Estyn publishes positive review of Cardiff's response to supporting schools and learners during pandemic


An evaluation of Cardiff Council's approach to assisting learners in the city during the COVID-19 pandemic has found sustained strategic leadership, strong communication and an emphasis on partnership working to support teachers, children and young people. 

Education inspectorate, Estyn, has carried out a nationwide review of local authorities' responses to supporting schools between March and October 2020, the findings of which have been published this month.

Analysis of Cardiff's response to the challenges presented to its schools and pupil referral unit (PRU) are based on the feedback from school/PRU leaders, council officers, teachers, pupils and their families. The review focuses on the initial work carried out to deal with school closures in March and later, on the reopening of schools for full time face-to-face learning from September 2020.

The review identifies the twocore principles that drove Cardiff's response to the first lockdown as the need to work in partnership with public and private sector organisations to find solutions to issues brought about by the crisis, and to work collaboratively as a local authority to fulfil Cardiff's corporate parenting responsibility.

The authority's prioritisation of ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of its corporate team, school-based staff, learners and their families is highlighted as well as continued provision of essential support for schools across key service areas, such as health and safety, transport, human resources and children's services. 

The report describes how Cardiff was at an advantage in the provision of digital learning having been the first authority to roll out the use of Hwb as a digital learning platform for teachers and learners when it was launched. The Council's substantial investment in equipment and internet access for children and young people in need, with approximately 6,500 laptops and tablets, as well as 2,000 4G broadband mobile devices distributed to learners in the first phase of the pandemic, enabled a continuity of learning while pupils were at home. 

Strong communication is a key feature throughout the review, with emphasis on regular, accessible advice and guidance for headteachers, governors, learners and their families.

Other highlights include arrangements for childcare provision to support key workers and vulnerable children during the period of school closures, financial support for families with children eligible for Free School Meals via direct payments to parents' bank accounts, innovative projects to support pupils transitioning to their next stage of education or employment and ongoing support for vulnerable learners.

Focussing on the reopening of schools in September, the review describes a co-ordinated approach to supporting schools to reopen safely, in particular, helpful guidance, systems and processes to help them put in place proportionate protective measures for children and staff. The Council also continued to invest in digital technology in schools in line with its strategic planning.

Estyn notes how Cardiff used the experience of its pandemic response to consider how to build momentum from the opportunities that have arisen, to improve learning and teaching, and to support the wellbeing of all learners.

Cabinet Member for Education, Employment and Skills, Cllr Sarah Merry, said: "I'm really pleased that this Estyn review recognises the tremendous efforts that have been put in across the board since March last year to support our school communities in the city during these unprecedented times.

"Partnership working with external organisations and a collaborative approach across the authority's own services have been key to ensuring we can keep our pupils and staff safe, and learning has been able to continue despite the challenges. Support for vulnerable learners has been at the forefront of our minds throughout and it's good to see this acknowledged in Estyn's review.

"While the past 10 months have no doubt been the most difficult any of our learning communities will have faced, the strengthening of relationships between schools and the Council has emerged as a real positive. Many of our digital ambitions have been accelerated because of the circumstances and this is another benefit for us, and a solid platform that will enable us to move forwardagain."