Neath Port Talbot could be the First Council to pull out of the Regional School Improvement Consortium ERW and it is due to major concerns they have about how it is being run.
Today Neath Port Talbot Council have confirmed that, subject to a Cabinet decision next week on the 27th March 2019, it will serve notice to withdraw from the Regional School Improvement Consortium, ERW, with effect from 31st March 2020. However, it retains the right to withdraw this notice at any time during its 12-month period.
The ERW is one of four regional consortia that were set up in 2012 to work on behalf of the local councils to help pool resources and improve school performance.
The ERW works with schools in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion, Swansea, Powys and Neath Port Talbot
The ERW (Education Through Regional Working) receives its funding from two main sources – Annual contribution from the six Local Authorities and grant from Welsh Government. It was noted in the Statement of Accounts for 2017- 2018 that Neath Port Talbot Council had advised that they have not budgeted for their 2018-19 contribution and do not intend to pay it.
Neath Port Talbot Main concerns are about: -
However, this is not the first that concerns have been raised about ERW, it was only last year that in a letter following a committee meeting in March, attended by Education Secretary Kirsty Williams, said she believed ERW was "in danger of letting down the children of the region unless improvements start to be made".
Also, councillors from local authorities expressed their concerns last year about the potential impact on the roll-out of the new curriculum in Welsh schools. Saying the structures to successfully implement the new curriculum "appear to be either inadequate or absent".
Some changes were made last year as the ERW's managing director Betsan O'Connor left her post to work on a project on small and rural schools and was replaced by a Welsh Government official.
Councillor Rob Jones, Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, said: “This Council has consistently raised, for well over a year, major concerns about the governance, quality and financial aspects of how the consortium operates. “
“It is most regrettable that these issues have not been definitively addressed, leaving us with no choice but to exercise the withdrawal option which will be debated in Cabinet next week. I set out our position very clearly at the last meeting of the Joint Committee on 8 February, so this should be no surprise to anyone”.
Councillor Peter Rees, Neath Port Talbot Cabinet Member for Education, Leisure and Lifelong Learning added: “We are not contemplating this decision lightly; but Head Teachers in our schools have consistently told us about their concerns regarding ERW’s operations and lack of direct benefit to our schools.“
“Some good work has been done over the last six months or so within ERW, but the proposal as it stands today is to quadruple our annual contribution to the consortium at a time when we are trying to get every last penny into our classrooms. This is not acceptable, particularly at a time of acute pressure on budgets and the major challenge represented by curriculum reform”.
The Council also underlined that it had concerns about the increased risk of redundancy for its staff as a consequence of the proposal to divert more core Council funding to ERW.
The Council also regrets that a well-reasoned proposal from the Chair of the ERW Joint Committee, dated 11th February, has received no substantive response from the Welsh Government at the time the report was issued.
If after the Cabinet decision next week Neath Port Talbot Council do 100% leave, then they will be the first council to withdraw from the system and it will leave a big question of what the future holds for ERW and how that will affect all our schools here in West Wales