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Graphic: Educating Norfolk: Where do we go from here? Education correspondent Martin George asks what we can learn from this week’s series

PUBLISHED: 08:02 01 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:03 01 March 2014

Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

Throughout the week, we have been examining the state of education in Norfolk. Education correspondent MARTIN GEORGE considers what we have learned, and what needs to happen.

Jacqueline Valin (left) principal pictured with Eastern Daily Press Education correspondent Martin George at Southfields Academy, Wandsworth, London. 
Picture by Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd +44 7813 022858
14/02/2014Jacqueline Valin (left) principal pictured with Eastern Daily Press Education correspondent Martin George at Southfields Academy, Wandsworth, London. Picture by Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd +44 7813 022858 14/02/2014

Writing about the state of education in Norfolk this week has been both a sobering and an inspiring experience.

Sobering because of the scale of the challenges facing the county, its poor overall position nationally and the slew of negative judgements Ofsted has made about individual schools. Inspiring, because of some excellent work taking place in different areas of the county and different sectors of the system, and the confidence and eloquence of all the pupils I spoke to.

People cited a number of reasons for the position that Norfolk finds itself in, all of them familiar and well rehearsed: low aspirations, under-funding, rurality, pockets of urban deprivation, complacency.

Norfolk is not alone in facing challenges, and the fact that other education systems with other major obstacles, most notably London, have still transformed their performance shows that Norfolk too can do it.

Education in Norfolk surveyEducation in Norfolk survey

When I visited Southfields Academy in Wandsworth to see how they benefited from the London Challenge, one thing above all struck me: they would not accept any excuses for poor performance.

Yes, they have real difficulties, but through detailed work with similar schools who nevertheless performed better, they did much to overcome them.

For too long there has been a sense of resignation in some parts of Norfolk, but, in the words of David Woods, former chief education advisor for London, “deprivation is not destiny”.

London education may have received much higher funding than available here; even so, the whole Norfolk education system must fully embrace the ‘no excuses’ mantra.

There is no doubt the last year has been traumatic for education in Norfolk, with sustained criticism from Ofsted and the government.

It was painful, demoralising, and sometimes deliberately provocative. But in future years, it may be seen as the shock the system needed to turn things around.

Talking to people across the education system, from headteachers to academy chains to Norfolk County Council, there is now a real sense of urgency that action must be taken now to change things. They are right.

It was encouraging to see there is now detailed, practical work underway in the county council and academy systems to bring in new ideas from outside, to encourage schools to learn from each other, to strengthen leadership, to support key subject areas.

It is too early to judge the success of these measures, as there is an inevitable lag when you change a system which children experience for more than a decade, but we must start seeing movement in key indicators soon.

As the government’s revolution to the education system continues, new tensions are emerging that could pull efforts to improve education in Norfolk in opposing directions.

The council’s strategy relies heavily on the Blair-era emphasis on collaboration, praised by Ofsted for its role in improving London. The coalition government is pushing for academies and free schools, which can emphasise competition between schools. But another key lesson from London is that teachers there feel responsible for all the capital’s children, not just their school’s.

Although the structure of education in Norfolk may be increasingly fragmented, there is no reason why our schools cannot still work together. If they do, they can all improve together. They are all responsible for Norfolk’s children.

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