Pembrokeshire County Council education officers frequently ‘manage’ the information they give to elected councillors and leave challenging aspects out of reports.

That is among a host of stark findings in an Estyn report detailing how the county’s education services have plummeted from the best in Wales to unsatisfactory in just three years.

In 2008 an Estyn report on the education services provided by Pembrokeshire County Council was among the best ever.

But last week Estyn delivered a damning indictment of the service in 2011, labelling it unsatisfactory with unsatisfactory prospects for improvement.

Among the hard-hitting report’s findings is that “the local authority’s policies and systems for safeguarding children and young people are not fit for purpose”. There has, the report states, “been a systemic corporate failure to respond sufficiently to safeguarding issues”.

Other findings include below expected levels of performance at key stage 1 and key stage 4 and declining school attendance rates.

The report also specifically criticises the leadership and management of education services at County Hall.

It states that ‘officers do not routinely share information fully with elected members’ and adds: “The information that is shared with elected members, including cabinet and overview and scrutiny committee has too frequently been ‘managed’ by officers, with more challenging aspects being omitted from published reports.

“This represents a significant risk to the transparency of communication and the robustness of decision-making. It has undermined the ability of elected members to challenge and hold officers to account.”

Many important discussions and decisions take place at informal meetings that have not always been minuted.

The role of the council’s children and families overview and scrutiny committee is also questioned.

It meets only five times a year and only occasionally creates sub-groups to address specific issues. “This does not give the committee sufficient time to be proactive in challenging the performance of schools,” the report adds.

Estyn has introduced a series of recommendations that the council must now address. They include undertaking a rigorous evaluation of all safeguarding work, raising school standards and increasing attendance rates.

It must produce an action plan to show how it will address the recommendations with 50 working days.

Council leader John Davies said: “The Estyn report raises a number of educational issues that the council is already addressing, particularly the need to raise GCSE standards in secondary schools.”

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