Agenda item

Agenda item


To consider a joint report by the Principal Education Manager and GwE’s Secondary Lead (copy attached) detailing the verified performance of Denbighshire’s schools in external examinations at Key Stage 4 and post 16.


10:05 a.m. - 10:45 a.m.


The Lead Member for Education, Children and Young People introduced the joint report of the Principal Education Manager and GwE’s Secondary Lead (previously circulated) which presented the Committee with the verified performance of Denbighshire schools’ external examinations results at Key Stage (KS) 4 and post 16. 


During his introduction the Lead Member advised that the validated statistics presented to the Committee did not differ significantly from the data presented to the Committee in September 2017.  However, the Head of Education and Children’s Services confirmed that since the Committee had considered the provisional data the Welsh Government’s (WG) Cabinet Secretary for Education had issued a statement cautioning local authorities against comparing the 2016/17 academic year external examination results with those of previous years, due to the introduction of the new examinations framework for the 2016/17 year.  Under the new framework neither English nor Welsh Literature qualifications counted towards the Level 2+ (L2+) GCSE Key Performance Indicator (KPI) and there was a 40% cap on any vocational qualifications counting towards L1, L2 and L2+ KPIs.  


The Head of Education and Children’s Services and GwE’s Secondary Lead advised the Committee that whilst it was pleasing to report that Denbighshire had two of the highest performing schools across the North Wales region, Ysgol Brynhyfryd and St. Brigid’s, it also had two of the region’s most challenging schools with respect to the number of pupils entitled to Free School Meals (FSMs) within its county area, Blessed Edward Jones Catholic High School and Rhyl High School, both of whom had in excess of 30% of pupils entitled to FSMs.  Having schools in both these categories accentuated the diverse and complex profile of the county in general, as well as its schools and highlighted the need for intensive targeted specialist support in certain schools.


Nationally the performance data had shown a country-wide dip in performance where there were high levels of deprivation, measured on numbers of pupils entitled to FSM.  The Welsh Government were well aware of this statistic and there was a national debate was taking place with regards to the challenges of the new qualifications for some pupils entitled to FSMs. 


GwE’s Secondary Lead informed members that:

·         it was pleasing to report that Prestatyn High School and St. Brigid’s were both out of Estyn monitoring;

·         the county’s GCSE L2+ performance had been strong for the past 4 years.  However, there had been a dip in performance during 2016/17 which was attributable to the new qualification requiring a higher level of reading and resilience skills.  This aspect had proved difficult for some pupils entitled to FSMs;

·         Welsh first language performance in Denbighshire was amongst the best in the region and in Wales.  The Welsh first language examination paper and assessment had parity with the English Language assessment and examination.  It was interesting that Denbighshire pupils’ strong performance in Welsh first language was not reflected elsewhere in Wales;

·         performance in the English language examination and assessment dipped in 2016/17;

·         the general ‘Science’ qualification disappeared during 2016/17, pupils were now required to sit a specific science subject paper and two mathematical examinations – numeracy mathematics along with a mathematics and science exam; and

·         for ‘A Level’ purposes WG required data to be reported on attainment of 3 A Level at A* to C.  However, Welsh Baccalaureate (Welsh Bacc) statistics were not permitted to be included in this data.  They were reported separately;


The Council’s Principal Education Manager advised the Committee that the Authority was applying consistent strategies in a bid to improve school attendance.  Whilst the Council’s pupil exclusion rates for up to 5 days was one of the highest in Wales there was a reason behind this statistic.  The Authority had taken a conscious decision that all pupils asked not to attend school for a period of 5 days or less should be reported by schools to the Authority as short-term exclusions to enable the Authority to engage with them and ensure that they were not ‘lost’ for the longer term. 


The Council’s performance in relation to fixed-term exclusions (5 days or more) or permanent exclusions was far better, which seemed to indicate that the stringent strategy applied for short-term exclusions, with a view to keeping pupils engaged in education and learning, was working.  A detailed report on Behaviour and Absenteeism Management in the county’s schools was scheduled for presentation to the Committee at its April 2018 meeting.


Responding to Committee members’ questions the Lead Member, Local Authority and GwE Education officers:

·         confirmed that in relation to ‘A’ Level results pupils in the county’s schools gained more 3 A* or A grade results than those who studied in further education colleges, although local college results had improved.  However, students attending the Prestatyn and Rhyl 6th provision consistently performed strongly in their ‘A’ Levels;

·         historically ‘A’ Level results had not been subject to the same level of scrutiny from Estyn as performance at GCSE level.  However, the WG and Estyn would shortly be undertaking a piece of work with a view to establishing better comparative information on ‘A’ Level and Vocational Qualification results;

·         outlined the different strategies used to provide education for pupils who were at risk from disengaging with the education system i.e. Educated other than at school (EOTAS), vocational courses at colleges, pupils with significant additional needs (ALN), Special Educational Needs (SEN), pupils with behavioural problems. In a bid to keep pupils engaged in education and improve their life outcomes bespoke education programmes were devised for them;

·         confirmed that there were a few students in the county which were schooled at home by parental choice,  these children were known to the Council and therefore it could ensure that it fulfilled its safeguarding responsibilities towards them. 

Whilst the Authority had a duty to provide children up to the age of 16 with a statutory education, if parents did not choose to engage with the Council this made it extremely difficult for the Authority to fulfil its educational duties and sometimes to fulfil its safeguarding duties.  However, the Council would always make every effort to fulfil both duties. 

A number of child advocacy organisations had praised Denbighshire’s approach in attempting to engage with hard to reach or disengaged parents/guardians.  It was also important to remember that a number of public bodies and organisations, including health practitioners, had a duty to report any safeguarding concerns to the Police and to local authorities;

·         advised that pupils had to be registered at an examination centre to sit recognised examinations i.e. a school.  The student would only be permitted to sit an exam at whichever centre they had been registered;

·         confirmed that the Authority was confident that all of its pupils were known to the Council and consequently officers knew exactly the type of support each pupil required.  Whilst absenteeism rates were in the main higher at primary and secondary schools in the county’s coastal area it was important to understand that over 35% of the county’s pupils attended these schools and a number of them were subject to deprivation and/or faced severe challenges;

·         advised that whilst WG tended to focus and place increased emphasis on L2, L2+, ‘A’ Level and Level 3 pupil attainment, it was important to remember that for some pupils attaining L1 accreditation was an achievement.  For these pupils L1 was more meaningful and would improve their life outcomes;

·         confirmed that the reporting of attainment in relation to FSM was a WG requirement, but reassured members that individual pupils entitled to FSM were only known unto the school administration staff and county staff for statistical purposes.  Peers would be unaware which pupils were receiving FSMs.  It was also important to remember that being entitled to FSMs did not necessarily mean that a child would struggle to achieve academically, it depended on each individual child’s circumstances and the support available to them at home and at school;

·         explained the new ‘Capped 9 Score’ system which averaged an individual pupil’s performance across his/her best 9 subjects (including English/Welsh language, two mathematical examinations and up to a maximum of two vocational qualifications).  As the WG used this score as a performance measure for attainment, through the stipulation that the 9 best subjects could only include a maximum of 2 vocational qualifications, the Government seemed to be disregarding what was best for the pupil.  It also seemed inconsistent with area 3 of the new Estyn inspection framework which focused on the quality of teaching, breadth, balance and appropriateness of the curriculum, and the provision of skills.  WG was at present examining this inconsistency;

·         explained that whilst the Welsh Bacc was not recognised for WG performance data purposes as either a GCSE or an ‘A’ Level qualification, all schools were required to report pupils’ performance in gaining the qualification.  Nevertheless, an increasing number of universities recognised the Welsh Bacc as an entry level qualification as did the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS);

·         advised that Qualifications Wales was the body that regulated external qualifications.  It decided on the scope of a qualification and the method by which it would be assessed i.e. module based, examination based or a mixture of both;

·         advised that pupils with autism and mental health problems faced a number of challenges in their daily life.  Nevertheless a number of these pupils were high achievers.  The Authority would not wait for an official diagnosis of a pupil’s medical needs before providing the required support.  Intervention strategies and work within schools ensured that appropriate support was provided as soon as needs were identified.  However, the large increase in the number of pupils presenting with mental health problems in recent years was a great concern and consequently required considerable resources to support;

·         advised that governors were being made aware of the impact of bad and disruptive behaviour on other pupils, and the need to reduce class sizes to manage the problem;

·         confirmed that it was pleasing that the Council had included in its new Corporate Plan a priority to support the county’s young people to acquire the skills required to achieve their potential.  Effective careers advice would be crucial to ensure that pupils realised their full potential and to support the Council’s aim of delivering the corporate priority;

·         confirmed that the Education Service did analyse and compare educational attainment on a gender, month of birth, ethnicity etc. basis.  This information was also available with respect of national tests and was used as part of the weighting for the overall performance analysis.  In future analysis would be undertaken on data relating to most able learners in a bid to ensure that they were effectively and regularly challenged to realise their full potential;

·         confirmed that the County’s School Standards Monitoring Group (SSMG) questioned headteachers and chairs of governors on all aspects of their school’s performance - education provision, leadership and management, including financial management.  Whilst county Education Service officers had a strategic knowledge of schools’ performance, the knowledge and information on the strengths and weaknesses of individual schools and the responsibility for managing and addressing them lay with the Headteacher and the Chair of Governors;

·         advised that the new round of Estyn inspections, due to commence in September 2018, would also be examining the quality of leadership in individual schools.  Estyn’s new inspection framework had a far wider scope than the current inspection framework.  Denbighshire’s schools and the Education Authority could potentially perform well under the new framework as one of its strength was its education offer for all pupils rather than a narrow focus on only achieving qualifications; 

·         explained that the County’s Education Service had a key role to play as ‘gatekeepers’ to ensure that no child in the county was failed, to make sure wherever possible that no child became disengaged and classified as ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET) and to ensure that every pupil at the end of their educational journey became economically active and responsible citizens.  Officers were willing to speak up nationally on how Denbighshire viewed the importance of continually engaging with pupils and parents/guardians to ensure that disengagement was not an option;

·         advised that the number of pupils in Denbighshire which had become NEET had fallen from 4% to 1.1%;

·         confirmed that a lot of work had been undertaken by Pubic Health Wales (PHW) on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) on children’s lives and future choices.  Whilst this study identified measures which needed to be taken in order to improve outcomes for children subject to adverse experiences, for them to be successful they needed a multi-agency approach and be owned by all partners.


In response to a number of enquiries raised during the discussion officers agreed to expand the report on Behaviour and Absenteeism Management to be presented to the Committee in April 2018 to include the following aspects:

·         the challenge provided to schools in relation to behaviour and absenteeism;

·         the Council’s obligations and powers with respect to the provision of education to children from the Gypsy and Traveller community;

·         whether there was any evidence that authorised absenteeism affected individual schools’ overall performance;

·         provisions available for parents who wish to take their children for extended visits abroad to attend religious events or to visit family etc. and safeguarding measures the Authority has in place to ensure that all pupils return to full time education following their visits;

·         details of the increase in the number of pupils in the county’s schools presenting with social problems in recent years, and of the work undertaken by Public Health Wales (PHW) on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE); and

·         an overview of the analysis undertaken on any potential correlation between FSM entitlement, school attendance and attainment.


The Scrutiny Co-ordinator reminded the Committee that it had decided at an earlier meeting to invite Headteachers and the Chair of Governors of individual secondary schools, on a periodic basis, to future meetings to discuss with members their progress in delivering their school improvement plans.  The objective of this approach was to provide constructive support to those in charge of schools with a view to improving all aspects of performance, be they academic, financial, managerial, attendance etc.


At the conclusion of the discussion the Committee congratulated pupils at Ysgol Plas Cefndy, the Council’s Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), on their excellent performance in external examinations in 2016/17, and:




(i)           subject to the above observations, to receive the information provided on the performance of schools against previous performance and the external benchmarks currently available;

(ii)          to confirm that, as part of its consideration, it had read, understood and taken account of the Well-being Impact Assessment (Appendix 5); and

(iii)         that invitations be sent to the Headteacher and Chair of Governors of two of the county’s consistently low performing secondary schools to attend a meeting of the Committee in the near future to discuss progress in delivering their school improvement plans


Supporting documents:


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