To consider a report of the Executive Director Core Services and the Executive Director Place (Item 4a attached) in respect of the ASCL Ofsted Report (Item 4b attached) and the ASCL Service Improvement Plan (Item 4c attached).
The following witnesses were welcomed to the meeting:
David Shepherd, Service Director for Regeneration & Property, Place Directorate
Anne-Marie Holdsworth, Adult Skills, Employability & Community Learning Manager, Place Directorate
Councillor Chris Lamb, Member of the ASCL Service Improvement & Governing Board
David Shepherd introduced this item, informing the Overview and Scrutiny Committee of the findings of the recent Ofsted inspection of the Local Authority’s Adult Skills and Community Learning (ASCL) Service. The report sets out the Service’s journey from initial inspection in 2016 (judged ‘requires improvement’) through to the most recent inspection, judged ‘good’. It was highlighted that the report is a good news report, with the service showing significant improvement and better outcomes for all. The inspection found the Service to be ‘good’ across the following judgement areas:
· Overall effectiveness
· Effectiveness of leadership and management
· Quality of teaching, learning and assessment
· Outcomes for learners
· Adult learning programmes
The inspection recommended that the quality of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and English provision should be improved to enable a higher proportion of students to achieve their qualifications. It was reported that the next inspection would now be a ‘lighter touch’ due to the favourable judgement received this time.
In the ensuing discussion, and in response to detailed questioning and challenge, the following matters were highlighted:
An effective marketing and publicity strategy is in place to promote the services offered by Adult Skills & Community Learning. This includes connecting with organisations targeted to engage with non-traditional media advertising and those who work with migrant workers, shift workers etc. A lot of work has been done to ensure ongoing attendance.
Effective use is made of volunteers where appropriate, particularly in ESOL, where stand-alone classes are being developed to enable students to practice English through conversation with volunteers. The Service is always looking for volunteers to support students in this way.
Investment has been made in a data system which allows the tracking of learner progress through robust assessment. This has been a focus of the improvement board for the last couple of years as the previous IT system was not effective enough to do this. However, it is not just about data collection but also to improve the learner experience and the service is now in a much better place.
Staff and service users have been involved every step of the way in the improvement journey. The process started by looking at strengths and weaknesses of the service and asking staff how this could be improved. Some difficult conversations took place where staff performance required improvement but on the whole staff felt that the inspection and subsequent improvement experience was positive. Staff turnover was historically low but 25% of staff left as a result of the inspection. Posts have been recruited to, with some specialist posts still to be filled. Learners have been involved and their views and experiences captured through learner feedback and Learner Forums.
Declining learner numbers have impacted on the service’s ability to generate income in line with the contract. This also reflects the national picture. Learner numbers, particularly on leisure based courses, have declined as people are unwilling to pay a fee. There are two strands to delivery against the contract – grant funding and earned income linked to qualifications. Work in communities is grant funded, such as the Integrated Pilot project in the Dearne for people with mental health problems. Some work is done centrally, such as enabling volunteers to get a food safety qualification. Courses are designed to meet specific needs, such as positive thinking for parents of young children. A number of courses have been developed at Smithies, such as English and Maths skills to help with career progression and getting people back in to work. There is a need to improve the business and increase opportunities. A number of avenues are being explored in conjunction with partners and the Service is confident that improvement will be sustained. There are also opportunities for Members to be involved and take ownership to drive forward improvement.
(i) Witnesses be thanked for their attendance and contribution, and
(ii) Members note the report.