OFSTED: Suffolk Schools Not Improving Fast Enough

The education watchdog has accused Suffolk County Council of being too slow in its action to help schools in the area improve.

Inspectors carried out a local authority school improvement inspection in January and found that, while the council had made progress, it had not acted quickly or decisively enough to make significant improvements since the previous inspection last year.

Inspectors found that too few pupils in the county attend a good or outstanding school, particularly in Lowestoft and Ipswich which have the highest level of deprivation in the area. The number of pupils achieving average levels of attainment and making at least nationally expected progress remains below average across Suffolk. This is especially the case for disadvantaged pupils at secondary school, where the authority is the worst performing in the region.

However, the council has taken positive steps to effectively support and challenge inadequate schools to improve. Rigorous monitoring of pupils’ progress and risk assessment has meant the local authority is better able to identify those schools at risk of decline. But this work is too recent to have prevented some schools from deteriorating.

East of England Regional Director, Andrew Cook said: "While I recognise that Suffolk Council has taken positive steps to improve education in their area, and there are signs for optimism, the county is still not making swift enough progress. Much of their strategy has been implemented too recently to impact substantially on pupils’ outcomes. Pupils’ attainment in Suffolk remains below average, particularly for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. As a result, 25,000 children do not attend a good primary or secondary school. This needs to improve.

"The local authority has a vital role to play in boosting pupils’ achievement and ensuring that all pupils in Suffolk attend a good or outstanding school. We would like to see them build upon the progress made, ensuring that the targets set by schools, especially for disadvantaged pupils, are aspirational. Therefore, I have recommended that the authority is given time to embed its improvement plan, with a further inspection carried out in the next two years to evaluate whether outcomes for all children have improved.

"Inspectors found that there was still not enough school-to-school support in the county, especially in the areas that needed it most. Some school leaders expressed concern that they did not know where to access good quality support or opportunities to work in collaboration with others.

"However, inspectors did find some notable improvements, including better use of formal powers of intervention where schools were identified as causing concern. These included issuing formal warning notices, deploying additional governors, and using school improvement boards before establishing an interim executive board.

"There were also examples of successful partnership work between other local authority services and schools, colleges and early years settings. The council’s officers had worked well with employers, colleges and other further education providers to secure suitable provisions for all 16-19 year-olds. As a result, the proportion of young people participating in education, training or an apprenticeship had increased at a faster rate than nationally."

In addition to rapidly improving achievement, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, inspectors identified the following areas for action:

  • using the recently introduced system for monitoring achievement in all schools to identify schools at risk of declining and intervening more quickly when necessary
  • improving the effectiveness of communications and consultation with schools
  • working in partnership with all school leaders to identify priorities for improvement and agreeing a cohesive strategy to support leadership, teaching and learning
  • urgently increasing the availability to all schools of high quality support, including school-to-school support
  • clarifying the purpose of local authority officer visits to all schools in relation to monitoring, challenge and the signposting of appropriate support

Responding to the report Suffolk County Councillor Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills, said: "I believe this report comes as an endorsement of our direction of travel and the ambitions we have for the county’s schools. I have always said our programme for long term improvement will not be accomplished overnight. We take on board the areas for improvement identified in Ofsted’s letter. These are all areas we were already aware of and work was already in progress before receipt of Ofsted’s letter.

"I remain fully committed to ensuring we deliver the opportunity for every child to attend a good or outstanding school in Suffolk. Ofsted acknowledges that our vision and strategy are moving us in the right direction and there are some very positive points to take from their letter.

"Seventy five per cent of our schools in Suffolk are classed as good or outstanding and I am determined to continue with our good work so far in raising standards so we can achieve 100 per cent.”

"We have already implemented significant changes since the last Ofsted visit. Suffolk is an improving picture and Ofsted recognises this. We have closed the gap at key stage 1 and key stage 4 to within 1 per cent of national figures, an improvement of some 7 per cent. Educational standards are on the rise and we will ensure this sustainable progress and improvement continues."

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