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Claims Merthyr Tydfil Council has dropped focus on education after 'unsatisfactory' rating

The council’s Learning and LAESCYP (Local Authority Education Services for Children and Young People) heard that attainment at key stage four (years 10 and 11), attendance and exclusions is considered “unsatisfactory.”

The council performance report uses the same judgements as Estyn which are excellent, good, adequate and unsatisfactory.

The report also showed that Flying Start, NEET (Not in Education Employment or Training) service and youth service performances are “good” and that attainment in foundation phase, key stage one and key stage two is “adequate.”

The reason for the unsatisfactory performance at key stage four was that attaintment is “well below the Welsh average in nearly all indicators” according to a council officer.

The committee also heard that in the most recent results, only 57% of students in key stage two and four achieved A*-C grades.

Councillor Brent Carter, Labour, said he was in the cabinet when the council’s education department was in special measures a few years ago and said he was “quite scared” by some of the findings in this latest performance report.

He asked: “Has the focus on educational attainment dropped? Over the last two years it (performance) has dipped quite a bit. Has the focus not been as much on there?”

Sue Walker, the council’s chief education officer, said that you can’t compare key stage four results of the last two years to those previously because of changes to the qualifications.

But Cllr Carter challenged that by saying Merthyr was 22nd out of the 22 Welsh councils in this area and the changes applied to all local authorities.

He said: “We will have dropped because we weren’t 22nd before.”

But Ms Walker said: “We are not hiding behind the results. I am not happy with the results at key stage four.”

“There is a challenge for us in all our schools, for aspirations for our young people.

“Education has been a focus. This is where we need to raise the standards for young people. Governing bodies have got a key role to play in this.”

The reasons why pupils in Merthyr Tydfil were excluded last year - including punching a head teacher and taking knives to school

But Cllr Carter said that the argument about the curriculum change was “smoke and mirrors” to where they actually are and asked “Can more money be put into education?”

Ms Walker said that the Central South Consortium is the school improvement arm and £50,000 has gone into one of Merthyr’s secondary schools.

She addedthat £250,000 had been invested through Schools Challenge Cymru but when the money was withdrawn the improvement wasn’t sustained adding “money isn’t always the answer.”

Cllr Carter also asked when Estyn would next be inspecting the authority and how far is the department away from special measures again.

Ms Walker said that Estyn come in every term and they have regular discussions.

She said: “We do have open and frank discussions about where we are and where we need to go.”

She added that there is no such thing as special measures under the new system but that they know their schools better now and are putting things in place to improve outcomes.

“The issue (when the department was in special measures) was that the council didn’t know the schools.

“There is now a corporate awareness of schools and how we need to support them.”

The number of school buildings in Merthyr classed as being in a 'poor' or 'bad' condition has increased

Councillor Lisa Mytton, Independent, the cabinet member for learning, said: “The focus certainly hasn’t dropped. This is about attainment and leadership in our schools. The curriculum changes weren’t a help to anybody.

“The money that has been taken out is money we didn’t feel would have an impact on children’s education.”

“It is about having an honest and open approach. A neighbouring local authority has got a number of schools in special measures.

“They have not taken anything from the schools budget or given them anything extra."


Maximum charge for non-residential care in Merthyr set to rise by £30

The council is looking at increasing the maximum weekly cost of non-residential community care services from £60 to £90 from April.

The council hopes increasing it to £90 would save them £170,000 and is the most “financially advantageous” according to a council report.

The services provided or commissioned by Merthyr Tydfil Council include domiciliary care, day services and supported living accommodation and it is thought the change will affect as many as 126 people.

The Welsh Government’s current maximum weekly charge is £80 but they’ve announced this will be going up to £90 in April and £100 in April 2020.

Currently, the maximum weekly charge for community care services in Merthyr Tydfil is £60.

The four options the council is looking at are:

A five per cent increase to £63 a week saving £21,300
Increasing it to £70 a week saving £64,800
Increasing it to £80 in line with the current Welsh Government maximum saving £120,600
Increasing it to £90 a week in line with the new Welsh Government maximum in April saving £170,000 (preferred option)

The report says that “the cap on the total weekly charge to service users
severely limits the ability of the council to recoup its costs in delivering non-residential community care services but it does ensure that the effect of price rises in providing the service for service users is limited.”

Merthyr council facing budget gap of £17 million over the next four years

It also says that the service users charge is calculated based on a financial assessment of people’s specific financial circumstances and so no one will pay more than they can afford with a “significant number” of service users not having to pay the charge.


Lack of resources and money among reasons for Merthyr Tydfil council not tackling fly-tipping on private land

A lack of resources and money are among the reasons for Merthyr Tydfil council not tackling fly-tipping on private land.

This was revealed after councillors asked why the authority didn’t use more powers to tackle the issue.

At a meeting of the council’s governance, performance, business change and corporate services committee, the committee chair, Councillor Tanya Skinner said fly tipping on private land is a “huge issue” in Merthyr Tydfil.

“Huge swathes of the borough are covered in massive amounts of rubbish and then just left.

“If we are leaving large amounts of rubbish for years at a time to rot why aren’t we using laws? When is the last time we looked at that issue?”

Cheryllee Evans, chief officer for neighbourhood services, said she shares this frustration with councillors but said that fly-tipping on private land is the land owner’s responsibility.

She said: “Most fly-tipped waste is contaminated so it would go against our recycling target.

“We don’t have the resources or the budget to clear waste on private land.”

She added that if there was a risk to health then there were powers that the public health and planning departments have that can be used.

“We have barely got the resources to clear from our own land,” Ms Evans added.

Officers employed to crack down on littering in Merthyr didn't issue any fines

But Cllr Skinner said the council could be a bit more stern with land owners who are not interested in negotiating.

She said they needed to hold land owners to account more as at the moment they can say no and there is very little done after that.

Councillor Clive Jones said this was “an extremely sore point” for all councillors in the chamber.

“This has happened time and time again,” he added. “The vast majority of land owners frankly couldn’t care less as to how much litter is on their land.

“In my opinion this can’t be allowed to remain if we are trying our best to clear fly-tipping and litter everywhere else.

“Action has to be taken against landlords for allowing this to happen.”

People dumping rubbish in Wales are to start facing £400 on-the-spot fines

Councillor Julian Amos said that if they were to take action against landlords it would end with enforcement and then the council having to clear the waste itself and bill the land owner.

In terms of the chances of getting that paid, he said: “There is more chance of me becoming the pope. There is no chance at all.”

Councillor Gareth Lewis said: “The public will not differentiate between waste on public land and private land. It is difficult to explain that.

“There is a reluctance to use legislative powers. It would be appreciated if we could use these powers more often.”

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