One of Cambridgeshire's oddest traditions gets under way this morning...
Ofsted: Northants Schools 'Failing' Pupils
Northants schools have been given a damning report from the watchdog Ofsted - with nearly one in three youngsters in a school that's failing.
Sir Michael Wilshaw highlighted figures showing the East Midlands as the worst performing region in the country on a range of key indicators.
He blamed a culture of complacency and a lack of clear accountability for the poor educational performance of towns and cities across the region and across all phases.
Sir Michael made his comments on the same day that Ofsted's Regional Director for the East Midlands, Chris Russell, published an open letter to all those responsible for education in Northamptonshire. In the letter, he sets out his deep concerns about the low standards of achievement across the county.
Chris Russell said that far too many children and young people in Northamptonshire are being deprived of the opportunity to gain a good education, with weaknesses in the quality of provision persisting across every age group.
Sir Michael pointed out that these problems are not confined to this one local authority area, but are mirrored in a number of neighbouring towns and cities, and across the East Midlands region as a whole. For example:
" The East Midlands is currently the joint lowest performing Ofsted region in terms of inspection outcomes, with almost one in three secondary schools judged less than good at their last inspection
" The region had the worst GCSE results in England in 2015. Nearly 46% of pupils did not achieve the benchmark five or more A* to C grades including English and maths
" Nearly 73% of East Midlands' pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) failed to achieve this benchmark
" In the East Midlands children in care did worse than in any other region - just 10.2% of them achieved 5 or more A* to C grades in GCSE examinations, including English and maths.
Northamptonshire is one of the worst-performing local authority areas in the country for the achievement of disadvantaged children at key stage 2. Only 59% of FSM pupils in the county achieved the expected standards in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of primary school compared with 66% nationally. Their peers in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Derby fared nearly as badly, with just 60% achieving the expected standards
Sir Michael Wilshaw said: "These statistics should serve as a wake-up call. The poor quality of education in many parts of the East Midlands often passes under the radar as attention is focused on underperformance in the bigger cities of the North and West Midlands, like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham.
"However, in many ways, the problems in this region symbolise more than anywhere else the growing educational divide between the South and the rest of England that I highlighted in my last Annual Report."
The Chief Inspector pointed out that there are very few high performing multi-academy trusts (MATs) in the region, while the support and challenge to schools from local authorities has not led to rapid enough improvement.
Sir Michael said: "National politicians and policymakers must start to worry more about what is happening north of the Wash. They should be asking why schools in large parts of the East Midlands aren't doing better.
"Our future prosperity as a nation depends on us delivering a better quality of education to all our children, wherever they live. As things stand, too many schools in the East Midlands are failing to equip young people with the knowledge and skills the country needs to keep pace with its international competitors.
"As Chief Inspector, I am calling on local politicians across the region to do significantly more to challenge and support their local schools, regardless of whether they are academies or under local authority control."
Sir Michael's view is echoed by Ofsted East Midlands Regional Director Chris Russell in his letter to the main education players in Northamptonshire.
Mr Russell says: "Across Northamptonshire there are too many early years providers and schools of all types and phases that are not good enough.
"As a result, children do not achieve as well as they should. Disadvantaged children in the county are performing particularly poorly. There needs to be greater oversight and co-ordinated action from those accountable for educational provision in the county."
A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “Boosting performance in all of our schools and improving outcomes for young people is a key priority for the county council.
“Last year we launched our Race to the Top strategy which aims to make Northamptonshire one of the highest performing counties for education by 2020 by encouraging schools to strive for excellence.
“This fits with the government’s recent White Paper setting out its intentions for significant changes to the education system.
“Last month, the council’s cabinet approved a report outlining how this will be done through the strategic plan for education in Northamptonshire.
“This has three main components: to train, recruit and retain the best teachers and education leaders; implement a challenge and intervention strategy for all schools to ensure rapid improvement where there are concerns; and to strengthen links with business and industry.
“The strategy aims to improve performance in all schools including academies with the council re-establishing its relationship with academies to provide challenge and support.
“So far the council has planned to visit all schools in the county to understand how each one is performing and has also fully recruited to its team of school improvement advisors.
“Additionally the authority has been supported by Ofsted in co-ordinating two county-based conferences, which specialised in assessment and maths.”
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