Norfolk vows to tackle "legacy of underachievement" in schools

Derren Hayes
Friday, July 26, 2013

Norfolk County Council has pledged to strengthen its support for local schools in response to an Ofsted report that slated its work in the area as "ineffective".

Ofsted inspected Norfolk and the Isle of Wight because of long-held concerns over school performance. Image: Tom Campbell
Ofsted inspected Norfolk and the Isle of Wight because of long-held concerns over school performance. Image: Tom Campbell

Following one of the first inspections of council education support arrangements, Ofsted concluded that Norfolk had taken too long to challenge weaker schools, resulting in a “legacy of underachievement”. It had also only recently begun to challenge its underperforming schools in a robust way.

Gordon Boyd, assistant director of Norfolk children’s services, said: “We have too many schools in Norfolk that are not good enough or have not been quick enough to improve. Ofsted’s judgement, therefore, comes as no surprise and highlights our clear role in ensuring that schools are supported and challenged in their own improvement.

“Our new strategy focuses on much earlier intervention and is beginning to show positive signs of progress – the proportion of good and outstanding schools in the county is increasing and the role of the council in supporting school improvement has been found by Ofsted to be effective in the vast majority of recent school inspections.”

The Ofsted report acknowledged that the council’s new strategy for supporting school improvement, adopted in September 2012, was a “clear statement of intent to challenge and support schools to improve”, but that it had failed thus far to have a strong enough impact and lacked clear targets.

Inspectors said one factor “slowing the pace of improvement” was the ambivalence or resistance to partnership working from a significant minority of schools. This finding mirrors concerns among local government leaders about the ability of councils to influence schools outside of local authority control, such as academies and free schools. 

Norfolk and the Isle of Wight were the first authorities to undergo intensive Ofsted inspections of school improvement arrangements last month following previous critical assessments of both councils made by the regulator. 

Ofsted criticised leaders at Isle of Wight Council for the “uncoordinated approach to school improvement”.

“A lack of rigour in monitoring and challenge, mostly due to poor use of performance data, means that the local authority neither knows the schools well nor intervenes early enough,” it concluded.

In response, the council said it was strongly committed to improvement and was working with Hampshire County Council to develop an action plan.

Both councils have been given areas they need to improve on by the regulator.

Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the findings "should serve as a wake-up call" for authorities that are underperforming on school improvement.

He added: "If councils want to demonstrate they still have a relevant and meaningful role to play within the new educational landscape, they must act as dynamic agents for improvement."

 

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