Education services at Pembrokeshire County Council are “causing significant concern” and Estyn will require follow-up activity to take place to ensure its recommendations are being met.

A report by the education inspection service published today (Wednesday, February 12) states that standards achieved by pupils at Pembrokeshire schools are “too variable.”

It states: “Standards are good or better in only half of the primary schools inspected in the last three years.

“Although there have been improvements in a few secondary schools, in a minority, outcomes are below expectations.

“Standards in literacy, numeracy and Welsh second language require improvement in around half of primary schools and all secondary school inspected since 2017.”

Inspectors found that literacy and numeracy skills were lacking in around half of primary schools, and in all secondary schools examined since 2017.

Cabinet member for education Cllr Guy Woodham said there were some positive messages in the report around safeguarding, school reorganisation and youth service.

He added a self evaluation carried out for the inspection had shown that improving outcomes at a faster pace and improving the quality of teaching were areas that needed focus, as referenced by Estyn.

“I know many people are trying very hard to make an improvement in outcomes. If we improve the quality of teaching that in itself should lead to improved outcomes,” he added.

Cllr Woodham gave a “commitment that we accept what’s being said and will use this report being published as a catalyst to start making significant changes.”

More positive highlights include the “ambitious vision” and strong strategic direction for eduction services set by senior officers and senior elected members.

Cllr Woodham said that a positive impact was beginning to be seen and the authority has been “robust” in dealing with underperformance in some cases but “there has been insufficient focus on improving teaching and leadership in schools.”

A more structured approach to support vulnerable groups of learners is being developed and work improving the achievements of pupils eligible for free school meals is gaining momentum.

The report adds that “there are comprehensive and effective systems to identify pupils’ special educational needs at an early stage.”

Most pupils’ well-being in primary schools is good as well as at two out of three secondary schools inspected.

School inspections in Pembrokeshire have found that most primary pupils feel safe and that many feel safe in secondary schools, adds the Estyn report.

It also highlighted the expansion of Welsh medium education provision across the county as a strong feature of the council’s school reorganisation programme.

A three year “strategy” focusing on support and intervention involving headteachers, governing bodies, senior leadership teams and schools is being developed.

“In terms of the quality of teaching the buck stops with schools, very squarely,” said deputy director of education Steven Richards-Downes.

“We’ve got to challenge schools hard in terms of outcomes as well as supporting them,” he added.

The focus on improving numeracy and literacy was key, said Mr Richards-Downes, because they “underpin everything. If you’re not literate or not numerate you won’t be able to do things like the level of writing for a history GCSE, the level of writing for a geography GCSE or you won’t have the mathematical skills for a science GCSE.

“What we need is a much more targeted approach for things that come up in schools around literacy and numeracy.”

Cllr Woodham added that the authority will take a focus “very narrowly” on the four recommendations made over the next two years and look at the progress made.

“I want to make significant improvement not for them to say they have significant concerns. I do feel much more optimistic today than I did in December in that there are clear ways we can do this,” he said.

Cllr Woodham was also pleased schools would be likely to see an increase in funding with an extra £1million due to be included in next year’s budget for improvements.

Estyn’s recommendations are:

That the council must raise standards in schools, particularly in literacy, numeracy and Welsh second language.

improve outcomes for all groups of learners, including those eligible for free school meals and those who are more able.

 Improve the effectiveness of the authority’s work to improve teaching and school leadership.

Strengthen the quality of evaluation by officers at all levels to improve the precision of planning for improvement.

Estyn will review the provider’s progress through post-inspection improvement conference in May with further progress conferences followed by a monitoring visit after 30 months.