Agenda item

Tackling the impact of inequality on educational outcomes



That the Committee confirms that it had received an appropriate level of assurance regarding the work of the Education & Youth Portfolio in supporting schools to tackle the impact of poverty and disadvantage on their learners. 



            In presenting the report, the Senior Manager (School Improvement) explained that the report provided an overview of the impact of poverty and the achievement gap for learners across Wales between those from more affluent households with those from more disadvantaged backgrounds.  This had been a challenge across Wales for many years and had been highlighted since the pandemic with Tackling Poverty and Disadvantage a key theme for the portfolio in the Council Plan for 2023/28. 

The Senior Manager referred Members to section 1 of the report which highlighted the national indicators which measured progress and the key findings from the recent research on the impacts of educational inequalities.  Point 1.07 in the report provided information on the national focus and the research from the impacts of the pandemic, with points 1.08 and 1.09 providing information on how schools were able to use the Pupil Development Grant to access funding to support these pupils.  Estyn were evaluating how schools used this funding and the authority had a strong profile in this regard.  The Senior Manager then reported on the examples of good practice from the Adult Community Learning Team, the Healthy Schools Team and the commitment for all primary school children to receive a free school meal by 2024.


In response to a question from Councillor Dave Mackie, the Senior Manager agreed that ensuring that correct information was available to enable the authority to undertake support effectively was important.  Comparing England with Wales was difficult as Wales had slightly different processes, outcomes, examination processes and the new curriculum.  The key theme was that both nations needed to improve with both starting from a point of disadvantage with learners having more barriers and not achieving the same levels as those learners who were not disadvantaged.   Welsh Government (WG) had revisited this and were looking at ways to accelerate progress across Wales.


Councillor Andrew Parkhurst referred to the ONS data which stated that disadvantaged children who had the same educational qualifications did not achieve the same in terms of higher wages and opportunities later in life.  The reason seemed to be the engagement with the labour market, and he wondered if more could be done with regard to work experience and engagement with industry to enable disadvantaged children to obtain the social skills together with education to enable them to succeed.


The Senior Manager agreed with the comments made by Councillor Parkhurst saying work was being undertaken to revisit all these areas, linking with colleagues across North Wales on the Regional Skills Partnership Board, the Post 16 Learning Advisor and Secondary Heads Federation.  This would enable a better understanding of the labour market,  job opportunities and career aspirations which also included the Seren Network for progression to university for more able learners.  It was also proposed to build stronger links with the Regional Skills Partnership Board to ensure Flintshire had stronger representations to work with schools. She agreed to provide an update to Committee on this work to a future meeting.


The Chief Officer reported that this was discussed recently at a Regional Skills Partnership meeting and was a high priority for the portfolio.  The report demonstrated that this was a national issue, and the Council was looking at what could be done locally to address it.   Schools were not able to do this on their own and the report highlighted the range of strategies the Council was trying to adopt to support schools.  This started in the classroom with high quality teaching for every learner which met their individual needs.   She referred to school improvement and the work with GwE to constantly raise the quality of teaching in classrooms to enable pupils to achieve their qualifications and ensure they were supported along their pathways to apprenticeships, college, university or the world of work.   The work of the Adult Community Learning was another key strategy which supported young people as well as families and parents with opportunities for educational engagement to enable them to progress in their working lives.


Mrs Lynne Bartlett referred to the third paragraph on page 54 of the report which highlighted the number of pupils on free school meals and asked if the reasons for the increase were known.  Previously the funding received by Flintshire was based on the level of high employment and she was concerned that Flintshire was now near the average in Wales in terms of free school meals.  There was increased levels of poverty in Flintshire and asked should more funding be received to support this.


In response the Chief Officer said the reasons for the increase in free school meals was varied with aspects of employment, families struggling, the cost-of-living crisis and the price of food.  It was for the portfolio to ensure the contributions were made strategically through its policies to support schools and ensure that dialogue was live in their schools.


Councillor Bill Crease spoke of his personal experience and the understanding that education was the main way of moving away from a deprived environment.  He said that this was not just about poverty but that aspiration to work to get something better had been lost from a generation of parents and grandparents.  A large part of the problem sat outside school and engagement had to be made with parents, grandparents and carers on this long path.  He explained that Wales and Scotland received more money through the Barnet Formula than England so it was about engaging with people and society as a whole and would not be resolved until that was tackled.


Mrs Lisa Allen felt the Covid pandemic had highlighted the lack of accessibility of books, computers, internet access, quiet study spaces, safe places to sleep and availability of food at home.  She asked if more community led approaches had been considered and that family learning was also key to breaking down inter-generational issues. She referred to the school uniform swap shop at her local school which was helping parents.  With regard to universal free school meals, she asked if there were concerns around the drop in that grant funding and what was being put in place to ensure that did not happen and were parents aware that they were still required to apply for that grant funding.


The Senior Manager responded that a report on adult engagement activities would be presented by the Adult Learning Team at the July meeting, and she outlined what would be covered in this report.  Free school meals were linked to the Pupil Development Grant and parents were encouraged to keep applying.


The Chief Officer said that this was a risk for the portfolio.  The Welfare Benefits Team supported parents in obtaining all the benefits that they were entitled to which included free school meals. Communication on this would be continuing via the Council’s social media platform and website to promote those key messages because if the free school meal entitlement figure dropped it would impact the funding that the schools received. Across Flintshire schools there was a long and proud tradition of Family Learning and engagement taking place in schools and the Adult Learning Partnership was providing extra opportunities for parents. Referring to school uniform she reported that WG had issued guidance to reduce the cost of school uniform by removing logos and schools were being encouraged to take notice of this and provided information on the linking up of community-based school uniform exchange schemes. Discussions were being held with Streetscene colleagues to enable the collection of unwanted uniform from people’s homes or Housing Recycling Centres with an application for funding made to WG via the circular economy to support this. These items would be collected by Streetscene and then washed, sorted and batched by NEWydd to be re-distributed to schools.  During the pandemic, the portfolio had been acutely aware of families who were not able to access devices or broadband and through the work of the Senior Primary Learning Adviser schools were able to loan equipment and MiFi devices which enabled them to access Wi-Fi too.  The Council’s Digital Strategy was a key strand in tackling poverty to enable pupils to access these devices to support their education. Members were referred to point 1.10 in the report which outlined how important it was to understand how the school day, year or events impacted families who were in poverty.  The Children’s Commissioner had promoted the “Ask Ceri” campaign for schools to stop and think when planning events, trips, proms etc. to understand how these events impacted families in poverty. 


Councillor Carolyn Preece said it was an awful situation and she was keen to see the impacts of the “ask Ceri” campaign in schools.  She asked if it was possible to have a follow up report next year outlining the impacts of that campaign.


The recommendation, as outlined within the report, was moved by Councillor Gladys Healey and seconded by Councillor Arnold Woolley.                         




That the Committee confirms that it had received an appropriate level of assurance regarding the work of the Education & Youth Portfolio in supporting schools to tackle the impact of poverty and disadvantage on their learners. 


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