Monday, June 16, 2008

Column, September 25, 2007

AS you read this over the Corn Flakes you may well be looking across the table at a son or daughter, uniform on, ready to go to school.
As a good parent you will take a keen interest in their education, you will have told said son or daughter how important school – happiest days of their lives and clich├ęs like that – having been through it yourself you will be aware that how they do will have a big impact on the rest of their life.
If you are sending your child to a school in Denbighshire you might well be wondering why you bother.
The report, and I have to say it is one of the worst I have everread about an education authority, can be read in full via a link provided by the Daily Post here:
But if you are a parent in Denbighshire, be warned, it makes for grim reading.
Here are a few of the key remarks you might want to contemplate:
“The political leadership of education in the authority is ineffective. At both cabinet level, and in the scrutiny committee, challenges to officers about the performance of the education service are not focused enough. Accountability for the poor performance of the education service and schools is unclear. Overall, the authority has a poor track record in managing change and making improvements in education.”
“The authority does not have an effective planning system for improvement in education.
“The authority places too much emphasis on performance measurement and not enough on performance management.
“The authority has not demonstrated that education and the raising of the standards achieved by all children and young people are its priority.
“There are many important barriers to improving education services in Denbighshire. These barriers impact on all the services inspected.”
Estyn – the school inspection service for Wales – gives grades in its reports, 1 being the best, 4 meaning shortcomings in important areas. In every category bar one Denbighshire got a grade 4, and in the one that wasn’t a 4 they only got a grade 3.
For years people have believed that an education in Wales was a headstart for their child. Education both in Welsh-medium schools and in English was excellent and parents believed they were doing the best of their children sending them to state schools here.
And for the most part they were justified in that belief – but not in Denbighshire.
Now people there is talk of a whole generation of children whose education has been ruined by the mismanagement by the education authority.
How does an education authority allow a situation to develop like this without someone, somewhere saying ‘hang on, this isn’t right, we’re letting these children down.’
And by someone, I mean someone whose responsibility it is to get things right and who has the power to do so – that means councillors and senior officers within the authority.
I’m sure that teachers and head teachers in the trenches had been warning of the problems they were facing for a long time, but change cannot be imposed from the bottom up, leadership need to come from above.
In a masterpiece of understatement education minister Jane Hutt wrote to council leader Rhiannon Hughes saying she was ‘very concerned’ at the findings of the estyn report. Not as concerned as those of you packing your kids off to a Denbighshire school this morning I’ll wager.
She has the power to intervene in the running of the education authority, but has decided not to at this time. It makes you wonder just how bad things have to get before she would intervene, perhaps that solitary grade 3 has to drop to a 4 so Denbighshire has the full-house of bottom grades.
She has said she will intervene if she is not satisfied with the progress that is being made. That’s all well and good, but she should know that parents of children attending these schools will not allow her the luxury of a lot of time to make these improvements. They are going to want to see results fast, and they are completely justified in that desire.
Education, education, education was the promise of New Labour when it was elected in 1997 and its central to the policies of Plaid Cymru who regard it as a ‘fundamental right.’
Both parties need to do more than just trust Denbighshire to get it right from now on, the children of the county deserve better than that.

I’VE always been a fan of Charlotte Church.
I’ve not always been keen on the fact that when summing up Wales, as English meda types are wont to do, she gets wheeled out as illustration along with Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Treorchy Male Voice Choir.
But what I liked about her was a dogged determination to do things her way, in spite of the brickbats being hurled in her direction, usually by London-based critics who did not know quite how to deal with a Welsh woman with a bit of attitude who could not give two figs what they thinks and write about her (and I’m guessing Charlotte would use a different phrase to ‘two figs’ there)
So it’s congratulations to Charlotte and Gavin Henson on the arrival of their baby daughter.
Pleased to see too that Charlotte has gone for a home birth. Wales is leading the way in promoting home births – a system which is already widespread in other parts of Europe, but which for some reason the UK has lagged behind in adopting.
We don’t know the baby’s name as a six-figure magazine deal hangs on upon baby being revealed for the first time somewhere else. Good luck to them, rugby careers and celebrity can be short-lived and now there are three mouths to feed.


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