Cabinet Member – Councillor Cemlyn Williams
To consider a report on the above.
To accept the report and record our thanks to the workforce for their contribution during the last 18 months.
The Managing Director of GwE and his fellow officers, officers from the Education Department and the Head of Ysgol Cefn Coch and Ysgol Talsarnau, the Head of Ysgol Botwnnog and the Head of Ysgol Pendalar, were welcomed to the meeting.
The report of the Cabinet Member for Education was submitted, presenting information to the scrutiny committee on the Well-being and Achievement Gap, including:-
· The impact of COVID on the education of all pupils;
· What plans schools have for the well-being of all pupils
The Cabinet Member set out the context noting that:-
· Although the well-being and achievement gap may have worsened during the pandemic, there was a need to acknowledge that these problems had existed for some years.
· The presence of GwE officers at this meeting underlined the importance of working in partnership with GwE, and that this enabled us to respond positively to this complex problem.
· He was keen for the committee to gain the views of front-line workers, and therefore he was extremely grateful that representatives from the secondary, primary and special sectors were at the meeting to share their experiences.
The Head of Education reiterated the Cabinet Member's comments, and further noted that:-
· The pandemic had been a very challenging time for the schools, and that the Authority, GwE, schools and other partners had collaborated very closely to reduce the problems as far as possible.
· Estyn's report on the extent to which the Authority had been successful in supporting learners during this period was a commendable report, and he was also aware that GwE's Managing Director and his team had also received an equally complimentary report on their work during this period, which again highlighted the collaboration between them.
GwE's Managing Director set out the context for the Renew and Reform Strategy, which supports pupils' well-being and learning across north Wales, with a specific focus on Gwynedd.
A series of presentations were then received from GwE officers, as follows:-
· Assistant Director (Standards) - main headings of the Strategy (Appendix 1)
· Senior Leader - Secondary - a taste of the engagement work with the schools to capture the progress and impact of the action taken to date (Appendix 2)
· Core Leaders - Primary/Secondary - an update on the use and impact of the Accelerated Learning Grant (Appendix 4)
A member noted that one side-effect of the COVID period was the lack of opportunities for pupils to practise oracy and speak with one another, and that the reference in the papers to 'reviving' Welsh oracy and discussion skills underlined that there had been a decline. Given that the main purpose of the Language Charter was to promote informal use of Welsh, it was asked what the role of the Language Charter would be during this period in trying to accelerate learning, and why there was no specific reference to the key work of the Language Charter in the accelerated learning report. In response, it was explained that this report specifically referred to the focus of the grant. Following GwE's presentations, the Authority's officers would elaborate on the partnership work that had taken place between the Authority and GwE, and the Gwynedd Secondary Education Officer's presentation would detail the influence of the Language Charter.
A presentation was received from the Gwynedd Secondary Education Officer on the impact of the COVID period on the Welsh language in schools. In response to the specific question raised regarding the Language Charter, she explained that:-
· The work programme of the county's Language Charter Coordinator and Secondary Language Strategy Coordinator had been looked at, and schools were supported to implement the main priorities of the Language Charter through the work programme of these coordinators.
· By redefining the roles and schemes of work of the language coordinators in each catchment area of the county, and ensuring that the Language Charter Coordinator and Language Strategy Coordinator supported them as line managers, continuity in Welsh-medium education was ensured as pupils transferred back to schools following the lockdown, and as they made the transition from primary to secondary.
· It was also ensured that all the Welsh language cluster plans, which responded to the Welsh language grant, corresponded to the outcomes of the county's Welsh in Education Strategic Plan.
· Collaboration between the primary and secondary sectors was strengthened to ensure linguistic continuity, whilst also responding to local needs which would give Gwynedd pupils more opportunities to use Welsh informally, and in doing so increase the percentage of primary and secondary school children who were confident in using Welsh in their daily lives.
GwE's Managing Director referred to the 'Ein Llais Ni' scheme, which gave schools the opportunity to work with Bangor University and GwE to promote learners' oracy skills, and stated that he would be pleased to report back to the committee on the point raised after the scheme had had a chance to take root.
A member asked whether the strategies and actions referred to in the presentations were working as they should, and making a difference, across Gwynedd. In response, it was explained that:-
· There had been a regional move quite recently in relation to this scheme, in terms of alternative support for schools, and that this had to happen as a result of lessons learned through COVID.
· The third leg was the schools, and their willingness and ability to collaborate.
· Very good work was progressing, not only at county level, but also at catchment area level, led by the Authority and GwE officers. Regular meetings were being held on the support and quality of provision for schools, and also to assess the extent to which this in turn showed appropriate progress.
· It was thought to be early days, if not premature, to evaluate how effective this was at present, but the schools, due to local situations, and the extent to which COVID had impaired their ability to operate at some level of normality, varied depending on the context. However, overall it had been well received by the schools. The collaboration was good and the impact of this work was increasingly apparent going forward.
· Naturally, it was going to be challenging at this time for schools to fully cope with this continuation in the context of the improvement journey, but we were all required to do this. It was hoped that this would be done sensitively and reasonably, and it was believed that we were supporting our schools to the best of our ability, taking the local context into account.
A member noted that it was not possible to be certain what the impact of these schemes would be, as it was early days, and the member looked forward to receiving a report on that. The member also noted that the county's teachers had done a miraculous and heroic job over the past 18 months, putting the children's welfare before their own, and that the committee's appreciation be extended to them for all their work.
A presentation was received from the Dwyfor/Meirion Area Education Officer on the Digital Education Strategy (page 241 of the agenda).
A member noted that the schools and the Authority were to be congratulated for the way in which they had responded to the challenge by providing devices for home learning during the lockdown, and the member looked forward to receiving a further report on the Strategy in due course.
In response to a question, the Dwyfor/Meirion Area Education Officer noted that although it was technically possible for the schools to re-lend devices to children who were home from school suffering from COVID or self-isolating, it was a challenge in some homes where there was not a fast enough broadband connection, or no internet connection at all. Also, although a child who was at home would be able to access class work that falls within the blended learning model, it was not possible to do everything over the digital medium, because of the pressure this would put on the teachers. It was also noted that a supply of MiFi devices was available should the need for distance learning arise again.
A presentation was received from the Assistant Head of ALN and Inclusion on the impact of the COVID period on the ALN&I service (page 242 of the agenda).
It was noted that children were anxious about going back to school and mixing, and the importance of being alert to how the children felt on a daily basis was emphasised.
The Head of Education noted that presentations had been invited from three headteachers, representing the profession as a whole, so that committee members could hear from the front line about the challenges that the schools had, and continued, to face. He thanked the three for giving of their valuable time to address the members, and thanked all the county's headteachers for the work they had done, and continued to do, under extremely challenging circumstances.
Presentations were received from the following:-
· Head of Ysgol Cefn Coch and Ysgol Talsarnau (primary)
· Head of Ysgol Botwnnog (secondary)
· Head of Ysgol Pendalar (special)
The Chair thanked the headteachers for their presentations, noting that hearing from the front line had been an eye-opener for members, and had highlighted the importance of listening to the voices of people from outside. She added that the committee could look at scrutinising some of the issues raised as the years progressed. She also suggested that it would have been beneficial for the committee to have received these presentations at the beginning rather than at the end of the meeting. She further stated that she was pleased to hear that the headteachers received the support of the Authority, and thanked all the schools' staff for all their work for the benefit of the county's children.
During the discussion after the presentations, the following observations were submitted by members:-
· The headteachers were thanked for being so honest about the challenges.
· The Authority and GwE were thanked for the evident collaboration, and for the clear and shrewd guidance given to schools during this difficult time.
· It was suggested that the full Council should hear the presentations of the three headteachers in the near future, so that all councillors understood what had been happening, how the staff had worked so hard through this, and what were the challenges facing schools in the future. In response, the Chair noted that the possibility of giving the presentations to all councillors could be explored.
· Concern was expressed about what financial support would be available to schools in the future, and the need to work together to ensure that schools received the support they deserved for the future was emphasised.
· It was noted that the group most affected by the pandemic was the young people, and that they had been deprived of a key part of their upbringing and their relationships with other people.
· It was noted that although the internet had been a blessing to connect with the pupils, and for the pupils to communicate with their peers, connecting via the internet was not always a pleasant experience, and it was asked if there had been a significant increase in these issues since lockdown. In response, it was noted that no increase had been witnessed in social network problems, and that the problem had calmed down a little in recent years as everyone became more proficient in how to use it wisely. In terms of its use for learning, Hwb created a fairly safe situation for the pupils in terms of online learning and the collaboration between teachers and pupils, and between pupils.
· It was noted that the efforts of the education providers and staff could not be overstated, and that it would be necessary to continue to support them in the future, as the pandemic was not over.
In his closing remarks, the Cabinet Member noted that inviting front-line representatives to address the scrutinisers had been a new development in this committee, and he was keen to extend this, taking into account that the presentations should perhaps come at the beginning rather than at the end of the meeting in future.
RESOLVED to accept the report and record our thanks to the workforce for its contribution during the last 18 months.