TORFAEN Council has today become the third Gwent authority to have its education department placed in special measures - following Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent.

In a damning report by the schools’ inspectorate Estyn, the council is slammed for the "limited progress" it has made in relation to recommendations made by Estyn in October 2011 when it deemed Torfaen’s education department "unsatisfactory.’ As a result it is now in special measures.

Following the 2011 inspection, Estyn re-inspected Torfaen in February this year but said in the report: "Since the inspection in October 2011, the authority has made limited progress against most of the recommendations left by the inspection team. Improvements have been slow and standards in the secondary schools remain unsatisfactory.

"Greater change and pace are required in order to bring about further improvement."

It goes on to criticise a failure by the authority to spot underperformance and its impact on learners, and says that: "the authority does not identify clearly for schools, managers and elected members the extent of the improvements required or the pace at which progress is needed."

It says Torfaen remains too reliant on Estyn inspectors to judge the quality of teaching and learning in most schools rather than engendering a culture of self-assessment and shared good practice.

The report states that one primary school, one secondary school and the pupil referral unit are in need of significant improvement while one secondary school, Llantarnam Comprehensive School, requires special measures.

The 2011 inspection team set out five recommendations the authority needed to tackle by the time they re-inspected this year.

But of the five they completely failed to address two, including the recommendation to raise standards in secondary schools, particularly in key stage 4, and only partly addressed the other three.

The inspectors did concede that the authority had put in place suitable strategies to improve primary attendance rates and that those had risen to around the Welsh average and that Torfaen had made adequate progress in reducing surplus school places.

But in summing up, the report said; "Overall, the team judged that the authority has made insufficient progress to address the recommendations in the inspection report. The team are of the opinion… that special measures are required in relation to this authority."

Improvements must be made

THINGS have gone from bad to worse for Torfaen’s education department in the past year.

In February 2012 its education department was judged as needing "significant improvement" because performance in secondary schools had not improved in 2011.

Despite being put judged unsatisfactory, it was escaped special measures but months later in November Llantarnam Comprehensive School, failed to avoid the fate.

Inspectors found GCSE pupils' performance was lower than similar schools, incidents of bullying were increasing, pupil behaviour was poor and senior management roles were not defined. A new head teacher took over and some issues like behaviour and site safety were immediately address and it is now working towards its improvement plan.

Once a school or education department is identified as requiring special measures, Estyn will inform the Welsh Government.

An action plan must then be drawn up for Estyn’s approval.

A small team of inspectors will visit regularly to see if progress is being made towards addressing the recommendations highlighted in the report.

If no progress is made, Estyn will recommend to HM Chief Inspector that it will be removed from special measures.

If progress is insufficient Estyn will continue to monitor until such progress is proved, if it continues to report unsatisfactory progress, education minister Leighton Andrews may revoke its educational powers.

The Welsh Government is currently undertaking a review into how education is delivered in Wales.

It is looking at whether they should merged under joint management by different councils, if they should be delivered regionally, or should be removed from local government control to be directly accountable to Welsh Government.