Estyn highlights council’s support for schools and pupils during pandemic

An Estyn report into the support provided to schools and pupil referral units during the Covid-19 pandemic has praised the way Bridgend County Borough Council reacted to the outbreak.

Covering the period between June and November 2020 before all schools returned to remote learning, the report highlights the ways local authorities and regional consortia across Wales adapted their work in response to the challenges posed by coronavirus.

The report says: “During the initial lockdown, local authority services had to respond rapidly to support the wellbeing of all learners, and particularly those known to be vulnerable. Where local authorities already had effective joint working across services and external agencies, this was evident in the efficiency with which they responded to needs.

“For example, in Bridgend, the ‘early help locality service model’ already meant that multi-disciplinary teams worked out of three bases in the county, working in an integrated way to support families with vulnerable children and young people. These teams were well placed to work collaboratively and provide support through the pandemic.”

It adds: “The development of the multi-agency safeguarding hub, in place for the past two years, has also contributed to a sharing of intelligence around safeguarding concerns for individuals. Colleagues from South Wales Police, the local health board and local authority are co-located and provide a single point of contact for agencies to refer into.”

The report also says additional support was provided to Bridgend county borough pupils in Welsh-medium schools who are from English-speaking homes as many had not had the opportunity to hear or practise the language before returning to school in September.

Also highlighted in the report is the proactive support offered to looked-after children and young people in the county borough. It says: “In Bridgend local authority officers visited care placements weekly, which helped them to identify potential placement breakdowns and be proactive in providing additional support where needed rather than waiting for placements to fail.”

Estyn also mentions the business resilience planning that was undertaken by the council, which required all schools, including the pupil referral unit, to consider a range of possible scenarios and the actions they would take to ensure the continuity of learning. These plans were then quality assured by the local authority.

Councillor Dr Charles Smith, Cabinet Member for Education and Regeneration, said: “I’m pleased that this report recognises the hard work put in by teachers, school staff and council officers to adapt to the ongoing challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Many thanks to them, as well as pupils and their parents and carers, for their patience and adaptability.

“All schools continue to offer a blend of learning strategies to meet the needs of pupils. They have undertaken surveys to ensure those who are digitally excluded have access to a home computer whether that’s through a refurbished one from the school or the provision of mobile broadband.”

Welsh Government will review the current restrictions on January 29 and their current advice is that schools and colleges will remain closed until half-term.