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OFSTED FINDS POOR LEADERSHIP AND MANY WEAKNESSES IN SWINDON LEA (PLUS COUNCIL'S RESPONSE)

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Swindon local education authority's strategic management and planning ...
Swindon local education authority's strategic management and planning

are poor or very poor in most areas, and the quality of leadership by

elected members and senior officers is unsatisfactory, according to a

report published today by the Office for Standards in Education.

Inspectors say that the LEA impedes rather than supports school

improvement. The LEA does not communicate effectively with its

schools, and this, together with its frequent failure to use funding

to best effect, have generated a high level of confusion, suspicion

and mistrust among headteachers. Although some services and

individuals continue to provide support which is well regarded and at

least satisfactory, the impact of these services is reduced by the

lack of strong strategic foundation, and this prevents them having a

more pervasive influence on raising standards in schools. The LEA

performs only one third of the functions inspected satisfactorily.

The following functions are among those discharged well: the strategy

and support for early years education; the provision and use of

performance data; the strategy and support for literacy.

The following functions are among those that are not carried out

satisfactorily: the extent to which LEA support is focused on areas

of greatest need; the provision of monitoring, challenge,

intervention and support to schools; the effectiveness of services to

support school improvement; support to schools causing concern; the

clarity and consistency of corporate plans and their implementation;

the speed, openness and effectiveness of decision making; the

provision of school places; the strategy for education otherwise than

at school.

Inspectors report that the LEA has faced exceptional challenges

because of the combination of a small central staff, low funding, a

rapidly rising population and considerable local variations in social

and economic circumstances. They also say that there is no doubting

the goodwill of the council, particularly toward supporting more

vulnerable pupils, or the importance elected members attach to

raising standards. However, inspectors conclude that the LEA needs

immediate assistance to implement the recommendations of this report.

Chief inspector Mike Tomlinson said:

'Swindon local education authority is simply not providing the

quality of support that its schools and pupils expect and deserve. I

share the inspection team's view that there is a need for immediate

external assistance to move education in Swindon forward.'

A press release from Swindon BC follows:

COUNCIL RESPONDS SWIFTLY TO OFSTED REPORT

Swindon Borough Council today responded swiftly to the publication of the Ofsted report on the Council as a Local Education Authority.

Although the Ofsted report praises the Council's work in several areas, overall, the report is critical of the Council.

The Council now has 70 working days to produce an Action Plan responding to all the recommendations.

Swindon Council confirms today that it will accept the inspectors' Report in its entirety and will commit the whole Council to respond to all the Inspectors' recommendations as the top priority for the coming period. The Council has already taken swift action to respond to some of the key issues raised by the Inspectors.

Leading Members of the Council and senior officers have met several times with representative Headteachers and officials from the DfES during August to begin the task of establishing a positive partnership which will help the Council deliver the Action Plan in response to the report, suggest a successful way forward for the future, and, most importantly, help the Elected Members, Officers and Schools deliver the quality of Education that all Swindon pupils deserve.

The Council is supporting a formal partnership arrangement between Schools and Members as part of our new approach. It is hoped to establish a joint working group with schools which will recommend the Action Plan to the Council.

The Council has also accepted the proposal from the DfES to engage consultants to advise and prepare the ground for a longer term solution for the Education service. External advice has already been taken and, in addition, the Council has agreed, by arrangement with the DfES, temporary secondments from Hampshire Local Education Authority to help fill some of the gaps in our current staffing. The Council has already released funds from its contingency reserves to allow this to happen.

Leader of the Council, Councillor Sue Bates, said:

'We are naturally disappointed with the report. We had hoped that the Inspectors would recognise the progress we have made as an LEA in the context of our very low resource levels. Despite our disappointment, I want to emphasise that the Council will accept all of the report's findings and recommendations and we have acted quickly to begin our Action Plan in response to the report. The Leaders of the three political groups have met with Headteacher representatives and the DfES to agree a partnership approach on the way forward in the future. The Council also welcomes the proposal from the DfES to engage consultants to advise and prepare the ground for a longer term solution for the Education service. I am very confident that with our partnership approach with schools we can make immediate and rapid improvements in the areas identified by the Inspectors.

The Council acknowledges that lack of adequate funding is clearly an issue and we need to address that, both locally in Swindon and also with Ministers. We also acknowledge that we need to change the way we work with our schools so that all sides believe we have a genuine partnership.

I also want to reassure all parents, Headteachers and school staff that the Council believes Swindon pupils deserve a high quality Education service and we will commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the task of making the improvements that are now required.'

Leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor Mike Bawden, commented:

'We are devastated at the Report of the Ofsted Inspectors. Obviously, Education must be our top priority - it is our duty to the young people of Swindon. We will reserve any further comment until we have had the opportunity to read and consider the report in its entirety. It would be inappropriate and irresponsible for us to act prematurely'.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Mike Evemy, commented:

'We accept the criticisms of Councillors and Council officers made in the Ofsted Report. We will work in partnership with schools, the DfES, the private sector and colleagues in other political parties to deliver an Action Plan to turn around the Education service in Swindon.

We will keep focused on delivering a high quality Education service in Swindon throughout the coming months and years. We accept that current funding levels for schools are very low, as is the Council's overall budget. We will work to rectify that situation while protecting other key services, such as Social Services.'

Chief Executive, Paul Doherty, said:

'The Council has acted swiftly to put in place the things we now need to do. We are confident that, with genuine joint working with schools, we can make the improvements we need.

The report raises major challenges for the Council's staff in many areas of the Council. We will consider the Inspectors' views on the work of our staff very carefully. In our Action Plan we will bring forward proposals to respond to all the areas highlighted by the Inspectors, including the management and leadership of the service.

We also give a commitment that all of our responses to the staffing issues will fulfil our responsibilities to staff as their employer and will be jointly agreed in partnership with schools and in consultation with the DfES.'

Mike Lusty, Director of Education and Community, commented:

'Despite the overall highly critical nature of the report, I am pleased that Ofsted has recognised some of the good working taking place in the LEA, and staff involved in those areas should be proud of their achievements. However, I recognise that this is a critical report. Whilst deeply disappointed as Director of Education and Community, I accept full responsibility for its contents and I am committed to working with schools on a rapid response to the recommendations.'

Peter Wells, Vice-Chair of the Swindon Association of Secondary Headteachers, commented:

'The Headteachers of Swindon are united in their belief that, given the resources, the political commitment and the existing professionalism of our teachers, we can achieve a real improvement in the quality of education in the town. We are positive about working within a new and defined partnership with a new regime, committed to new ways of working, with new and revised objectives. We have faith in our teachers and pupils. We believe they have the ability to achieve results, which will deservedly be celebrated and comparable with any similar unitaryauthority and certainly at or above the national averages. We believe this despite the Ofsted Report, which is justifiably critical of the Local Authority we have known so far. We are confident about our schools and the future, given that the recommendations of the report are read, understood and, above all, implemented. We are committed to a positive future for our schools, our pupils and our community.'

Andrew Nye, Chair of the Swindon Association of Primary Headteachers, commented:

'The Council's full acceptance of the Report is the first step in beginning to put things right. Having the problems spelt out in such a stark way gives us all a clear understanding of what needs to be done. The huge task of building an excellent Education Authority for Swindon can only be achieved by establishing and nurturing a culture in which Heads are fully and meaningfully consulted and their views acted on as trusted partners It is, above all, this culture of mutual respect and trust that must underpin all our work in the future..

Given the public commitment of the Council to this and the immediate and sustained improvement in funding, we look forward to working to build and Education service of which we can all be proud.'

Keith Smith, Chair of the Swindon Association of Special School Headteachers, commented:

'The heads of the special schools recognise that the LEA has failed many areas of education, not least special education. Special schools' efforts to improve and bring much needed expertise to the education continuum have been thwarted on many occasions. However, we do take this opportunity to praise the staff, both in special education and elsewhere, who have continued to provide an excellent service to our schools and to the most vulnerable children in our community, despite many difficulties. We hope that the strong message delivered through this report will now enable us to work closely with all the Members of Swindon Borough Council and the authority, to bring to all schools and all children an education service that is second to none.'

Dick Millard, Association of Swindon Governors, said:

'Swindon governors will regret the state of affairs described in this highly

critical report. There is now a great deal of work to be done. We must put

robust management arrangements in place to secure an improving standard of education for Swindon's pupils. We must also ensure we can describe clearly the outcomes that we want so that we can work wholeheartedly towards them. Among the key issues now are to secure an immediate and sustained increase in the level of funding for Swindon's schools; and to engage all stakeholders in meaningful, open discussions on how education will be managed in the Borough. Swindon's governors will want to play a full part in this process to ensure that our children get the high quality education that they deserve and to contribute to the accountability that our community will demand.'

Notes

The Ofsted Reportsays the following functions are discharged well:

- early years education

- finance support to schools

- personnel support to schools

- education psychology service

- provision and use of performance data

- literacy

- governor support

- children in public care, and

- travellers' children

the following functions are discharged satisfactorily:

- support for target setting

- numeracy

- admissions

- attendance

- health & safety, welfare and child protection

- ethnic minority pupils

- combating racism

and the following are unsatisfactory:

- the Education Development Plan its implementation in secondary schools

- the extent to which the LEA targets resources on priorities

- the extent to which the LEA has in place structures for achieving Best Value

- the extent to which LEA support is focused on areas of greatest need

- the provision of monitoring challenge intervention and support to schools

- the effectiveness of services to support school improvement

- the strategy and support for the development of information and communication technology for the curriculum and school administration

- support to schools causing concern

- the clarity and consistency of corporate plans and their implementation

- the speed, openness and effectiveness of decision making

- the leadership of elected members and the advice they receive

- the leadership of senior officers

- property services and asset management planning

- strategy and support for special educational needs

- the provision of school places

- the strategy and support to improve behaviour and discipline in schools

- the strategy for education otherwise than at school

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