Suffolk: Ofsted Finds Council's School Support Is Ineffective

A report out by Ofsted is claiming that Suffolk County Council’s support for school improvement is ineffective.

It says the life chances of young people in Suffolk are being damaged by the local authority’s failure to challenge and support schools, in a letter published today.

Ofsted had been concerned that pupils in Suffolk’s primary and secondary schools are performing well below national averages. The letter is the result of an inspection of the way the local authority is working to improve education in the county’s schools.  

It finds that:

  • Pupil performance at Key Stages 2 and 4 in Suffolk is well below the national average.

  • The council’s strategy to challenge and support schools is weak – this has left some schools languishing in mediocrity.

  • Officials have been tardy in addressing poor leadership in council-run schools.

  • They have not communicated well with school leaders, many of whom are unaware of the local authority’s role in realising rapid improvement.

  • There needs to be better and more consistent use of information by local authority staff to intervene quickly when schools are in trouble.

However Ofsted did find that local councillors and senior local authority officials are ambitious and determined to bring about improvements in Suffolk schools. But not enough has been done to make the improvements that are needed.

Sean Harford, Ofsted Regional Director for the East of England, said: “Too few pupils in Suffolk attend a good or outstanding school, and far too many attend inadequate schools. That is unacceptable.

“It is disappointing to find that Suffolk County Council has been ineffective in the way it supports schools. The local authority has not tackled weaknesses in schools quickly enough. That just isn’t good enough when the prospects for the young people of the county are at stake.

“In the summer of 2012 the council launched its “Raising the Bar” policy as it recognised the need to raise education achievement. But there have been no significant improvements in pupils’ attainment since that time and there is still no clear strategy for how the local authority will make improvements.

“We will keep working with the council and Suffolk schools so that more get to good or better.”

To help tackle the problem of low pupil attainment in Suffolk, Ofsted recommends that:

  • Suffolk County Council must urgently finalise, communicate and implement its plans to improve school quality.

  • It improves the quality of communications between the local authority and school leaders.

  • The local authority must rapidly identify and resolve emerging problems in schools, particularly in relation to leadership. 

  • Senior officers need to have better ways of checking the quality of the work of the Learning and Improvement Service.

Now that Suffolk County Council’s education support has been found to be ineffective, Ofsted will monitor developments and re-inspect within a year.

Suffolk County Council has released this statment to Heart:

Suffolk County Council has responded to a report, published by Ofsted today, following an inspection into its arrangements for supporting school improvement.

Councillor Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education, skills and young people, said: “Ofsted’s report makes sobering reading, and rightly so. There are few issues of greater significance than the education our young people receive and if advice needs to be given, it ought to be heard – loud and clear.

“We welcome Ofsted’s report and absolutely agree with the four areas of improvement they have identified. So much so that work to address each of them is already well underway. This report confirms that we are tackling the right issues so that the county council is in the best possible position to support and challenge schools to improve.

“We will now, with this guidance from Ofsted, continue on our journey of improvement. Results are improving in Suffolk, but too slowly. And although 70% of schools in Suffolk are rated good or outstanding, this isn’t enough. We must all work to drive up standards.

“Key to solving a problem is recognising there is one in the first place. By launching the Raising the Bar inquiry, seeing SOR through and challenging underperforming schools to improve, the county council has demonstrated this recognition. Schools also know full well the scale of the challenge facing Suffolk. We’re already working, together, to make improvements and will leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of a better future for our children.”

Inspectors recognised that the county council has a vision for improving education attainment, is ambitious and that head teachers value the support they receive from the authority in strengthening governance.
 
Ofsted has, however, identified four areas of improvement for the county council to focus on:
 

1.    Urgently finalise strategic plans which demonstrate how the Learning and Improvement Service can contribute to the realisation of the council’s vision for improvement.

2. Improve communication with school leaders so that they understand the local authority’s role in school improvement.

3.    Ensure that challenge to, and intervention in, maintained schools that are underperforming, lead to rapid improvements in progress and attainment.
4.    Implement systematic and robust checks to evaluate the quality of work provided by the Learning Improvement Service.
 
Suffolk County Council is already working to address the four areas for improvement. Key actions include:
 
·         The development of a four year Raising the Bar school improvement strategy; this will set out clearly the leading role of the local authority when it comes to supporting, challenging and setting clear targets for improvement in schools. This is due to be published in March 2014.
·         Once the improvement strategy is launched, the local authority will engage and consult with school leaders to ensure their role in school improvement is understood and that the strategy is adopted throughout the whole establishment.
·         Since September, a much stronger and more robust stance has been taken with underperforming schools. During this period, the council has used its intervention powers (warning notices) more than in the last five years.
·         Currently developing, with an external partner, a more robust quality assurance regime for the work of learning and improvement service.
 
Reorganising schools is a major strand of the county’s approach in tackling historic underperformance in schools. The areas that have been reorganised in Suffolk, including Lowestoft, Haverhill, Forest Heath and Waveney, are already outperforming three tier areas.
 
Of the five major school reorganisations that have taken place in England in recent years, Suffolk is the only local authority where standards have not dropped during the reorganisation.

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