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Wales Audit Office - Foundations are being laid for regional school improvement services in Wales

Despite signs of progress some weaknesses are still hindering the pace of further development.

Reports released recently by the Auditor General for Wales and Estyn conclude that after an uncertain start, the foundations for four regional school improvement services are now being established. 

In 2011, the Welsh Government announced it wanted local authorities to provide school improvement services through four regional education consortia. The consortia have been developing since then and from 2014 have been following the Welsh Government’s ‘National Model for Regional Working’. Teams for the Auditor General and Estyn, who worked jointly together, looked at whether the Welsh Government’s approach to regional consortia, the governance of the consortia and the services they provide are likely to deliver the intended improvement in support to schools and contribute to raising attainment in Wales.

The reports found that schools are beginning to benefit from the services provided by the consortia. However, there is uncertainty around both the role and purpose of consortia. They also found that there has been a lack of medium-term planning, insufficient focus on value for money and weaknesses in governance in the consortia.

Fieldwork for both reports took place between August 2014 and January 2015 with the four consortia still at an early stage in the implementation of the National Model. The Auditor General’s report found that the Welsh Government and regional consortia were both demonstrating a commitment to the Model, at this early stage, and that there are signs of positive challenge being provided to schools. The Welsh Government, local authorities, consortia, and schools all have key roles to play and need to collaborate more effectively to review progress. The report also found that the financial objectives of the Welsh Government are not clear and there is a lack of focus on assessing value for money throughout the system.

The Estyn report notes a gradual improvement in pupil attainment across all four regions in Wales although this cannot be solely attributed to the development of consortia. Through the work of regional consortia, schools are being challenged more rigorously about their current performance. However, regional consortia are less effective in ensuring that schools get the support they need to improve. None of the consortia has a coherent strategic approach to reducing the impact of deprivation on attainment.

The Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan-Thomas said ‘While I am pleased to see that progress is being made in establishing effective educational challenge in Wales there is still work to be done before we can fully understand the benefits of this approach. In undertaking the study at this early stage we hope that the findings will help shape the successful development of the consortia and help outcomes for children and young people in Wales.’

Meilyr Rowlands, Chief Inspector of Education and Training in Wales said ‘It is encouraging to see that schools are beginning to benefit from the work of the regional consortia although there is still some way to go to catch up with other nations. The report has identified a number of areas for improvement. I am pleased to say that the regional consortia responded well to the feedback from the fieldwork team and are already addressing many of the issues raised in the report.’

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