Venue: Council Chamber, County Hall - County Hall. View directions
To receive apologies for absence.
Apologies for absence were received from County Councillor D Jones.
County Councillors M Alexander (Portfolio Holder for Learning and Welsh Language) and A Davies (Portfolio Holder for Finance, Countryside and Transport).
A Clark (Head of Learning), M Evans (Senior Manager Schools Transformation), R Waggett (Finance Manager) and D Thompson (Schools Capital and Property Manager).
To elect a Vice-Chair
To elect a Vice-Chair up until the Annual Meeting in May 2019.
RESOLVED that Co-opted Member Angela Davies be elected as Vice-Chair until the Annual meeting in May 2019.
Declarations of interest
To receive declarations of interest from Members.
No declarations of interest were received.
Declarations of Party Whip
To receive disclosures of prohibited party whips which a Member has been given in relation to the meeting in accordance with Section 78(3) of the Local Government Measure 2011.
(NB: Members are reminded that under Section 78 Members having been given a prohibited party whip cannot vote on a matter before the Committee.)
No declarations of party whip were received.
To undertake scrutiny monitoring of the position of School Balances in Powys.
· School budgets 2018-19 update as at 31st December 2018
The report lacks detail to provide scrutiny with confidence that necessary actions are being taken.
There is a requirement that reports are limited to four pages and there is a limit to what can be shared in open session if information relates to matters which are subject to HR processes. Additional information can be provided in appendices.
The report would be enhanced by including trends over the last five years and benchmarking with other authorities.
It would be possible to include trends but benchmarking is more complex as different authorities delegate in different ways.
In 2014 the PwC report concluded a High School needed 750 pupils to be viable. As there are 8 High Schools in Powys with less than 750 pupils are the authority setting schools up to fail?
The Portfolio Holder for Learning advised that she did not accept the PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) report as it did not take into account transport costs. If pupils were moved to larger units then it would be necessary to top slice more money for transport costs meaning less funding would be available for education. The Portfolio Holder advised that at present transport costs are £68k a day but these could rise to £98k a day if schools were closed. When pressed, the Portfolio Holder was unable to substantiate this figure. Given that this appears to be underpinning policy in relation to school organisation scrutiny are concerned that a policy developed in an apparent vacuum of evidence may be exposing pupils to a less than ideal educational environment and the authority to unnecessary expenditure.
The Portfolio Holder for Finance advised that the viable size for a High School had been set by the council not PwC and that it would be necessary for any future changes to the structure of schools would need to be evidenced.
The Head of Learning advised that there are some small high schools who are able to manage their budgets and have good learning outcomes whilst some of the biggest schools are struggling the most.
He advised that Welsh Government consider small schools to be less than 91 pupils which in Powys would be considered a more viable school. It will be necessary for all to consider how small schools fit into the network in Powys for example by closer inter-school working both at primary to primary level and at primary to high school level. There are opportunities for federation, all-through schools and collaboration but if there are local solutions which would work but for which there are no permissions then it will be necessary to discuss this with Welsh Government.
The Chair noted this as an area which scrutiny may wish to explore further.
What information is available to ascertain what the costs of transport would be if x number of high schools closed?
This information is taken into account when proposed changes are considered for example when looking at the arrangements for secondary provision ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
To undertake pre-Cabinet scrutiny of the Schools Major Improvement Programme.
· Schools Service Major Improvements Programme 2019-2020
· Appendix A – Buildings and site priorities
Why is only one school benefitting from the Welsh Government Feminine hygiene and toilets grant and does Powys have a policy on the provision of feminine hygiene facilities in schools?
There is no policy for the provision of feminine hygiene facilities in sPowys schools however, under the scoring system the only school toilets due for capital spend were at Llangattock Church in Wales Primary school. The capital grant has therefore been spent at this school. The revenue grant received is being distributed by the schools service.
The Portfolio Holder described a new project ‘Bags of Confidence’ which was starting in Llanidloes, as a Powys based solution for period poverty but also looked to reach a wider audience toothbrushes and deodorant for pupils in need of both gender. It is hoped to roll this project out across Powys.
The Head of Learning noted that in terms of capital spend on school’s toilets the grant would not go far and it had therefore been prioritised to where it will have the greatest impact.
What will be the impact of reducing the capital spend available for Schools Major Improvements from £2million to £1million in future years?
There will be an impact on the ability for to respond to DDA requirements. The service is still responding to the condition of blocks but the reduction will reduce the ability to respond to maintenance and repairs. It will be necessary to ensure that the schools major improvements programme closely aligns to the 21st Century schools programme. It will be necessary to make in year changes to the programme if, for example, health and safety issues arise.
The Portfolio Holder advised that it was important to consider capital investment proposals at an early stage and be mindful of value for money considerations. For example, would it be good value for money to spend £250k of capital on a small school. However, when those schools in very poor condition have been replaced there will be more money available. The changes made in school for DDA purposes will be long lasting providing they are maintained and they are more cost effective than transporting a pupil to a special school.
The Schools Capital and Property Manager noted that a huge benefit accrued by enabling pupils to access mainstream education having made alterations for DDA requirements.
Why are certain schools who are known to be in poor condition not on this programme?
Those schools who are identified for feasibility work under the 21st Century Schools Programme, for example Sennybridge, will not feature on the Major Improvements Programme.
Should the authority be considering spending more money through Major School Improvements rather than the 21st Century Schools programme?
The Portfolio Holder confirmed that these were difficult decisions and whilst there was a need to improve ‘tired schools’ the focus on 21st Century Schools funding was transformational. Thus there are opportunities in for example Newtown ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
To receive a verbal update from the Chair of the Learning and Skills Scrutiny Committee.
The Chair explained that there was a new method for commissioning scrutiny which meant that the three new Scrutiny Committees effectively have to bid for work to the Co-ordinating Committee who will consider it for inclusion at a full scrutiny committee, appropriate for a working group or reject it.
At the first meeting the following bids were made:
1. The Welsh immersion scheme. The Co-ordinating Committee have asked that it be ascertained how this links to the WESP and what would be appropriate timeframes for this work.
2. A School Improvement Working Group. The Co-ordinating Committee have requested terms of reference for this group.
3. School Finance Working Group. The Co-ordinating Committee have requested terms of reference for this group.
To consider the scrutiny work programme.
Dates for future meetings of the full Learning and Skills Scrutiny Committee are as follows:
· 28th March 2019
· 13th May 2019
· 8th July 2019
· 19th August 2019
· 7th October 2019
· 18th November 2019