‘No stone left unturned’ to raise school standards

John Holdich

John Holdich

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Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills published his final annual report, prior to his retirement, on 1 December 2016.

The report highlights, amongst other things, that Peterborough is one of the best areas for the number of schools judged good or outstanding by Ofsted. In the East of England, Peterborough is ranked joint third for the percentage of children attending good or outstanding schools at both primary and secondary level. Translated into real figures the following represents the progress made:

91% of primary school pupils in Peterborough attend good or outstanding schools. This is a year on year increase of 6% and a 31% rise since 2012;

92% of secondary school pupils attend a good or outstanding school. This is a year on year increase of 8% and a 9% rise since 2012.

Contrast this picture with the unvalidated data on education attainment in those same schools rated good and outstanding and you find a picture, at Key Stage 2 (11 year olds) where attainment is one of the weakest in the country. This picture may appear, on the face of it, puzzling and inexplicable but in reality this is not the case and I would like to explain why.

Ofsted inspections, amongst other things demonstrate the following:

There is good and outstanding teaching and learning taking place in the majority of our primary and secondary schools;

The council’s school improvement service is rated effective by Ofsted and is often commended for its support to schools.

Against this however, Peterborough faces a unique set of challenges acknowledged by Ofsted and the Department for Education which, in turn, create significant challenges for our teachers and schools. Paul Brooker, Regional Director for Ofsted in the East of England, has written to us since this report was published to confirm that there are no other local authorities in the region that have a context that is the same as Peterborough. These are not excuses, rather they explain a context which we must all understand to ensure that, as a city, the right actions are taken.

The challenges are as follows:

We have lower than average attainment on entry to school;

We have huge churn in the population of our children and young people who move schools in term time, but who also move into the city from other areas during the academic year. Our churn is the second highest in country;

Each time a child moves school it means a loss of one term of academic progress as well as the disturbance it causes to the learning of other children in that class;

We have high numbers of pupils, (double the national average), where English is not their first language including many who arrive into the city with little or no knowledge of the English language. English is also not being spoken regularly by some families at home which delays progress;

We have high numbers (higher than the national average) of pupils from a disadvantaged background;

We have a high number of young people with special educational needs.

Other areas have some of these factors but not all of them, or to the same degree, and that is what makes our challenge unique.

An experienced educationalist explained this challenge by drawing an analogy which I have found helpful. He told me to imagine young people running a race and by the time they reached the age of 16, to achieve a good result in their GCSEs, they have to run 100 metres. The race for our young people is different because, with the challenges listed previously, they have to run at least 150 metres to get similar good GCSE results.

The positive news is that many now do get good GCSE results because the teaching in our schools is good and outstanding and that teachers have risen to and met the challenges which our young people face.

Having said that, using the same analogy, by the age of 11, at Key Stage 2, children have not been able to run far enough by the standards and tests set by Government so our results are lower than in other areas.

Whilst this analogy is helpful, it could lead us to be complacent but I have a firm belief that we must not give up and we must continue to support our schools and the teachers within them.

Some local authorities subscribe to the view that because Government has significantly diminished the role of local authorities in education that there is little that can be done by any council. I take a different view and that is why we have a clear and robust action plan to support our teachers and schools in raising attainment and some of the actions are set out as follows:

We will continue to provide robust challenge, advice and support to all our schools to the standard and quality commended by Ofsted;

We will continue to support the city’s School Improvement Network led by our schools in the action they are taking to improve attainment.

This includes the continued funding for the School Improvement Board and schools working together to share best practice;

We continue to commit significant financial investment to provide good quality schools and equipment to those schools;

We will intervene in maintained schools which are failing to get them back on track as we have had significant success in this respect in the past;

We will work with schools and parents to help to ensure that children are better prepared as they start primary school;

We will work with schools and parents to improve in year movement of children in term time to reduce the amount of churn in our schools;

We will continue to positively work with the Regional Schools Commissioner as they work to address underperforming academies in the city.

No one should underestimate the hard work that is already underway or how much time and effort needs to be devoted to an unrelenting focus on all our challenges. Just as our schools and teachers are challenged by the circumstances in which they find themselves, I too welcome and relish challenge and I have been considering for some time how to ensure that the measures I am putting in place and those of my officers are properly appraised.

Although I have led education in this city for some time and am Chairman of the successful City College Peterborough; a fresh pair of eyes and perspective can offer a different and important evaluation.

I have therefore decided to ask Councillor Lynne Ayres to critically and objectively appraise our action plan to support teaching and learning in Peterborough. Councillor Ayres is a respected lawyer in this city, has excellent analytical skills and as a chair of governors is well positioned to carry out this very important evaluation review.

She will be supported by an expert in education, John Harris. Mr Harris was formerly the Head of Education at Westminster City Council as well as Director for Schools at Hertfordshire County Council.

I will leave no stone unturned to understand whether there is anything more this council can do to support our teachers and schools in their endeavours to raise attainment in this city.

I am conscious of the role of our scrutiny committees in this agenda and in no way do I intend to take away from their responsibilities. Indeed, I anticipate that Councillor Ayres and John Harris will offer their advice and perspective which will be openly reported to the relevant scrutiny committee with a view to them deciding whether there are any further actions, through a Task and Finish Group or other forum, to take their work forward.

In making this announcement and also setting out the factual detail of the education picture in this city, I have a simple plea to make. Now is the time for the city to unite behind our schools to support their hard work to raise educational attainment.

We certainly need a robust and challenging debate about education alongside careful scrutiny of actions being taken. But I would like to see a change to the recent narrative, to one that offers a view of our city which does have difficult challenges but is, nevertheless, a great place to teach and learn because our MPs, councillors, parents and schools are lined up together in a common endeavour to fight for the best education for our children and young people.