Graphic: Norwich branded worst for GCSEs in England - but what else does new data tell us about education in our region?
08:00 21 June 2014
There have long been concerns about education in Norfolk and Suffolk, but a new analysis which breaks down the performance into smaller geographical units has thrown a harsh spotlight on particular areas.
Most worrying will be national news coverage branding Norwich the worst local authority area in England for GCSE results in 2013, closely followed by Waveney and Great Yarmouth, in second and third respectively.
But the data covers more than just GCSEs, and highlights concerns about more than just these three parts of our region.
Forest Heath, Breckland, Fenland and West Norfolk were also among the bottom 50 of the 326 local authorities in England for the percentage of pupils achieving the gold standard of five GCSEs at grades A*-C, including English and maths.
And West Norfolk and Waveney are consistently among the lowest performing areas in England for children at infant, junior and college levels, as well as for school absenteeism.
There are brighter spots, with children in south Norfolk and Broadland consistently doing better in these categories.
Notable among Norwich’s GCSE results was the poor performance of Norfolk’s first two academies - The Open Academy and City Academy - both of which fell below government’s floor standard.
Gordon Boyd, assistant director of children’s services, is in no doubt about how bad last year’s performance was, describing the GCSE results of Norwich as “paltry”, but said it was difficult to assign simple causes.
He said: “There is no doubt that the map mirrors patterns of social deprivation. The reason we would not use that as an excuse or mitigation, which we tended to do in the past, is because there are other places in the country, and the county, that buck the trend. There is no reason at all why the poorest children should not be given a cracking education.”
Jonathan Rice, chairman of the Norfolk Primary Heads’ Association in the west of the county, highlighted issues of rural deprivation common to much of the county, saying there was a clear link between deprivation and achievement.
He added that even in areas where parents have above-average incomes, often the number who had gone to university was below average, possibly affecting their view of the value of education.
However, he said: “It’s down to us to improve quality of teaching in schools and I’m not suggesting for a moment it is just an issue of parents and parental engagement. It’s a partnership.”
He said the last 12 months, a period subsequent to this week’s DfE data, was a particular focus on improving outcomes, and anecdotal evidence suggested the picture is improving.
Regarding Waveney, Suffolk County Council pointed to indicators of deprivation in north Lowestoft, where it said the percentage of the school population in the lowest band was four times the Suffolk average, and the number in the highest band was half the county average.
Two of Lowestoft’s high schools - both sponsored academies - were in special measures.
A council spokesman said: “We are having robust conversations with the Department of Education about the standards in the two academies and continue to work closely with the area maintained school to ensure standards rise.”
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