POWYS LIB DEMS CALL FOR PAUSE IN SCHOOLS TRANSFORMATION PROCESS PENDING REVIEW OF IMPACT OF COVID-19


The Welsh Liberal Democrat Group on Powys County Council has today tabled a Motion to be debated at the County Council meeting on 3rd March requesting the Council’s Cabinet to delay implementation of current school closure decisions for one year to allow time for a comprehensive review of the assumptions underpinning the schools transformation programme.

The Group, currently the largest party group on the council, is concerned that the entire consultation process on the transformation strategy was undertaken prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and may be based on outdated assumptions about how closely individual schools are working together within a cluster.
“We are not today judging the decisions that the Cabinet has made,” commented Welsh Liberal Democrat Group Leader and Leader of the Opposition, Cllr James Gibson-Watt (Glasbury). “But as anyone who has undertaken a major business overhaul knows if there are major changes to your market conditions mid-process then you pause and re-evaluate before moving forward. In our mind the pandemic has been just such a change.”
Cllr Jake Berriman (Llandrinodod North) continued:-
“In the recent scrutiny review of the pandemic response, we were told that there had been major improvements to cluster working and that schools were now actively self-supporting. During the scrutiny of the draft 2022/23 Budget, we have been told that external support to schools is now needed at a much-reduced level. Then in a recent Council Members’ briefing, the Head of a newly-created all-through school in Powys stated his main regret was that all the primaries in the cluster had not been included in the ‘merger’. These are major changes to the ways our schools operate but the idea of an all though cluster school on multiple sites was not considered in any of the current processes.”
“That is why we are bringing this Motion forward. The current Cabinet is on course to expose the new Cabinet to be formed after the May elections to two costly Judicial Reviews and it is our duty as a responsible Opposition to protect the public purse if we believe the Council is going down an inappropriate route. Other members may or may not agree but it is vital that as this is a decision of generational significance at the very least alternative voices and views should be aired and debated.”
End
Text of submitted motion

Council notes
1 The focus of Estyn on concerns about the performance of the authority in delivering for Powys Secondary Schools in its 2019 report
2 The consultation and briefing sessions that were undertaken prior to Feb 2020 to establish the current schools transformation programme
3 The presentation by the headteacher from Dolgellau as part of the transformation consultation conference on the benefits of cluster schools in rural areas
4 The major changes to the way schools have worked during the Covid pandemic
5 The recent comments of a Powys Secondary Head of an all-through school to council members reflecting that whilst an all through school was working he wished he could have extended the benefits by including all primary schools in the cluster
6 That the Council is about to embark on developing a new local development plan as the current one has failed to bring forward the number of properties in urban areas that it was expected to
Council Believes
1 Successful transformation programmes are ones that take stock of their direction if there are major societal or business changes which may change the model of proposed service delivery
2 That the Covid pandemic represents such a fundamental change whose impact is only now starting to become clear in the Powys housing market with a resultant demographic impact.
3 That the close working developed within school clusters over the past 24 months means that large parts of the basis for change that underpins the current transformation programme,
particularly in relation to delivery of the new curriculum, may have been superseded by changes to ways of working on the ground
4 That the cluster school model as outlined at the transformation conference, which received cross-party support as the basis for change, has not been properly tested as a way forward in any of the current transformation proposals, leaving the Council vulnerable to Judicial Review in respect of the Welsh Government’s Rural Schools policy within the Schools Organisation Code
5 That in the absence of this information Cabinet may have made decisions which with additional briefings they would wish to reconsider.
Council, therefore, requests Cabinet to
1 Implement a 1-year delay to the implementation of all current closure proposals that have been approved by Cabinet over the past 18 months.
2 To request the transformation team to undertake a comprehensive review of the assumptions underpinning the programme in respect of changes made to ways of working within clusters during the Covid Pandemic
3 To request the transformation team to undertake a comprehensive review of the cluster school model that was proposed at the transformation conference, which will assist in the development of secondary and post-19 provision, but which has not been considered in any of the subsequent proposals.
4 That both reports are published before the end of the summer academic term and are made available for discussion by full council and scrutiny before existing decisions are either reconfirmed or abandoned during the autumn term 2022 for implementation at the end of the academic year.
Cost implications
The proposers of the motion believe that whilst the relatively small savings identified by the closures of several schools will be deferred by one academic year, these savings will be more than offset by the Council foregoing the expenses involved in preparing for and defending either of the proposed Judicial Reviews, even if they are rejected at an early stage in the process

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