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RHODRI MORGAN REBUTS UNION CRITICISM OF SCHOOL INPSECTION BODY

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First secretary Rhodri Morgan has rebutted the campaign of criticism against Estyn, the Welsh school inspection bod...
First secretary Rhodri Morgan has rebutted the campaign of criticism against Estyn, the Welsh school inspection body, launched by the NUT at the national Eisteddfod in Llanelli.

Rhodri Morgan said: 'I am concerned there has been a growing campaign by certain unions to discredit the school inspection system in Wales. This campaign is ill-informed and is simply not founded in fact. It does nothing but harm to our commitment towards raising standards for every learner in Wales.

'The school inspection system in Wales always has and will continue to be operated by a thoroughly professional team of independent experts, led by the chief inspector, free to report without fear or favour on their inspections. Contrary to the claims of teaching unions, Estyn is already fully accountable to the assembly.

'With the coming of the assembly, Estyn's role and functions were broadened. Estyn is no longer a conventional non-ministerial government department. Day to day management of the organisation is a matter for the chief inspector but Estyn operates to an annual remit issued by the assembly. That is where its accountability lies.

'The assembly has, in addition, maintained the tradition of close co-operation with Estyn. The assembly education secretaries meet the chief inspector on a regular basis. The chief inspector's annual report is discussed by both education committees. Estyn's accumulated base of evidence continues to play a crucial role in the development of education policy soundly based on what works in schools, colleges and training providers..

'Estyn's role is already quite different to that of Ofsted because it has a distinct and much wider range of functions. Its distinctive mode of operation is designed to enable schools to gain the most from the inspection process. The purpose of inspection is to help improve education standards. Inspectors seek to help a school to improve by identifying its good features and its shortcomings and to make recommendations for action. Inspectors provide an independent, public account of the quality of education provided, the standards achieved and the way resources are managed. All the evidence suggests that this role is much appreciated by schools and will become even more valuable over time.

'Very occasionally there are schools which, for whatever reason, fall below the minimum standards. When a school is independently assessed as failing its pupils, the interests of those pupils require that special measures must be taken. Pupils only have one chance of a good education and a blind eye cannot be turned to schools which are clearly letting pupils and parents down.

'A decision to bring a school into special measures is only taken after long, careful and sensitive consideration for the express purpose of restoring the school to good health for the benefit of pupils and prospective pupils.

'What is never acceptable is to do nothing - to pretend that freedom of information means something in one area of public life but not in others - to put the avoidance of embarrassment before the needs of pupils. Above all I want to see much more support and attention given to averting under-achieving and under-performing schools slipping into clear failure. I am encouraged by the action which local authorities are already taking in this area.

'Estyn's work now extends across all phases of education. This includes the Welsh medium sector and again I am worried that unfounded concerns are being promulgated about Estyn's work in this area. Neither I nor my officials have been given the slightest evidence that that the chief inspector or other staff in Estyn are either unsympathetic or inactive in taking forward our Welsh.language priorities and policies. The inspectorate in Wales has always been at the forefront of the development of Welsh language education and continues to be so. Estyn treats both languages on a basis of equality as does the national assembly as a whole. Estyn delivers its services through both Welsh and English in accordance with its published Welsh Language Scheme, approved by the Welsh Language Board in 1997 when Susan Lewis was appointed as chief inspector.

'Estyn's role is to provide an objective assessment of quality and standards of education and training in Wales. It is essential that it should go on playing that vital role. Spurious calls for investigation and enquiries do nothing to further the real education agenda in Wales. The national assembly has made clear its commitment towards improving educational outcomes for all our children. I invite all those education organisations with the best interests of the young people of Wales at heart's to work with us and with Estyn to deliver a healthier, wealthier and, above-all, better educated Wales.'

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