Agenda item

Agenda item


To review the performance of schools and that of looked after children.



The Lead Member for Education, Children and Young People introduced the Principal Education Manager and GwE Secondary Lead’s joint report (previously circulated). The report provided the Committee with information on the verified Teacher Assessment results from Foundation Phase (FP) to Key Stage 3 (KS3) and the provisional Key Stage 4 (KS4) examination results for Denbighshire’s pupils during the 2017/18 Academic Year. 


During his introduction the Lead Member highlighted the fact that the attainment threshold for attaining grade ‘C’ in the English GCSE examination in the summer of 2018 had been increased by 20 points compared to the previous year.  Consequently a total of 107 pupils in Denbighshire who, based on the 2017 scoring threshold, had been predicted to attain a ‘C’ grade in their English examination in the summer of 2018 had actually only been awarded a ‘D’ grade – across the GwE region a total of 700 pupils had been affected. 


The Lead Member advised that all local education authorities in North Wales and GwE had raised their concerns about the disproportionate increase in the English GSCE threshold compared to other subjects and the detrimental effect it was having on pupils with the Welsh Government (WG).  Education officials were currently seeking legal advice on the matter.


The Council’s Head of Education and Children’s Services (HoE&CS) advised members that the report was presented in a different format to previous years to comply with WG requirements.  As National comparative attainment data for education key stages was no longer published there was no expectation on local education authorities to benchmark themselves against other authorities - although the regional education consortia could compile regional comparative data sets if they wished. 


The HoE&CS advised that outcomes as the end of Key Stage 2 (KS2) had remained solid, a position which had been held for a number of years and which Estyn had acknowledged in its recent report following its inspection of the Council’s education service. 


Whilst the dip in performance at KS4 was a cause for concern it was important to bear in mind the reasons why this had happened and to have regard to the findings and conclusions of the Estyn Inspection of the Council’s Education Service which had been extremely positive.  Estyn was expected to make favourable references to Denbighshire’s education services in its Director’s Annual Report, due to be published in December 2018.


Appendix 1 to the report contained the draft joint report with GwE on educational performance in Denbighshire.  The format and structure for this report had been agreed across the region to ensure that the same type of information was reported to all local authorities and in the same format.


The Committee was advised that:

·         whilst Denbighshire pupils’ performance at the FP had decreased slightly during the assessment period under consideration, the dip in performance had been less than that recorded both regionally and nationally. This dip in performance was mainly attributed to more challenging outcome descriptors being used when assessing outcomes in language and mathematics;

·         KS2 results had continued to improve as expected as in previous years.  Looking ahead the Council and GwE had identified a need to tackle the impact of deprivation on educational attainment, as well as how to support high achievers as part of their primary education focus for the future;

·         performance remained strong at KS3 and remained broadly in line with national performance.  Denbighshire pupils’ performance against the Core Subjects Indicator (CSI) had been good despite a slight decrease in mathematical performance.  This was attributed to the fact that there had been a slight increase in performance in English and a significant increase in pupils’ performance in Welsh.  Officers acknowledged that schools needed to change the way they challenged and used KS3 data in order to secure continual improvement.  In addition, more work was required in relation to improving the performance of pupils in receipt of free school meals (FSM) against the CSI;

·         due to the changes introduced to the KS4 examinations process during 2016-17 the performance data remained subject to a significant amount of volatility, hence the reason why there had been a dip nationally in performance in the summer 2018 examinations.  This dip had been further compounded by the significant change in the attainment threshold for English and mathematics for the summer 2018 examination, and the limitation of only one Science subject to be included in the Capped 9 score.  Whilst Denbighshire’s decrease in performance against the Capped 9 score of minus 10.4 seemed at face value to be significant, given the context of the changes introduced to the external examination system during recent years the decrease in performance was understandable.  Denbighshire’s Education Service was very proactive in both challenging and developing new indicators and would therefore challenge the effectiveness of the new set of indicators;

·         Denbighshire’s schools were focussed on supporting each individual pupil to achieve and to realise their full potential.  The Authority and its schools viewed all pupils as equals who were entitled to receive appropriate support in order to ensure they succeeded to the best of their ability.  A quality acknowledged by Estyn; and

·         to attain a Grade ‘C’ in the English GCSE examination in the Summer of 2017 a student was required to score 200 points, for the November 2017 examination the threshold had increased to 206.  However, by the summer of 2018 it transpired that the threshold had increased to 220, without any prior notification to education authorities or schools.  The WJEC, the Examinations Board, had adopted a similar approach to the mathematics GCSE examination.  All Directors of Education in North Wales, GwE and head teachers agreed that this was unfair and inconsistent with previous practice, but despite concerns being raised with both the WJEC and Qualifications Wales no satisfactory answer had been received.  Consequently, the Lead Member had raised these concerns with the WG’s Cabinet Minister for Education seeking her to hold an inquiry. 

Such significant changes in threshold boundaries made it extremely difficult for teachers to be able to support pupils through the examination process.  As all local authority schools in Wales were obliged to enter their pupils for WJEC examinations - and could not enter them for examinations administered by other examination boards - pupils could be disadvantaged when competing for further and/or higher education places against pupils from England and/or independent schools.  Whilst there was no indication that the WJEC or Qualifications Wales were going to reconsider the 2018 gradings it was important, having regard to the changes yet to be implemented to the examinations system, that such significant threshold changes were not introduced in future without prior notification. 


GwE’s Secondary Lead requested that his personal gratitude to Denbighshire Head of Education and Children’s Services and the Department’s staff for standing up for the county’s schools and speaking up for the pupils be recorded.  In his view it was encouraging that they ensured that the county and the region’s voices were being heard on a national basis.


Responding to members’ questions the Lead Member, Head of Education and Children’s Service, Principal Education Manager and GwE’s Secondary Lead:

·         assured members that the Service could ‘track’ each individual pupil’s progress and attainment throughout their education period.  The data held on each pupil included information on any challenges which may affect their educational performance; be that medical, physical, mental or home environment pressures.  That level of detail helped the Council ensure that appropriate and timely intervention and support could be offered to the pupil, and if necessary the family, to help each child realise their full potential.  Members were advised to contact officers if they wished to see the type of data used by the Service to ‘track’ each pupil;

·         advised that one of Denbighshire’s strengths was that it could ‘track’ the performance of pupils who were educated other than at schools (EOTAS).  It included these pupils in its performance data, not all authorities included EOTAS data in their returns.  As the Council was aware of EOTAS pupils it could monitor their progress, provide support if required and comply with its safeguarding duties and reduce the risk of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).  Some local authorities did not include their EOTAS pupils in their returns, therefore if they did end their education without a qualification this was not reflected in their data returns.  However, home schooled pupils were not included in the results data, as there was no requirement to include them, but Denbighshire was aware of who they were;

·         confirmed that the Foundation Phase Assessment Framework Areas of Learning (AoL) in relation to language, literacy, communication and mathematics was proving to be useful for the Authority, as it assisted the Education Service to identify learning barriers at an earlier stage and enabled it to provide appropriate intervention early on in a pupil’s education journey.   The Education Service had worked with the Health Service on a piece of work focussing on deprived areas, that had highlighted that speech and language development problems were more prevalent in areas of high deprivation;

·         agreed that the absence of comparable data for benchmarking purposes was disappointing.  Nevertheless, it was hoped that some comparative information would be available by the time the verified results were due to be scrutinised;

·         confirmed that there was a risk that the KS4 data for 2019 could also be distorted, similar to the situation in 2018, due to the Science qualification being reviewed;

·         advised that the term ‘Welsh first language’ applied to those pupils who received their education via the Welsh medium education system in the county, be they from Welsh speaking homes or otherwise.  Denbighshire was currently performing well in relation to Welsh language skills in both the Welsh medium sector and in Welsh second language sector.  With the introduction of the new curriculum Welsh as a second language would cease and all pupils would be assessed on Welsh first language skills;

·         emphasised that the Free School Meals indicator was a crude performance indicator used to gauge the level of deprivation and the support required at a school.  It varied between schools.  Local analysis of this indicator was key to ensure that each child was provided with the correct level of support to meet their specific needs;

·         advised that there were approximately 44 pupils across the county’s schools whose behaviour was having an adverse impact on other pupils.  The Authority was working with the Police, colleges and other stakeholders to support these pupils and address the issues which caused them to behave badly.  This was an extremely complex area of work, which required a medium and long-term approach as well as the involvement of a number of different agencies as these pupils generally were not engaging with the wider community;

·         confirmed that the composition and role of the Schools Standards Monitoring Group (SSMG) was currently under review;

·         explained that whilst the local authority tracked each pupil’s progress regularly in order to adequately support them to attain their projected grades, it had no prior knowledge that the WJEC was intending to increase the threshold for a ‘C’ grade to 80 for mathematics and 220 for English.  That may potentially have affected some pupils’ post 16 options, particularly in relation to apprenticeships. 

School sixth forms and colleges were aware of the problem caused by the increase in threshold and had consequently relaxed their entry criteria to enable pupils to re-sit the examinations with a view to gaining the required grades, bearing in mind that the increase in the points required to gain a ‘C’ grade would also entail an increase in ‘B’ and ‘A’ grade thresholds;

·         confirmed that the Council did have responsibilities with respect of gypsy and traveller families and children.  Once the Authority had been alerted that a gypsy or traveller family had moved into the area the Education Safeguarding Officer would visit the family to offer support and guidance.  The Authority did have residential gypsy and traveller children being educated in the county’s schools.  Whilst it often proved challenging to persuade travelling families to enrol their children in a local school and make every effort to ensure they attended, the specialist officer was very experienced and did encourage families to engage with the education system; and

·         agreed that some comparative data would be provided with the verified results report in early 2019, but members were very welcome to visit the Service on an individual basis to go through data and see how they used the data available to challenge schools and to arrange appropriate support for pupils.


At the conclusion of the discussion the Committee


Resolved: - subject to the above observations –


(i)           to acknowledge the performance of schools against previous performance, and support the areas identified for improvement;

(ii)          that a letter be sent on the Committee’s behalf to Qualifications Wales registering members’ concerns and disappointment in relation to the significant increase in the ‘C’ grade threshold for the summer 2018 GCSE English examination in comparison to the 2017 threshold, and its consequential adverse effect on students; and

(iii)             that the report scheduled for presentation to the Committee in January 2019 on the Verified External Examination Results include actual numbers as well as percentage figures, and where possible regional comparative data, along with data on absenteeism and exclusions rates at each of the County’s school. 


Supporting documents:


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