A radical shake-up of the delivery of education is now on the cards as Wales’s education minister Leighton Andrews makes it clear the current system is not working.
He has ordered a review and said he has “not ruled anything in or out”. The review group will report by the end of March and consider whether school services should be managed centrally by the Welsh government rather than by local authorities. Unions NAHT Cymru and ATL Cymru welcomed the opportunity for debate but admitted some proposals were radical.
In the last two years education inspectorate Estyn has reviewed the performance of 15 of the 22 local authorities. Mr Andrews said these reports had formed the “evidence base” for the review.
Of those 15, Newport, Conwy, Denbigh, Carmarthen, and Neath Port Talbot were deemed good. Anglesey and Blaenau Gwent are in special measures while Pembrokeshire was said to be in need of significant improvement along with Torfaen and Powys. Wrexham, Cardiff, Flint, RCT, and Caerphilly were deemed to be adequate. Mr Andrews said: “So we have no excellent local authorities but five good ones. Five are in a formal Estyn category and five are being monitored by Estyn.”
He also criticised local authorities for not delivering efficiencies notably through the reduction of surplus places or using their powers of intervention enough to address failure in schools.
“I have said repeatedly I would not have invented 22 local education authorities,” Mr Andrews added. “I have also said that the fragmentation of education authorities in the mid-1990s was one of the contributing factors for the downturn in educational performance a decade later, as effective challenge and support was lost in many parts of the system. I have given local authorities time and money to get their house in order but the evidence is overwhelming that this has not occurred.”
The Welsh Local Government Association said it “vehemently opposed” removing education from local authority control. Group leader Bob Wellington said it would “undermine the ability of local communities to shape the educational future of young people”.
Dr Philip Dixon, director of education union ATL Cymru, said: “An in-depth debate can now at last take place. Some of the possibilities outlined are very radical indeed and could see local authorities lose any say over the delivery of education. The possible solutions outlined will need careful examination.”
Anna Brychan, director of NAHT Cymru, added: “Ultimately, what matters to school leaders is the delivery. Overwhelmingly, with only rare exceptions, their experience is not positive thus far.”