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22.03.19

Council to pull out of government schools improvement body over rising costs and ‘major concerns’ over poor management

A Welsh council is to pull out of a government-run schools improvement scheme over concerns about how it is run and fears that the quadrupling of costs could threaten jobs at the local authority.

Neath Port Talbot Council will, subject to a cabinet decision next week, serve notice to withdraw from the ‘Education through Regional Working’ consortium (ERW), with a 12-month notice period.

The Welsh Government established the four regional school improvement consortia in 2012, stating it was “crucial” to driving up standards.

The council has voiced “major concerns” about the consortium and said that whilst it isn’t contemplating its decision lightly, it confirmed its intention to withdraw.

Council leader Rob Jones said: “This council has consistently raised, for well over a year, major concerns about the governance, quality and financial aspects of how the consortium operates.

“It is most regrettable that these issues have not been definitively addressed, leaving us with no choice but to exercise the withdrawal option which will be debated in cabinet next week.”

The chief concerns include a lack of clarity over how funding is allocated and the poor quality of its reports.

The local authority contributed £40,000 to the scheme this year, but this will increase next year to at least £160,000.

The four EWR consortia have an annual budget of £139m which comes from payments from the 22 councils and via the Welsh Government through the Pupil Development Grant.

The National Education Union Cymru has previously questioned the effectiveness of the consortia and suggested it was “time to call time,” whilst another union labelled it bureaucratic.

Peter Rees, the council’s cabinet member for education, leisure and lifelong learning said: “We are not contemplating this decision lightly; but headteachers in our schools have consistently told us about their concerns regarding ERW’s operations and lack of direct benefit to our schools.

“Some good work has been done over the last six months or so within ERW, but the proposal as it stands today is to quadruple our annual contribution to the consortium at a time when we are trying to get every last penny into our classrooms.

“This is not acceptable, particularly at a time of acute pressure on budgets and the major challenge represented by curriculum reform.

“The council also underlined that it had concerns about the increased risk of redundancy for its staff as a consequence of the proposal to divert more core council funding to ERW.”

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