THE education department of Torfaen Council could be lifted out of special measures by spring 2015, if Estyn inspectors find the council has met targets.

Torfaen’s education department fell into special measures in March after failing to make enough progress on recommendations made by the inspectorate.

The task of improving was handed to the regional schools body, the South East Wales Education Achievement Service (EAS) with close oversight from the authority.

Interim head of education, Dermot McChrystal, told scrutiny committee members yesterday that the inspectors had chosen not to visit the authority in spring 2014 as originally planned and had postponed their visit until summer, which he took to be a good sign.

They will visit again in autumn 2014 and spring 2015, when they will reveal if they are satisfied the authority has met five key criteria: improving standards in secondary schools and at GCSE; taking action to reduce the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs); improving the quality and consistency of evaluation of services; improving the performance management of services; and putting in place effective governance arrangements to ensure services for children and young people in Torfaen are managed appropriately.

Mr McChrystal said: “In spring 2015 we could come out of special measures if Estyn is happy with the level of progress. That’s most welcome because it gives us an opportunity to come out more quickly than we otherwise might have done.”

A recovery board has been set up to oversee the improvements, featuring councillors from across South Wales and academics, with a brief to support the council. Estyn has an invitation to attend and observe the meetings but does not sit on the board, said Mr McChrystal.

He said a joint recovery board with Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent, whose education services are also in special measures, is a possibility.

“A joint board could potentially dissipate the focus on what we need,” warned Mr McChrystal.

When asked by Cllr Jeff Rees if he was satisfied with the performance of the EAS in raising standards at Llantarnam School, which is in special measures, Mr McChrystal said he believed Llantarnam could “recover all the ground it has lost”.

Aside from its improvement agenda, Torfaen education service proposed cutting its contribution to jointly-run schools library, music and outdoor education services by 15 per cent, saving £60,000, axing the Civic Centre’s catering facility to save £24,000 and leaving posts unfilled for one month, saving £75,000.

The proposal is part of wider attempts in the council to slash £11.2 million from its 2014/15 budget, and saving £40 million over four years.