In this blog Sophie Knott looks at the new regional approach to school improvement in Wales. Following on from today’s release of two reports by the Auditor General and the education inspectorate at Estyn, Sophie considers the findings of both reports and asks is this relatively new approach likely to deliver benefits for Welsh pupils.
The importance of school improvement is a given. No one would disagree with trying to develop under-performing schools to achieve more, and for good schools to aim for the top. However, the mechanisms for doing this in practice can be difficult to identify and implement.
In 2011, the Welsh Government announced it wanted local authorities to provide school improvement services through four regional education consortia. The aim was to raise standards and achieve efficiencies. The consortia have been developing since then and, from April 2014, seeking to follow the Welsh Government’s ‘National Model for Regional Working’.
Our recent report Achieving improvement in support to schools through regional education consortia – an early view looked at whether the arrangements for regional consortia are likely to deliver the intended improvement. The report notes that foundations have been established, but all parties involved can still make improvements to aid development.
Isn’t it a bit early to be looking at this?
It’s true that the most common phrase we heard during our fieldwork was probably ‘it’s still early days’, particularly as the National Model outlining the framework for consortia only came in from April 2014.
However, the Auditor General felt that an early view of progress was important to provide assurance on the direction of travel. The regional approach is new and innovative, and the effectiveness of the arrangements will be essential to the achievement of the improved outcomes of children and young people. By identifying any problems early, they can be tackled quickly.
Our report found the National Model had provided a broadly agreed framework and there were some positive signs of progress. However, it also pointed out issues that the Welsh government, local authorities and consortia need to tackle together to make the system work more effectively. The report recommends addressing some uncertainties in the scope and nature of consortia, and developing more collaborative relationships across the system and a greater focus on medium-term planning. It also noted weaknesses in some aspects of consortia management, governance and scrutiny. Although it is hard to tell if these issues would have still been there a year or two years down the line, starting to address them now can only be a positive thing.
Is it working on the ground?
The short answer is it’s too early to tell what impact these are having! The longer answer is that Estyn’s report notes that there has been a gradual improvement in pupil attainment across all four regions but it’s difficult to attribute what, if any, of this success is solely attributable to the development of the consortia.
Our report recommended an improvement in consortia key performance measures and assessment of value for money, to better link changes in school performance to consortia actions. The general level of commitment and support for consortia arrangements by all parties involved is positive; and regional consortia responded well to feedback received during the fieldwork and are already addressing some aspects of the findings.
We all want children and young people to get the best education experience possible so we hope further progress is made quickly and that this early intervention will keep the consortia on track to achieve that. We welcome the Minister for Education and Skills’ response to the report and acceptance of the report’s recommendations.
Written Statement – Publication of Estyn’s remit report Improving schools through regional education consortia & Wales Audit Office report ‘Achieving improvement in support to schools through regional education consortia – an early view’
Wales Audit Office staff on behalf on the Auditor General for Wales worked closely with Estyn, who today also published a report on the progress of improvement services to schools. This joint working, part of a working agreement between the 4 major inspectorate bodies in Wales, led to a more efficient use of Wales Audit Office, Estyn and audited body resources through sharing evidence and interviews. In addition, by sharing our findings and conclusions, we ensured that our respective reports were complimentary, consistent and robust and had maximum impact through being published simultaneously.
Sophie Knott is a Performance Auditor at the Wales Audit Office, working on national value for money studies. She has worked at the WAO for two years, having previously qualified as an accountant and worked in financial audit at KPMG LLP.