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Sector report

Local government education services




Number of providers 2023

Core inspections

No. of core inspections: 4

Welsh-medium: 2

English-medium: 2

Case studies

No. of case studies: 2


No. in follow-up September 2022


No. removed 2022-2023


No. went into follow-up 2022-2023


Total in follow-up in August 2023


Local government education services include those provided or commissioned by a single local authority as well as those provided in partnership with other local authorities. School improvement services are provided largely in conjunction with regional consortia or through partnerships on behalf of local authorities, though the model for how this works varies across Wales. There are 22 local authorities across Wales.

Our local authority link inspectors carried out their regular work with local authorities. We adapted our approach to link inspector visit in regional consortia by focusing on a specific area of their work across the autumn and summer terms. This enabled us to consider their approaches to evaluation and improvement in more detail.

During 2022-2023, and especially in the autumn term, local government education services had to respond to many ongoing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. These included staff and pupil absences caused by localised outbreaks of the pandemic. In addition, local authority officers had to support schools with additional behaviour and attendance issues over and above what was the norm pre-pandemic. A few local authorities were slow to resume their previous oversight of attendance, whilst other local authorities promptly resumed their pre-pandemic practices and saw improvements in attendance levels. In general, pupil absences, particularly among those from socio-economically disadvantaged contexts, remained high (Welsh Government 2023a; Welsh Government 2023b). Processes to monitor, evaluate and quality assure their work were a general weakness across local authorities. This aspect of work led to recommendations in all four inspections. Processes to quality assure, and support to improve, education in provision other than in school (EOTAS) were a shortcoming in a minority of local authorities. All local authorities recognised the challenge of maintaining their levels of service in light of future budget reductions.


Between September 2022 and July 2023, we carried out four inspections of local government education services. Two local authorities were asked to produce case studies outlining effective practice in aspects of their work. Rhondda Cynon Taf was asked to produce a case study focusing on their strong use of data and information and Gwynedd was asked to produce a case study on supporting pupils with additional learning needs (ALN) through the medium of Welsh.

School textbooks on a shelf

Outcomes and education services

In all inspections, we continued to evaluate how well local authorities supported schools to improve. In all local authorities inspected last year, we found that there were well-established working relationships with their regional school improvement services. Three of the four local authorities generally had a suitable overview of their schools and used the information provided to them by the regional school improvement service to support and challenge schools appropriately. This helped local authority officers to intervene and provide support following the identification of schools that caused them concern.

In Rhondda Cynon Taf, at the time of inspection there was one primary school requiring special measures and no secondary or all-age school requiring follow-up. We found that the local authority had clear and high expectations of the work of their regional school improvement service and challenged them well to improve many aspects of their work. Leaders provided robust and timely challenge about the effectiveness of improvement partners’ work and required all improvement partners to gather a range of first-hand evidence to evaluate the quality of teaching and leadership in their schools. Despite this, the quality of support for schools had not improved rapidly enough.

Effective collaboration to tailor systems and processes to the needs of Rhondda Cynon Taf

Senior leaders in Rhondda Cynon Taf communicate explicitly its priorities for school improvement, as set out in its current education strategic plan. Senior leaders and officers work proactively with the regional consortium to tailor systems and processes to the needs of the local authority. For instance, they provide detailed feedback on the suitability of reporting processes for sharing information about the support and challenge the regional service provides to each school and PRU. As a result, there are now specific requirements for improvement partners to report on the effectiveness of a school’s or PRU’s self-evaluation and improvement planning processes, as well as the quality of teaching and leadership.

In Blaenau Gwent there were no primary schools or non-maintained settings requiring follow-up activity following inspection. Overall, the local authority and their regional school improvement service had provided helpful support to enable targeted primary schools to improve. However, in one secondary school, one special school and one all-age school, officers did not recognise important shortcomings quickly enough. As a result, the pace of improvement in two of these schools has been too slow.

In Gwynedd, no schools inspected were judged to require any statutory follow-up from February 2022 up until the time of the local government inspection. We found that local authority and regional officers worked productively together and had a generally strong knowledge of their schools. Officers regularly discussed strengths and areas for improvement in schools and prioritised support suitably. However, in a very few cases, intervention and support had not been timely enough and did not lead to sufficient improvement in these schools.

In Carmarthenshire, two primary schools and one secondary school were judged to require statutory follow-up since we resumed inspections in February 2022. We found that officers had a suitable overview of strengths and areas for improvement in their primary schools. They were working pro-actively with these schools and generally identifying suitable strengths and areas for improvement. In the best cases, officers were brokering effective and regular support that led to strong improvement. However, the support for secondary schools in this local authority was too variable. Education Support Advisers did not identify areas for improvement in secondary schools swifty enough and did not always intervene successfully. In addition, quality assurance processes had not been sufficiently robust to ensure the effectiveness of all officers’ work over time.

Where school improvement processes were less effective, it was generally because officers did not monitor progress closely enough or ensure that school improvement partners set sufficiently precise and focused success criteria against which progress could be measured. We also identified that support for pupil referral units (PRUs) was variable and three of the four PRUs we inspected during 2022-2023 were placed into a statutory follow-up category.

During the year, we considered how well local authorities aimed to provide equity of education experiences for children living in poverty. Overall, we found that all local authorities were committed to improving outcomes for all young people, and leaders were focused on how services could improve provision in order to mitigate the impact of poverty on attainment. Generally, local authorities had appropriate processes for identifying vulnerable pupils using a suitable range of information. This information helped services to prioritise support for pupils and young people across the authority.

In Blaenau Gwent, we found that officers were working well together, across directorates, on issues relating to tackling poverty and ensured that they were targeting their resources towards the greatest need. This included working well with outside agencies and schools. In addition, we found that officers worked positively to ensure that schools spend their pupil development grant suitably and help them to make well-informed decisions about targeting resources where they are likely to have the best impact. This local authority went beyond the Welsh Government’s minimum requirements for universal free school meals by providing them for all pupils up to Year 2.

In Rhondda Cynon Taf, we considered how well the local authority worked with their communities to support vulnerable pupils. We found that they had a strong understanding of the needs of individual learners, and that they identified vulnerability well. Officers were able to access a wide range of data and information and were using this well to target support for pupils and young people. For example, they made effective use of attendance data when visiting schools.

Officers in Rhondda Cynon Taf focused well on supporting children and their families before they reach statutory school age. This included support for speech and language and introducing families to one-to-one community programmes that are available. Youth services in this local authority were working effectively with schools and communities. They were targeting their work to the areas of greatest needs and, in particular, providing strong support for those young people who are at risk of not being in education, employment or training.

In Carmarthenshire, we found that officers had a strong understanding of the needs of young people in their local authority. In addition, there was a clear policy for supporting young people to improve their attendance and behaviour, underpinned by the aim of ensuring equity for all young people to achieve their best. Overall, the local authority provided helpful support for schools and young people. However, this had not had a strong enough impact on improving attendance levels for all vulnerable pupils.

In Gwynedd, we focused on the way in which the local authority met the needs of learners with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. This local authority had invested notably in strengthening behaviour support services and processes had improved suitably over time. We found that the range of interventions available to support pupils to improve their behaviour were generally appropriate. Staff across the authority were working well to provide a broad range of curricular experiences that engaged targeted pupils well and helped them to gain positive experiences of school life. However, overall, the evaluation of the impact of support provided by specialist centres was not strong enough. As a result, the tailoring of provision for the broad range of needs was not always effective enough.

We published a thematic report in June 2023 that considered curriculum experience for pupils educated other than at school (EOTAS). In this report we found that in the best examples, local authorities worked with schools to have clear plans for pupils who attended EOTAS to return to mainstream schooling that were timely and helpful. However overall, pupils who attended EOTAS provision remained there for too long. Local authorities did not evaluate the quality of curriculum provision in EOTAS well enough. Too many local authorities did not clearly identify the expected duration of placements with EOTAS providers for pupils. In addition, review processes for pupil placements in EOTAS providers were underdeveloped in many local authorities.

People in a meeting looking at graphs on a screen

Leading and improving

In all local authorities inspected between September 2022 and July 2023, leaders placed a high priority on improving outcomes for children and young people. This was often reflected in the respective local authorities’ corporate and financial plans.

In Rhondda Cynon Taf, leadership at all levels was generally effective. In this local authority, senior leaders and elected members had a strong understanding of the vision and work of the education directorate and officers and members worked purposefully together to identify and address important aspects of their work. Leaders and officers were making strong use of data to inform their work. Read how they used this data to help them gain a strong understanding of the strengths and areas for improvement in their services and to target support effectively.

In Blaenau Gwent, we identified that leaders had a clear focus on regeneration and improving outcomes for young people, but this vision was not well enough understood by elected members, officers or staff in schools. We identified that corporate leadership was not effective enough in evaluating or improving important aspects of this work. Despite these shortcomings, senior leaders in Blaenau Gwent had strong working relationships with officers that, through their operational leadership, has enabled services to strengthen over time.

In Gwynedd, we found that leaders had a clear vision for education in their local authority. They demonstrated that they were committed to ensuring that all children and young people have equal access to high quality provision. Leaders and officers were working creatively to address challenges, such as recruitment, in schools. They also worked pro-actively to identify and reduce barriers to engagement for the most vulnerable young people in schools and other provisions. Despite this, leaders had not been strategic enough in addressing a few important areas of their work. For example, leaders and officers had not identified well enough the need to target and improve attendance or evaluated well enough the impact of the overall provision for those pupils with behavioural and emotional needs.

In Carmarthenshire, we found that leaders across the authority had a clear vision and communicated effectively across the organisation. This helped to develop engaged and effective teams that were working positively together to identify challenges and how they would overcome them. Leaders were committed to ensuring they provided a strong service to support young people and evaluated many of the aspects of their work suitably.

In all local authorities, officers and members were working positively together to consider their work. Where scrutiny processes were most effective, members were provided with timely and effective information about the impact of the work. As a result, scrutiny members challenged robustly the work of the local authority and ensured that they held members to account. However generally, evaluation and improvement processes were not effective enough and this often meant that scrutiny members did not always have sufficient information to support and challenge the local authority effectively.

Local authorities were in the early stages of implementing their Welsh in Education Strategic Plans. We asked Gwynedd local authority to provide a case study about developing Welsh medium resources for pupils with ALN and their families.

We provided a recommendation for all local authorities relating to self-evaluation and improvement planning processes. This had been an area of weakness over a long period of time. This was generally because the quality of evaluation and improvement planning was too variable within education directorates. Plans often did not set out clear success criteria and too often officers monitored whether actions had been completed rather than the impact they had had on improving provision and outcomes for children and young people. This made it difficult for local authorities to identify strengths and areas for improvement precisely enough to secure more effective improvements.

Two women looking at a laptop and a notepad

Ongoing work with local authorities and school improvement services

Each local authority and school improvement service has an allocated link inspector. Link inspectors visit local authorities and school improvement services regularly to maintain an overview of their work. We consider a range of services and areas throughout the year and have drawn together some common findings from a few of those areas below. During 2022-2023 we considered how a sample of local authorities were supporting parents and young people who had elected for home education.

Local authorities reported an increase in the number of parents who opted to home educate their children since the pandemic. The figures for elective home education (EHE) learners across Wales rose from 2,626 in 2018-2019 to 5,330 in 2022-2023 (Welsh Government, 2023c). This increase in EHE learners made it more challenging for local authorities to meet their statutory requirement to ensure that the education parents provide is ‘efficient full-time education suitable to the child’s age, ability and aptitude, and to any special educational need’ (Education Act 1996). In addition, local authorities must also carry out additional learning needs (ALN) assessments, where requested, and provide appropriate support for electively home educated learners with ALN where necessary. The Welsh Government provided £1.7 million of funding in 2022-2023 to help local authorities fulfil these duties, consisting of £50,000 for each authority and a further £160 per EHE learner (Senedd Cymru, 2022). The Welsh Government is consulting on plans to introduce a broad ‘core offer’ of support, which local authorities will have to provide for EHE learners.

All local authorities we visited as part of this targeted work were providing the minimum level of assistance for EHE learners and a minority were providing a wide range of support that included comprehensive information and beneficial opportunities to enhance learning. For example, a minority of local authorities provided EHE learners with free educational resources, book vouchers and passes to leisure facilities and various local activities, such as outdoor pursuits, and sessions in art, Welsh and horticulture. A few local authorities gave EHE learners enhanced access to public libraries, sport and music services, or worked with local colleges to provide vocational training opportunities. However, only a minority of EHE families took up these opportunities and local authorities did not monitor and evaluate the impact of the support they provided for EHE learners. A very few local authorities surveyed EHE families about the support they would like. These authorities tried to tailor their provision to meet those needs or provided opportunities for EHE families to meet to help each other.

Many local authorities have raised awareness among elected members about the local EHE context but only a minority report on it annually to the education scrutiny committee. There is a key national and local dilemma in that the more funding the Welsh Government provides and, the better the support for EHE learners locally, the more attractive EHE becomes as an option for parents, yet this choice makes it more challenging for local authorities to ensure the learners access suitable education.

Collaboration with other inspectorates on safeguarding and child protection issues

During 2022-2023 we continued to work alongside Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW), Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW), His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) in joint inspections of child protection arrangements (JICPA) in two local authorities. We conducted a JICPA in Denbighshire County Council in February and Bridgend County Borough Council in June. CIW lead all JICPA, and all other inspectorates, including Estyn have an equal role in the inspection process. Our role is to evaluate the local authority’s safeguarding and child protection arrangements from an education perspective. A multi-agency report is presented to the local authority, regional health board and police constabulary at the end of the inspection process, outlining strengths and areas for development and includes recommendations for improvement. In both inspections, we noted that local authority education services provided regular, purposeful training to designated safeguarding leads in education providers and supported them well in their roles. Overall, schools and non-maintained settings promoted children’s and young people’s well-being strongly and often delivered successful intervention programmes to support their emotional and mental health. Senior officers worked suitably with their counterparts in other services to plan and review child protection arrangements at a strategic level. However, information sharing between health, police and children’s services at an operational level, particularly when important decisions were made, was variable.

The Welsh Government also invited us to take part in a multi-agency rapid review of decision-making around child protection in response to a number of tragic child deaths across England and Wales. This work also involved CIW and HIW and took place in April 2023. The purpose of this review was to determine the extent to which the current structures and processes in Wales ensure that children’s names are appropriately placed on, and removed from, the Child Protection Register when sufficient evidence indicates that it is safe to do so. The review consisted of targeted activity in seven local authorities and four health boards and found that the understanding and implementation of thresholds as to whether a child is experiencing, or is at risk of experiencing significant harm, were mostly good. However, partner agencies and local authorities in Wales did not always consistently understand this. Overall, information sharing processes were effective and in line with the Wales Safeguarding Procedures. However, this was variable across Wales. Multi-agency arrangements generally worked well in many areas, but some areas required further strengthening.

School Organisation Proposals – September 2022 to July 2023

This year, 11 local authorities consulted on a total of 15 proposals for school re-organisation. The number of proposals submitted during the year was notably fewer than in previous years, including during the COVID pandemic. However, this does give an accurate picture of the proposed changes to education across Wales, as a few local authorities put forward single consultations that proposed changes in multiple providers. Where this happens, these multiple consultations do not always provide consultees with as much helpful information about proposed changes.

Around 40% of proposals aim to establish new ALN provision or extend existing provision. This included the proposal to establish a new 3 to 19 Special School in Rhondda Cynon Taf. One third of proposals this year focused on increasing Welsh-medium education provision. These proposals continued to consult on a range of strategies to improve access to Welsh-medium education across Wales.

Regional school improvement services

During this year, we piloted a new approach to our link inspector work with the regional school improvement services. This involved two visits that focused on a specific aspect of their work, bespoke support for schools. At the end of these visits, we provided individual feedback based on our findings. Overall, we found that the regional consortia were beginning to respond to the recommendations of our 2022 report The Curriculum for Wales: How are regional consortia and local authorities supporting schools?

Regional school improvement services had worked with local authorities to develop approaches to providing more tailored support for schools. In two of the four local authorities inspected, schools were beginning to get helpful support. However, this bespoke support and its impact were still too variable across Wales.

Generally, regional school improvement services were beginning to develop approaches to evaluate the impact of their work, but these were in the early stages of roll out and it was too early to fully measure what difference these approaches had made. We found in a few areas that officers were still relying too heavily on feedback from participants and not using enough first-hand evidence to evaluate the impact of professional learning. In addition, success criteria were not always precise enough to support evaluation and improvement processes.

Annual Risk and Assurance Workshops

As part of our ongoing link inspector work with local government education services, we contributed to annual risk and assurance workshops along with Audit Wales and CIW. Based on this work with local authorities, we provided a letter outlining the assurances and risks that we identified in each local authority.

Key assurances

In many local authorities, we identified that inspection outcomes were generally positive in primary schools and non-maintained settings. In a majority of local authorities, we highlighted assurances related to leadership in the local authority. We talked about strong senior leadership within these authorities including that of senior officers and elected members. In a majority of authorities, we identified that they had suitable planning in place to develop Welsh language provision within their local authority. For example, we noted that one local authority had an ambitious Welsh language in education strategic plan, which included establishing committees to respond to all seven outcomes of the plan.

Key risks

In a majority of local authorities, we highlighted risks related to provider inspection outcomes, particularly the number of secondary schools that had been placed into statutory categories and those that had been in these categories for some time. In around half local authorities we identified risks around finance and budgets. Local authorities expressed concern over future budgets. In a minority of local authorities, provision for Welsh-medium education was identified as being a risk. The risk included ensuring recruitment of suitable staff including teachers who teach through the medium of Welsh. We also identified attendance as a risk in a minority of local authorities.


Senedd Cymru (2022) Senedd Question – What consultation processes have, or will, be undertaken with regards to the proposed home education legislation? WQ85742 (e) Cardiff: Senedd Cymru. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 17 November 2023]

Welsh Government (2023a) Attendance of pupils in maintained schools: 5 September 2022 to 24 July 2023. Cardiff: Welsh Government. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 13 November 2023]

Welsh Government (2023b) Absenteeism from secondary schools: September 2022 to August 2023. Cardiff: Welsh Government. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 13 November 2023]

Welsh Government (2023c) Pupils educated other than at schools: September 2022 to August 2023. Cardiff: Welsh Government. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed 16 November 2023]