To receive and analyse the final report and recommendations of the Coombes School Task and Finish Group.
The Chairman explained that this report referred to the Coombes Primary School only, and that no mention of names would be made during the discussion. The Chairman pointed out that most schools in the Borough were good or outstanding and wished to recognise the good work being undertaken by Headteachers and other educators around the Borough.
Councillor John Kaiser, Chairman of the Coombes Task and Finish Group presented the report. He went through the report in detail, highlighting the following points:
· The Task and Finish Group had been set up as a request of Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee in June 2016. The Group was composed of six cross party Members and had held six meetings;
· The Coombes School had been rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted that the Group wanted to understand the reasons for this unsatisfactory result in order to prevent the same from happening to other schools in the Borough;
· These were the purposes of the review:
o To identify the reasons that led the Coombes School current situation;
o To identify the Local Authority’s level of involvement with the school and to find out what could have been done to avoid the current situation;
o To identify what lessons could be learnt to prevent the same happening to other schools in the Borough;
o To propose that a mechanism is developed to keep local ward Members informed if a school in their ward is in danger of falling standards.
· The Group concluded that the inability to recruit a permanent full time Headteacher had been the main cause of the Coombes School deterioration. The lack of secure leadership was also the main criticism in the Ofsted report;
· The Headteacher recruitment process could be strengthened and a set of guidelines should be drawn up by the Local Authority to help schools through the process;
· Governors should not rely solely on agencies to check candidates’ references;
· The Group found that the Headteachers’ nomenclature used (consultant, interim, executive, acting) caused confusion and uncertainty as to who was leading the school. It was important to have more clarity around the Headteachers’ title;
· Pre-warning letters issued by the Local Authority should be circulated to the home addresses of:
o All governors
o Church representative
o Local ward Members
· The Group found that more clarity around the role of the School Improvement Officer was needed, and that an improvement plan should be drawn up for schools causing concern;
· The Group recommended that all meetings involving Headteachers, governors and Local Authority Officers should have minutes taken;
Councillor Kaiser read out the recommendations which were listed on pages 24 and 25 of the Agenda. The Chairman clarified that the recommendations contained in the report were aimed at schools that were underperforming.
Councillor Charlotte Haitham Taylor, Executive Member for Children’s Services was invited to comment on the report. Councillor Haitham Taylor stated that she valued the professional service of the review; however she felt that the investigation was incomplete. Since 2015 most schools in Wokingham Borough had achieved good results, with 88% of primary and 89% of secondary schools judged good or better in inspections. Ofsted had commented positively on Wokingham Borough’s schools’ improvement.
Councillor Haitham Taylor stated that there was a clear strategy for school improvement, and the work of the school improvement officer was understood and valued.
Councillor Haitham Taylor stated that governors’ training was already very strong in the Local Authority. She praised the work undertaken by all governors across the Borough.
Councillor Haitham Taylor regretted that the report had been made public before Children’s Services Officers had an opportunity to comment on it.
The following points were made during the discussion of the report:
· Councillor Rowland stated that it was very difficult to recruit Headteachers. She stated that she was a governor at a school where it had taken a whole year to appoint a suitable Headteacher. There had not been many suitable candidates available;
· Councillor Miall stated that Wokingham Borough Council was responsible for schools’ educational outcomes, therefore it was justified that the Local Authority should get involved in the Headteacher recruitment process, including undertaking checks to feed back to governors;
· The Chairman confirmed that one of the recommendations was that a telephone call should be made to follow up references of prospective candidates;
· Councillor Blumenthal asked what were the reasons for the initial pre-warning letter issued in 2014. Judith Ramsden, Director of People Services stated that she would not comment on those issues relating to the Coombes School as it was not appropriate to talk in relation to individuals, but was prepared to answer in more general terms. Judith stated that there were a number of data sources both formal and informal which were used to triangulate a view as to schools’ performance and functioning which would be used to create conversations with schools’ leaders and or as appropriate pre warning letters. Information such as pupils progress data, management of the budget, HR information and issues, complaints that may be routed through the Local Authority of Ofsted at the same time or parallel to the schools own complaints procedure. Judith emphasised that there were different ways to understand and appraise the quality of school leadership;
· Councillor Swaddle stated that in her experience as a governor, the guidance and training provided to governors by Children’s Services was very good. Judith confirmed that this was not an area of concern.
The Chairman stated that the Wokingham Borough Council’s Constitution did not require that reports and recommendations arising from task and finish group reviews be submitted to Officers before their publication. The Chairman proposed that the Coombes School Task and Finish Group meet once more to formulate an action plan to be submitted to the next Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee for final approval. The senior Officers and the Lead Member for Children’s Services would be invited to attend and put forward their comments.
Councillor Miall stated that he felt it refreshing to read a report before Officers were able to make amendments. Judith replied that Children’s Services had a history of being transparent and the idea that Officers would make defensive amendments did not correlate with the service’s approach. Judith felt that it would have been a better use of time if her team had been able to comment and make amendments. Judith believed an action plan could have been already drawn up and agreed at this meeting. Judith believed the report contained inaccuracies and was concerned that this had been made public. Judith referenced the Ofsted annual report published in December 2016, within which the national context is set out. The report illustrates the percentages of Wokingham’s schools that are good or better and the impact of school improvement services. Judith offered to make the report available to Members.
1) the Coombes School Task and Finish Group would meet with the Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services and senior Children’s Services Officers to agree an action plan;
2) the action plan would be brought back to the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee for final approval.