The Minister of Education today said Welsh local government was not up to delivering education.
In information based on Estyn investigations he concluded that there were no excellent local authorities but 5 good ones. 5 are in a formal Estyn category and 5 are being monitored by Estyn.
As teachers might write in a homework book – not good enough.
That Wales’s education system is not up to much is generally agreed. Kids leave our schools with very low standards indeed. In the last PISA tests out of 67 countries taking part, Wales was ranked 38th for reading, 40th for maths and 30th for the tests for science. Something is not right in the State of Wales.
So what’s to be done?
Well, Education Minister Leighton Andrews has tried to get the 22 education authorities to work together.
To say that he’s disappointed with their response, would be an understatement. He catalogued that local authorities had in general not been effective in delivering efficiencies, “including promised savings through the creation of consortia, or through the reduction of surplus places. As we have seen during discussion on the School Standards Bill, they have rarely used their powers of intervention to address failure when it arises in schools.”
He goes on to complain that both he and the Minister for Local Government and Communities had repeatedly called upon local authorities to make joint appointments when vacancies arise. “In respect of posts for Directors of Education and Chief Education Officers, this has largely fallen on deaf ears.”
Now in his desperation he’s ordered a wide-ranging review of the delivery of education services. It will look at what should be undertaken at school, local authority, regional and national level.
He says that “The review will look at a number of options for delivery:
- whether we should move to forms of regional delivery, and what the boundaries of those regions in the future should be, taking account of the regional footprint of delivery in public services amongst other options.
- whether responsibilities for school improvement should be removed from local authorities and vested in a more streamlined regional service accountable to Welsh Government
- whether statutory merger of the education services of local authorities under joint management by a number of authorities could be a solution.
- whether we need to go further and remove all education functions from local government and create regional school boards accountable to Welsh Government, either with or without a level of local government representation.
The review will consider whether schools should be directly funded by Welsh Ministers, and/or whether there is scope for cooperative ownership of schools at a local level, combining secondary schools and the primary schools in their clusters, with shared systems of governance, which could mean reforming the system known as local management of schools. Such a system could operate in tandem with any of the proposals outlined above for regional delivery of education services.
I have not ruled anything in or out but the time is right for a full review and obviously the consequence of potential change would need to be considered.”
He may not have ruled anything out, but the mood music is very much that the days are numbered for local councils to be providers of educational service.
But why just review the provision of education. There are other council services that are below par. Some of Wales’s social service departments have been falling short of expectations. Commissioners have been running departments or in the case of Ynys Mon the whole council.
Surely enough is enough. Why not have a whole scale review of the role, functions and size of local authorities. Can they deliver in these austere times?
The last reorganisation produced councils that were far too small to deliver many a council service. It was rushed through in the dying days of the Major government. It took place before the Assembly had been established.
Surely now is a good time to look again at what kind of authorities should be delivering what service. There is a place for localism of some services. But equally some services are better delivered at a regional and an all-Wales level. Desirable though Andrews’s review is its to narrow. A bigger question needs addressing, how best do we deliver Wales’s many public services?