March 10 2014 Latest news:
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Children only get one chance at an education – but for too long, too many children in the region have been let down, left out and left behind.
For years, Norfolk’s schools have lagged behind the rest of the country and Ofsted’s annual report published this week showed that many schools are still not good enough.
According to Ofsted, the east of England has fewer good or outstanding schools, and more failing or inadequate schools, than anywhere else in the country. Of last year’s school-leavers, just over two-fifths (41pc) in Norfolk progressed to higher education – a full 7 percentage points lower than the national figures – and only 5pc of Norfolk students went on to a Russell Group university, compared to 8pc nationally.
However, there is positive news: the annual Ofsted report observed that in the East of England, “secondary schools... are beginning to get better”.
Over the last few years this government has taken urgent action to drive up standards at schools in the region as well as across the entire country. And thanks to hard work from teachers, pupils and parents, results are starting to look up.
Failing schools are being taken over by brilliant academy sponsors with a proven track record of success.
Their intervention is already having a huge impact, for example Thetford Academy, taken over by the Inspiration Trust in September this year.
The recent Ofsted monitoring report noted the positive ethos at the school, highlighting that progress is being made across the board. Students commented “that they felt the academy was a different place to last year”. With its new £19m school buildings, complete with state-of-the- art new science and ICT facilities, the drive and enthusiasm by both teachers and students to raise standards is to be congratulated.
There is Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey and Ormiston Venture Academy in Great Yarmouth, two new academies which opened in September 2010, replacing schools that had been under-performing for many years.
Three years on, they are some of the most improved schools in the country – the proportion of pupils achieving five or more A*-C GCSE grades in English and maths has already increased by more than 20 percentage points in Ormiston Venture, 35 percentage points in Ormiston Victory – and in May, both academies were judged “outstanding” by Ofsted.
Right across the county, innovative new schools are also offering pupils and parents more choice.
The entirely new Free School Norwich is offering parents high-quality childcare from 8am to 6pm, 51 weeks of the year, while Thetford Free School has received funding to provide alternative provision locally for vulnerable children.
Sir Isaac Newton free school in Norwich, a specialist maths and science school, is another great example. Last year, the proportion of pupils in Norfolk getting an A or A* at A-level was below the national average in biology, physics, chemistry and further maths, some of the subjects most prized by employers and universities. The school is now encouraging more young people from all over the county to study these high-value subjects.
Autumn 2014 will see the opening of the Jane Austen College free school. Specialising in English and humanities, a typical day is expected to finish at 5pm, with homework clubs and after school activities all incorporated within the school day.
As these brilliant achievements show, failing schools can be turned around – and quickly – and new schools can bring a top-quality education to communities under-served for generations.
Councils and teachers are getting involved through other inspirational initiatives like West Norfolk’s “Improving Attainment” programme and the Teach First scheme for exceptional graduates, which is coming to Norfolk for the first time from 2014.
Secondary schools of all types are upping their game – like Downham Market Academy, which has started to offer Saturday classes nicknamed “Mr Matthews’ breakfast experience”; the combination of bacon butties and extra tuition has proved highly popular with students keen to improve their grades.
All in all, children across the country now have a better chance than ever of attending a good or outstanding school, taught by the best ever generation of young teachers.
So it’s vital now that we keep the momentum up, keep focused on encouraging all schools to improve, and keep supporting those which are struggling. Most of all, we need the same sort of transformation in primary schools as we’re starting to see in secondary – so we’ve introduced new funding for clusters of primary schools wanting to convert to academies.
My colleague Lord Nash recently visited Norfolk to encourage more great schools, business leaders and brilliant academy sponsors like the Inspiration Trust to get involved in turning around under-performing schools – whether as governors, as academy sponsors at both primary and secondary, or by offering work experience opportunities to pupils.
With their help, and the dedication and commitment of teachers and parents, we can make sure that more pupils in Norfolk than ever before get the sort of world-class education that will give them the best possible start to their future.