Special scrutiny meeting called by Walsall councillors

Inquiry into education standards to be held.

 Cllr. Barbara Cassidy

Cllr. Barbara Cassidy

Labour councillors in Walsall are demanding a root and branch examination of education standards amid fears that up to another six schools may be placed in special measures, only weeks after a local academy and primary were described as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.

Councillor Barbara Cassidy, the chair of the Children and Young People’s Services scrutiny panel, is calling a special meeting in January to be held in private session to allow members to have a ‘no holds barred’ discussion. Holding the meeting in private will allow honest debate while avoiding stigmatising schools, which can harm children’s future prospects.

The meeting is timed to allow the committee to publish its findings alongside key stage exam results which will be made public in the new year. Cllr Cassidy said the move was part of Walsall Labour’s determination to see sustained improvements in education services, part of its commitment to voters at next May’s local elections.

She added: “Since becoming a councillor ten years ago I, and my fellow Labour members, have argued for greater support to schools which are struggling but some of those same schools are still failing children; this simply cannot be allowed to continue.”

“Walsall is not achieving the required standards. In the schools themselves there is an incredible amount of hard work being done by teachers, parents and the children but within the council, too often there has been an attitude of ‘that’s good enough’. This is shown in primary education where currently only 51 out of 81 schools are rated as being good or better (63%) meaning 30 schools require immediate improvement.”

Cllr Cassidy added the recent ending of the Serco contract and the transfer of education services back to the local authority meant Walsall Council’s political leadership could no longer distance itself from shortcomings. “It’s time the council put in as much effort as the teachers and the children.  The end of the Serco contract means there is no room for excuses. It’s now up to Walsall Council to make sure that schools improve by giving them the support they need.”

The Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Tim Oliver, said a closed meeting may seem contrary to open government but the needs of children must come first. “The reasons for under performance are complex and varied with such factors as deprivation and funding often out of the control of teachers and staff. But, labelling a school as ‘failing’ can be as damaging as it can be helpful in identifying weaknesses, so we need to have a debate that can be honest without leaving schools ‘carrying the can’ when the causes lie elsewhere. We will ensure the meeting’s findings are published alongside the key stage exam results so everyone can compare and contrast the problems we face.”