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Posted by: John Brace | 2nd September 2014

Councillors discuss schools, free school meals and 4 Wirral schools in special measures

Councillors discuss schools, free school meals and 4 Wirral schools in special measures

                                 

Last night’s meeting of Wirral Council’s Attainment sub-committee started off well enough. Before the hour of six o’clock had even been reached, Cllr Moira McLaughlin was chomping at the bit to be made Chair. As there was only one Conservative councillor present and many, many Labour councillors, it was hardly likely she wouldn’t become Chair.

The Labour councillors then agreed to Cllr Wendy Clements being Vice-Chair.

The Chair, Cllr Moira McLaughlin pointed out that Cllr Alan Brighouse wasn’t present, but decided to continue the meeting anyway. To be perfectly honest I’m glad as if every meeting waited until Cllr Alan Brighouse was present things would never start on time as like another councillor he has a reputation for poor timekeeping.

Apologies were given for Julia Hassall who would be late. Declarations of interest were given as some councillors were school governors.

The minutes were agreed. The Chair said that the main thrust of the meeting would be a presentation from Deborah Gornik (who wasn’t there). The Chair was informed that Deborah Gornik would also be late as she (and presumably Julia Hassall) were “at another meeting”. Were they meeting each other? What was this other meeting about? Who knows?

The one officer (apart from the one taking the minutes) that had turned up on time, Sue Talbot gave her report on standards (which is not often a word you hear at public meetings of Wirral Council).

However this was about standards of education for at the Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 level, with a focus on raising standards and what happened to the education of those in local authority care (adopted or fostered). The phrase “good news story” was repeated by Sue Talbot many times.

Cllr Alan Brighouse was the first to speak and used words like “pretty fantastic improvement” followed up by a question about falls in numbers of children eligible for free school meals. The answer given was that the eligible benefits for people for apply for free school meals had changed which partly explained the drop and in answer to a further question that the officer preferred to use numbers of children rather than percentages.

The Lib Dem spokesperson (as the only Lib Dem he’s therefore the spokesperson) continued to talk about primary schools becoming academies (at this point I wondered if he was going to explicitly mention Lyndale). Sue replied that Wirral Council still had legal duties towards academies and mentioned the academy representatives on the Wirral Schools Forum and Sue went on to say the good relationship that Wirral Council has with primary schools (which if you’ve been following the Lyndale story is a matter of opinion).

Cllr Wendy Clements then asked about floor targets, the officer replied that no schools triggered all four triggers but they had banded schools (sound familiar?) and there were four schools in band four… followed up by her favourite phrase again “good news story”. Cllr Clements asked a follow up question and the answer given was that they were keen to track children who come out of care but admitted that sometimes they don’t keep an eye on those children.

Cllr Moira McLaughlin asked a question about whether children subject to care orders were monitored. The officer replied not yet, but said that once the virtual headteacher role was shared that id would help. Cllr Walter Smith asked about intervention strategies. Sue Talbot gave a detailed reply going into detail about how two of her team concentrated on early years, one on english and one on maths. She said that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate had highlighted a problem they had with British working class boys and went into detail as to what her team does.

Cllr Walter Smith asked if nursery provision had any effect on children going into primary school. The answer given was yes as long as it was good quality. Cllr Tony Norbury referred to his work as a school governor and asked how the changes to school meals in primary schools would affect free school meals? The officer answered that schools were proactive at doing this as it led to additional funding through the pupil premium for them. Cllr Tony Norbury asked two follow up questions, to which the answers were “too early to tell” and “pupil’s circumstances change”.

Cllr Phillip Brightmore asked about free school meals too. The answer given was that how they encouraged people from September could be different as all infants would get free school meals. The councillor referred to the table and referred to the Wirral West figures. Sue Talbot referred to “pockets of deprivation” in Wirral West in her answer. He then brought up the results for Pensby High. Sue Talbot said that the results might change as the school had sent the whole cohort back for remarking therefore the figures were provisional.

Cllr Tony Norbury asked about English as a second language and the strategies there. Sue Talbot referred to the Ethnic Minority Achievement Service and how they need to support schools, however kids with English as a second language seemed to be better at phonics that people who had English as their mother tongue. She referred to Polish teaching assistants and Urdu speakers.

The Chair Cllr Moira McLaughlin moved the meeting to item 8 (OFSTED reports). Sue Talbot gave a brief introduction and talked about the four schools that were being monitored by OFSTED due to previously poor inspections. One was becoming an academy so would not be in special measures due to this as special measures status disappeared when a school became an academy.

Cllr Phillip Brightmore pointed out that such things “doesn’t help the kids”. Cllr Wendy Clements referred to a “clean start” followed by a comment by Cllr Alan Brighouse.

The officer explained that new academies were given twelve months to become established. A further inspection could happen any time after twelve months. There was an academy planned to start on the 1st September, but it hadn’t happened but the school had changed its name to Kingsway Academy. The delay had been caused due to complexities caused by the PFI contract.

At this point nearly half an hour into the meeting (at agenda item 8 out of 9), the Director of Children’s Services Julia Hassall and Deborah Gornik arrived.

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