'Shock' over lack of support for learning service

SHOCKED: Councillor surprised by lack of support for authority's learning service
SHOCKED: Councillor surprised by lack of support for authority's learning service
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Senior staff at a council adult learning organisation insist they are on course to get an upgraded Ofsted ranking after being deemed as ‘requires improvement’ but a councillor has admitted he was “shocked” when he learned of the lack of support the service had received.

Barnsley Council’s Adult Skills and Community Learning service has a £2.3m annual budget and deals with around 3,000 students a year but when Ofsted inspectors last visited they judged the service to fall into the ‘requires improvement’ category for all elements of its performance, sparking work on an improvement plan.

Councillors have now been given an update on progress with that and Anne-Marie Holdsworth, the council’s manager for adult skills, employability and community learning, said she was as confident as she could be that the service would meet the criteria of ‘good’ when it is next inspected.

A list of changes have been made to improve performance, but Coun Chris Lamb also defended the staff involved in running the service and said he was “quite shocked at the way officers and elected members had not given the support to the service which was necessary.”

When he examined the service following the disappointing Ofsted inspection, he found problems including IT classrooms which were broken and IT systems which did not interact, or ‘talk to each other’.

He told the council’s overview and scrutiny committee: “There were significant issues with personnel. I think Anne-Marie and her staff were trying to fight a battle with one hand tied behind their back.

“I am really satisfied with the time and resources put into tackling these failings.”

The service operates with the objective of working with adults who need skills and qualifications to help them make progress in improving their lifestyles and finding work, offering courses which can last from a few hours to three years.

The mix of students is 72 per cent female to 28 per cent male and work is being done to rebalance that, though the figures are better than some parts of the region, such as Kirklees where the figure for females involved in similar educational courses makes up 78 per cent of the total.

One of the functions of the service is to teach ‘British values’ and that had been an area where problems had been found, with some staff reluctant to challenge the views expressed by some students, the meeting was told. That includes understanding democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance.

But work had been done with staff to improve their confidence in that area and the situation had improved.

Work had also been done to address weaknesses among some staff, including poor attendance at work. The result had been changes in staffing recently, with a cohort of 40 tutors now in place, though Barnsley struggles like the rest of the country to find those qualified to teach English and maths.

Anne-Marie accepted there had been a “slow start” to making changes but said: “The pace is picking up and is likely to accelerate in the near future.

“We are seeing a significant improvement and I have confidence in my staff and that everyone is working as hard as they can.

“Everyone is coming to work to do as much as they can achieve. Rest assured, we will have done everything we can on the day (of the next Ofsted inspection).