughout this period has been as effective as possible. The letter is in two segments: March-August 2020 and September 2020 onwards. Spring 2021 has been a period of lockdown and remote learning for many, and Estyn will continue their work with us to assess and discuss how that period of time has been managed as well. We have maintained our half-termly Local Authority Link Inspector visits, to ensure the Inspectors understand our position and the decisions we are taking.
Some things to draw out from the letter: in terms of Leadership and Collaboration, we are pleased about their recognition of our communication and clear expectations for schools, and that members have been kept up to date with events as they have unfolded. The quality of questions and level of challenge from members has been good.
There are interesting reflections about how we have worked with the schools. We have never had a ‘one size fits all’ approach – we recognise that each of them has a different set of pressures, building layout, community, etc. We have set clear parameters and expectations for schools but then given them the flexibility to respond as best fits their local needs.
The letter discusses our decision about the end of term; our children came back for three weeks in the summer, meaning we didn’t have the extra week of holiday in the autumn term. Schools were only allowed 30% pupil capacity at that time. In essence, children missed one day at the end of the summer term but gained 5 days in autumn. Because of low transmission levels in Monmouthshire, many of our children had an uninterrupted autumn term. The letter recognises that this wouldn’t have an equal impact on learners, which we have addressed in our planning and expectations.
Another positive is that Estyn spoke to our schools, who said that they felt well supported by us. The paper also recognises the good work undertaken by colleagues in education and social services to ensure that the needs of the more vulnerable learners were met. It talks about the supply of technology to ensure that blended learning was effective, and the way in which childcare hubs were established, and places were guaranteed for those children who would need them. Now, with a little hindsight, we can recognise that speed with which our colleagues worked, the commitment they showed, and how they worked alongside headteachers. Speedy establishment of childcare hubs was a very good example of our commitment to joint working.
The document is very positive about our relationship with EAS. We have been clear throughout the pandemic that we have different roles: the role of the local authority has been to support schools, ‘tactical responses’, etc., while EAS has provided the right levels of professional learning to enable blended learning to develop significantly, and also to make sure that the leaders met the challenge. There has been excellent sharing of information on a weekly basis.
This committee has shown concern about how devices have been managed. This document was written a little while ago; the figures for the number of devices that have been provided are now significantly higher than this, and the procurement challenges referenced in the letter have been eased somewhat.
There are positive indicators of our support for vulnerable learners: 84% of identified vulnerable learners took up the offer of places in school hubs; of the remaining 16%, parents of some children with complex needs took the decision to keep those children at home. We continued our work up to the end of the summer term and began the transition to return in September. This was an important moment, as the stability we could afford across the school system meant that many of our children had uninterrupted periods in school. We have benefitted from lower transmission rates than other regions, but the investment in time that we put in in the spring and summer terms was rewarded in the autumn term.
The letter recognises our work to support the wellbeing of Headteachers. We contacted a former headteacher and brought him back as someone that current headteachers could talk to about their issues, which was very well-received by the heads.
We’ve continued with our work with some of the schools that have been in processes of schools causing concern, to ensure they feel fully supported and engaged. Events put on by our schools this term to provide members with an insight into what blended learning looks like have been very positive for all involved. Everyone should be proud of how they have delivered blended learning so effectively, under such time pressures.
Whereas summer term involved providing childcare, the focus this term was on providing education. Working with schools, we have identified vulnerable learners who have continued to receive face-to-face learning throughout, while numbers of critical worker children in our schools have remained high. We give great thanks to all of our colleagues and governing bodies, and look forward now to re-opening schools fully from 12th April. Hopefully, measures in place regarding Lateral Flow Testing for teachers and enhanced social distancing measures continued to keep rates low – we have not yet had a positive Lateral Flow result.
Has anything emerged from the second wave that has added to the complications in young people’s lives, especially pertaining to PRU?
PRU provision has been very interesting. Those children were classed as vulnerable learners, so their provision has therefore continued ‘face to face’ in school, which has been very positive. The work that PRU does to support children in our centres and in-reach provision has been very important. Those children will often face multiple layers of challenge in their education. We have seen some advantages, e.g. remote and blended learning has been a benefit. The current pressures around PRU concern the capacity for it to meet the needs of a growing population. There has been a bit of disruption, i.e. from moving to a new building in Abergavenny, but the service has responded very positively to that. As we move into the summer term, we will take the time to work very closely with our learners to understand where there might still be deficits and what we can do differently to address those.
Classroom learning is preferable. With blended learning, has there been guidance for staff about screen time lasting for too long, given the stress it can take on the teachers’ eyes?
We have worked closely with our schools around teacher wellbeing. We meet the Professional Associations fortnightly (it was weekly at the height of the pandemic). Many of our schools have a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous learning, so some of the day will be live teaching and some will be tasks set ahead of time. We have tried to balance those two elements. Our schools have adopted different approaches e.g. two have moved to 100 minute lessons, entailing a teacher being live at the start, set the activities etc., then the live element stops and the asynchronous element takes over, with the teacher perhaps checking in at the end.
Thank you to the Chief Officer for his and his team’s efforts during this most difficult time, as well as anyone who has worked in or with the education sector. We, the parents and pupils are very glad that the children are now returning to school. We have noted concerns about PRU, and the difficulties of teaching online. A second year with no exams will be a huge challenge.