A DAMNING report into Monmouthshire's education department today sees it placed into special measures. Education reporter NATALIE CROCKETT has the story.

MONMOUTHSHIRE’S education department is failing, school inspectors have found.

Assessors Estyn judged the council’s services for children and young people unsatisfactory because the progress pupils make year on year from primary to secondary school is well below average, the overall number of days lost to fixed term exclusions was too high, and the arrangements for supporting and challenging schools were not robust enough.

It said its capacity to improve was unsatisfactory because councillors did not receive the information they need to hold services to account and self evaluation is not rigorous enough. As a result is has been placed in special measures and the Welsh Government will be informed.

The report highlights that performance in Monmouthshire schools is above the average for Wales and its primary schools are among the best in Wales.

But the area has the second lowest rate of free school meals in the country and when this low level of deprivation is taken into account, performance compared with similar schools has remained well below the average for the last four years.

The percentage of youngsters leaving school with no qualifications is worse than the Welsh average and the gap between girls and boys performance at key stage 3 and GCSE level was larger than that in the rest of Wales.

The percentage of learners remaining in full time post-16 education remains the best in Wales but the number of those not in education, employment or training has reduced at a slower pace than Wales as a whole.

In recent years officers have not challenged schools rigorously enough to make sure they improve sufficiently and targets set with schools have not been effective in raising standards. As a result schools are not always clear on what they need to do to get better.

Not enough is being done to help schools meet the needs of pupils with additional learning needs and training for teachers and teaching assistants in this field is limited.

The authority has well-developed policies in place to combat bullying, but more could be done to help schools understand cyber bullying.

The council’s arrangements for safeguarding children do not meet requirements and give serious cause for concern.

The report says while all staff undergo criminal checks, processes to check for updates are not rigorous and it does not have a procedure in place to check that outside agencies who work with young people have appropriate safeguarding policies in place.

Although the authority had the lowest level of school reserves in Wales, too many schools have deficit budgets, and while the council has given funding to improve literacy and numeracy, it cannot demonstrate the impact of improvement because the schemes have not been consistently evaluated.

The report concludes that given the level of funding and the outcomes achieved overall, the education service provides unsatisfactory value for money.

The council must now come up with an action plan for improvement and a inspectors will visit the authority regularly to report on progress. If none is found the Welsh Government can appoint others to run it.