A little later than expected, the Ministry of Spin did get round to the performance of schools in Carmarthenshire through the pages of the South Wales Guardian, complete with a puff for Kevin Madge.
The article claims that 8 schools were ranked as highly effective (actually, it's 17), and that only one was classed as red (actually, it is two). No mention at all of the 30 schools given an amber rating.
It looks like someone needs to go back to school for some basic arithmetic lessons.
One of the main news stories in Wales last week was the launch of the Government's new National School Categorisation Scheme to replace the previous flawed bandings system. Carmarthenshire County Council, which just happens to be responsible for schools in this part of the world, had nothing to say about it, although it maintains one of the largest press and PR operations outside Cardiff.
Instead we got the usual deluge of stuff about Dylan Thomas ("Library helps shed the January blues with Dylan Thomas"), fag ends, dog mess and a story about how the council is supporting a call by Tory MP Simon Hart to move the war memorial in Carmarthen. This last item probably came as news to our elected county councillors who have not yet been asked to debate this most pressing of issues.
Anyway, we now have yet another system for measuring how well or how badly schools are doing, alongside Estyn, GCSE league tables and the old-fashioned but usually reliable word of mouth method.
If there ever was a recipe for confusion, this is it, but the new system at least has the merit of being very clear about what the various categories mean in practical terms.
There are four categories (green, yellow, amber and red), and the Western Mail has a good spread explaining how it works. Put simply, amber is not very good and means that the schools concerned need to get a grip, do not appear to understand that they have problems which need addressing and will receive central support and intervention.
101 primary schools in Carmarthenshire have been categorised, and 30 of them were put in the amber band. Two more were put in the red category.
52 schools were yellow (good), and 17 were classed as highly effective.
In other words, one in three primary schools in Carmarthenshire was performing worse than they should and will be subjected to special measures.
Twelve secondary schools were categorised, with 2 being classed as highly effective (Bryngwyn and St John Lloyd). A further seven were yellow ("effective") and three were amber (Ysgol Dyffryn Aman, Dyffryn Taf in Whitland and Queen Elizabeth High in Carmarthen).
Dyffryn Aman and QEH also happen to be two of the jewels in the county council's Modernising Education Programme (MEP) which has seen tens of millions ploughed into building a small number of large schools.
The council is very proud of the MEP, but there are councillors who are concerned that it has confused what goes on inside schools with bricks and mortar.
Confusing though all the different reports and measures are, there is some consistency running through them showing that too many schools in Carmarthenshire are underperforming, and we are doing less well than most neighbouring authorities when it comes to GCSE results.
The only neighbouring authority which is performing worse than Carmarthenshire is Pembrokeshire. Of 8 secondary schools, 2 were classed as red and two as amber. There were no greens.
You don't need a GCSE in maths to work out that half of Pembrokeshire's secondary schools are considered to be not up to scratch.
But someone in Carmarthenshire likes Pembrokeshire because last year the council entered into a formal education partnership with our neighbours, and we recently recruited (back) Jake Morgan who as head of children's services was responsible for that county's schools.
Thanks to an eagle-eyed reader who spotted a statement from Education Through Regional Working - the regional partnership which Carmarthenshire is a part of. Carmarthenshire County Council, normally never shy in coming forward, has clearly decided that the best policy is to keep a low profile and leave the talking to the real spin masters.
The brief statement begins as follows:
Betsan O'Connor, ERW Managing Director, said: “We are pleased that so many of our schools require minimal support as they are in the Green and Yellow support categories. In particular we are pleased that schools working with our most vulnerable learners across urban and rural communities are being recognised for their hard work. Our best schools will now be helping those that are in need of additional support.
It’s now over 2 years since the launch of the education partnership – see http://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/content.asp?id=26799.
Will the “Head of School Effectiveness” and his team now consider their performance to be in the red band? i.e. – “In need of greatest improvement:
- are experiencing a decline in key aspects of their performance
- will receive intensive support
- will automatically receive a letter from their local authority and, where appropriate, statutory powers may be used by the local authority
- will be subject to intervention involving collaboration between the local authority and regional consortium
- will have a more directed approach by the local authority and regional consortium”
Yes, the ERW appears to be yet another costly quango which excels at mission statements and spin but when it comes to policies and guidance it must try harder - http://www.erw.org.uk/policies-and-guidance/
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