Norfolk County Council moving in ‘right direction’ on education - but much more work still to be done, chiefs admit
PUBLISHED: 08:52 13 August 2014
Efforts to transform education in Norfolk received a major boost when Ofsted today said the county council is now taking “effective” action to help schools to improve.
Eight key quotes from today’s Ofsted report:
“Norfolk’s arrangements for school improvement are now demonstrating more positive impact on the standards achieved by pupils and on the quality of education provided by schools.”
“Intervention in schools where underperformance is identified is now swift and proportionate. The local authority has intervened much more robustly this year, through significantly increasing its use of warning notices, establishing interim executive boards and removing governors’ delegated budget status.”
“Council leaders and senior officers have worked with determination to improve the outcomes for Norfolk’s pupils and they recognise that there is still much more to do.”
“Headteachers and governors believe that there is now a more effective system for supporting schools across the local authority, especially through much more robust data analysis which has led to greater challenge.”
“The attainment for pupils in the smallest primary schools remains stubbornly below the average figure for Norfolk.”
“Gaps between the attainment of vulnerable and more advantaged pupils remain too wide.”
“Four in five good and outstanding schools are now engaging in school support work across Norfolk because the local authority has developed more effective use of system leaders.”
“Elected county council members have authorised and provided significant additional resources to invest into the system to tackle the issues identified at the inspection in June 2013. This has been focused to target rapid improvement, engage external expertise and challenge weak practice in schools.”
The judgement represents a big turnaround for the local authority, a year after the school inspectorate became so concerned that it targeted the council for the first inspection of its kind, which branded its arrangements for supporting school improvement “ineffective”.
Sheila Lock, interim director of Children’s Services, said that while she was very pleased with the outcome of the re-inspection, it was “step one on a much longer journey”.
The report raise a number of areas which still need improvements, and Ms Lock said the council was not complacent, and warned there may not be a big jump in results until next year.
She said: “The improvement for all age groups is something that’s really, really positive, but we recognise there is still a way to go because our starting position last year was such that we have made as much progress as we can in a year.”
The letter from Ofsted pointed to the increase in the proportion of primary schools judged ‘good’ or better from 60pc to 70pc, and secondary schools from 47pc to 64pc, and a predicted six percentage point increase in pupils expected to gain five GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths, this summer.
Inspector Robert Pyner wrote: “The local authority’s improvement strategy is based on the forensic use of accurate outcomes data to provide intensive support and challenge for schools.
“All schools, including academies, are risk-assessed regularly. This leads to focused support and challenge from the local authority or, for high-achieving schools, strong encouragement to take up opportunities to provide support for others.”
He said that of 29 schools which received intensive support and had been inspected, 25 have improved to “good” or better, and noted that 90pc of comments about support from the council mentioned in school inspection reports in 2013-14 were positive.
The report also said the council had “intervened much more robustly” where schools under-performed.
That intervention has included installing interim governing bodies at six schools, issuing 21 formal warning notices, and taking control of 21 school budgets, and led to the controversial academisation of Cavell Primary School in Norwich.
Ms Lock said the council’s policy in this area remained unchanged.
Ofsted also outlined four areas which still need improvement, including a sharper focus on increasing the proportion of good or better secondary and smallest primary schools, and addressing the variability in pupils’ outcomes between districts.
Last year’s damning report was one of a series which put severe pressure on the Children’s Services Department, and raised fears the government would strip the council of control in this area.
Council leader George Nobbs said today’s report lifted that threat, and added: “We are changing the aspiration of Norfolk in terms of education, and changing them for good. We are absolutely determined that this is the first step of a long journey, but I think we have achieved an awful amount so far.”
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Norfolk to Good and Great (N2GG), a strategy which sees support targeted at about 100 schools that are judged to require improvement to pull them up to “good”, has been a key part of Norfolk County Council’s efforts to help schools improve.
Archbishop Sancroft High School in Harleston joined the scheme, and saw its Ofsted rating improve from “requires improvement” to “good” after an inspection last November.
Headteacher Richard Cranmer said: “The change in approach and attitude of the county is a quantum leap from where it was 12 months ago. It is unrecognisable from the previous approach.
“Last September we needed some support to investigate why in one or two areas our results had dipped. We had already enrolled in N2GG at the initial launch as I was very impressed with the principle that was being unveiled, that it was a ‘one stop shop’ that would enable us to engage with the best support and advice from practising professionals with a proven track record.
“The message was very clear that this support was not a magic wand and the improvement needed to be led from the school itself.
“The support was rapid and very effective enabling us to identify very quickly what needed our attention.
“The level of challenge has also increased, and the fact that we have had to submit half termly progress data reflects that.”
He had also worked closely with the headteachers of Aylsham and Hellesdon High Schools, because of the similarity in their intakes, and looked in depth at how each works to raise standards.
He added that the liaison between the headteachers’ associations was also very important.