LESSONS can be learnt from secondary schools currently in special measures to prevent it happening again, said the leader of Torfaen council.

Cllr Anthony Hunt outlined what the council was doing to improve education standards in the borough as he sat down with the South Wales Argus, alongside the executive member for education, Cllr David Yeowell, and Torfaen council’s chief officer for education, Dermot McChrystal.

Two secondary schools are in special measures in Torfaen - Cwmbran High School and Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw - while Cllr Yeowell, executive member for education, narrowly avoided the sack after a motion to dismiss was tabled by opposition councillors in July.

Cllr Hunt said the council needed to learn lessons from the primary schools in the borough – 21 of which were categorised in the green or yellow bandings.

“We need to be self aware, and realise there is work to do – especially in secondary schools,” he said.

“I think we can learn lessons from the work in primary schools, especially with the importance of leadership in schools.

“We have had some great success stories in schools that were facing issues but then started really flying,” he said.

Mr McChrystal said headteachers from primary schools were being used to help improve standards in struggling secondary schools – by taking places on boards of governors and intervention boards.

“All of our secondary schools are within a cluster of primary schools, and the vast majority of those are doing really well,” he said.

“We have built in to our method of working To help those schools move up from being in Estyn monitoring, we have those primary head teachers share what lessons they have learned – it’s the same pupils after all.

“We work really closely with our primary and secondary schools when they have been in Estyn monitoring – for example with West Mon or Abersychan, we had primary school heads on the board of governors and intervention boards.

“When you look at when our schools have been in an Estyn follow-up category, we are seeing a good progress in the majority of cases.

“Of course, we don’t want our schools to get in to difficulty, but we are building on our work with these clusters of schools and maximising our schools have been in an Estyn follow-up category, we are seeing a good progress in the majority of cases.

“Of course, we don’t want our schools to get in to difficulty, but we are building on our work with these clusters of schools and maximising the lessons we can learn from them.

“We have also been engaging with a number of universities doing research and working with head teachers outside the region looking at what are the best practices.

“That informs what happens in schools every day and gives us that focus on how we can improve.”

As well as offering that support for schools, Cllr Hunt said the council were committed to continuing to invest into the borough’s schools

“We can point to £90m capital spent on 21st Century schools, shared between us and the Welsh Government,” he said. “We have put our money where our mouth is in terms of capital – and also in terms of revenue.

“Our budgets have been reduced by £25m in real terms over the last decade and we have had to make £50m worth of savings but we have kept trying to prioritise school funding as part of that. We have really ground out as much as we can for schools.

“I remember visiting schools 15-20 years ago visiting schools and being downbeat as they weren’t fit for the 21st century.

“At the end of the day, it’s good leadership and teaching in schools which make the difference, but if the teachers haven’t got the space or facilities to teach quality lessons it makes things a lot more difficult.

“Whatever extra money the Welsh Government can find for us, that will be put in to the budgets of schools so they have more resources to put in to teaching and learning.”

In July, opposition members called for Cllr Yeowell’s dismissal after serious concerns were expressed about the borough’s secondary schools.

The motion was defeated, with 13 councillors voting in favour of dismissing Cllr Yeowell while 21 voted against, and Cllr Hunt reiterated he had full faith in his executive member for education.

“[The opposition] have the right to hold the council to account,” he said. “In the meeting we had in July, the majority of that meeting was exactly the discussion we should be having.

“What can we do to make things different? What can we do to improve things where things need to be improved? That’s the debate that’s completely legitimate, and the more of that, the better.

“If they have ideas of what they would do differently, then I’m all ears, and David and Dermot are all ears as well.

“Where I found it disappointing is where it gets into the game-playing and personalisation, as that doesn’t do a job to make any schools performance any better.

“I see week-in week-out the work of David and Dermot. If I thought for a second they weren’t either committed to that, or they weren’t able to build on that progress, then I would have no hesitation in appointing different people.

“But I think they are, they’re committed, they look at the evidence, and they face up to the challenge. If we sat here and tried to say everything is perfect, then I would be very concerned.”

Despite two secondary schools being in special measures, the council believed progress was being made in the borough.

Mr McChrystal said: “Although we are not where we want to be at the moment, we have seen improvement with GCSE results and with A-level results. That is heartening.

“But it is the pace of improvement is the issue at the moment. Your children don’t get two goes at secondary school, so that pace is key so every learner can have confidence in their schools.

“One set of results doesn’t mean everything is fine, but it’s a good place to build on.”