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Thursday, 31 July 2014

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Cumbria school bosses told ‘get your finger out’

CUMBRIA education bosses have been told they need to “get their finger out” and improve the county’s secondary schools as they are being “left behind.”

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In a damning letter, Ofsted told the local education authority, Cumbria County Council, and independent academies it has “serious concerns” about the quality of secondary education in Cumbria and it needs to be “urgently addressed”.

The education watchdog carried out a blitz of inspections across 17 of the county’s schools in November and December under the tougher new framework. Ofsted said: “Too few secondary schools are good and the picture is not improving.”

Michael Cladingbowl, Her Majesty’s Inspector (HMI), Ofsted’s regional director for the North West said: “There is too little evidence to suggest the council is providing an effective and shared strategy to improve the quality of education across the county.”

Mr Cladingbowl said the local authority needed to provide greater challenge and support and extend partnership working. Ofsted is now closely monitoring education in Cumbria and continuing to work with schools and the council to ensure a higher proportion of young people are provided with a good standard of education.

The accelerated inspection programme was brought in as Ofsted already had concerns about the below average proportion of good or better performing secondaries, when the proportion of Cumbria primaries is above average.

In Barrow, there are now three secondary schools which have had grade four “inadequate” rating overall in their last full inspections. Under the blitz, Walney School was placed in special measures and St Bernard’s was told it had a “serious weaknesses”.

Furness Academy was placed in special measures in May. During a monitoring inspection it was “making reasonable progress” towards special measures being removed.

Overall in Cumbria, Ofsted found:

lGCSE results were significantly below the national average in the last two years, with the gap widening.

lA particular concern is school performance in coastal and urban areas, and the low achievement of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

lPockets of good teaching in almost all the schools, and signs of improving leadership and better governance in a small number.

lCommon weaknesses were; poor achievement in maths and English for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly boys; too little challenge in lessons for more able students; and weak leadership of teaching and performance management of teachers.

Ofsted’s Andrew Johnson HMI, a senior inspector on the team, told the Evening Mail: “The letter is intended to provoke change. We looked at Cumbria and we have serious concerns. It is a very firm letter and makes it clear that it needs urgently addressing. It is up to Cumbria County Council and the academies to put things right.

“We will be looking over the next few months at the response, we will look at the direction of travel of the schools.

“We want to see you (Cumbria) get your finger out. You need to get these schools and academies improving. It has gone on for too long.”

Mr Johnson said in other parts of the country there have been inspections of local authorities. This did not happen in Cumbria but it could in the future.

The inspector said: “We will have regular meetings with the local authority. We are trying to break the cycle of schools coming into a category of concern, and going backwards and forwards, but not getting to good.

“Cumbria is being left behind. If you compare Cumbria with other parts of the country this is uncommon.

“The proportion of good or better primary schools in Cumbria is above the national average. In some ways that makes it more concerning. These children leave (primary school) with really good outcomes.

“Some areas are right at the forefront (of improvement), but unfortunately Cumbria is trailing the field.

“We will not walk away. Ofsted will be supportive. It is not our job to intervene directly with schools.”

Schools in South Cumbria report improvement is already happening since the inspections.

Walney School has a new headteacher in John Richardson, who started last month. He has vowed to work tirelessly to unlock its potential for excellence. Responding to the letter, Mr Richardson said: “Improvement is happening at pace at Walney School. As and when HMI come back they will see that. This was born out of the support from Cumbria County Council and Cumbria Alliance of System Leaders.”

St Bernard’s had been judged as a grade two “good” in 2011. Headteacher Mary Page said St Bernard’s will strive to reach its potential to be outstanding. In reference to Ofsted’s Cumbria findings, Mrs Page said: “The outcomes reflect a very narrow framework that has been applied rigorously.”

Furness Academy’s chairmain of governors, Ted Creighton, said: “Our recent HMI monitoring visits have secured the judgement of ‘making reasonable progress’ on our journey out of special measures. Our recovery plans are working and are bringing improvement. There is some way to go but we are moving in the right direction.”

Of Cumbria’s 37 secondary schools, 18 are academies and are independently run. The council is working with Cumbria Alliance of System Leaders to improve performance across schools.

Councillor Anne Burns, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We accept Ofsted’s analysis of the situation and know there is much more to do to ensure all secondary schools are providing the quality of education that parents and pupils have a right to expect.

“But it’s also right to point out 65 per cent of Cumbria secondary school pupils attend a school that is ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ – we want that to be 100 per cent, but we should not lose sight of the fact Cumbria does have many great schools.

“The council’s role is to monitor challenge, support and, in exceptional circumstances, intervene in schools to ensure standards are being met.

“But headteachers and school governors have first responsibility for their school’s performance; the days when the county council could routinely intervene are long gone.

“It’s not acceptable we have schools that are judged to be inadequate and we are working with schools to develop robust improvement plans which will rapidly deliver the change that is needed.”

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