2013 was the year education in Norfolk was put firmly in the national spotlight, with Ofsted targeting the county in inspections, reports and speeches, and the council ending the year awaiting ministerial orders telling it how to improve.

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As both a Norfolk MP and an education minister, Elizabeth Truss has a unique, if partisan, viewpoint from which to see how the national and local agendas intersect.

Given the attention on Norfolk this year, will 2013 be seen as the year Norfolk turned the corner?

While Ms Truss said people were already aware of weaknesses, this was the year Ofsted “brought a real focus and urgency to sorting them out”.

“The important thing that happened this year is that everyone in Norfolk has recognised there’s a problem, and it needs to be worked on, and you are starting to see the signs of improvement,” she added.

Ms Truss is a vocal supporter of academies and free schools, and while “early leaders” had been active in Norfolk before 2013, there was now a “critical mass”.

Locally, she picked out the growth of specialist Norfolk chains of academies responsible for multiple schools as a key development.

“They are getting the benefits of scale. They are sharing information, not just within schools but between schools. I think that’s very important in a rural county, being able to offer teachers exciting career opportunities,” she said. A development she said will further attract teachers will be the arrival next year of Teach First, a training programme which aims to attract the brightest graduates and send them to struggling communities.

The council has pointed to recent successes of its £1m, two-year Norfolk to Good and Great programme, but does the minister have confidence in its plan?

She is careful not to commit herself: “I think the proof is in the pudding. What I do want to see is where schools are not improving, the council is prepared to put improvement notices on the school. If schools are not delivering for children, they should not be left to flounder.”

Ms Truss raises the low number of primary schools that are academies – 9pc of the national total, compared to 51pc of secondary schools, and much lower in Norfolk – and signalled a government drive to create more.

Some have accused the Department for Education of being obsessed with academies – it rarely tweets good news about any school which is not one – but Ms Truss said there are many kinds of good schools, but converting to academy status improves those that are under-performing.

It is an issue with a sharp focus in Norwich, where the parents at Cavell Primary are fighting for it to join a co-operative trust rather than academy chain, a dispute Ms Truss would not be drawn on.

She also supported more all-through schools, where primaries and secondaries merge, reducing problems when pupils make the transition from one phase of education to the next.

Nationally, there has been a sense in 2013 of a government trying to firmly embed its reforms ahead of the 2015 general election.

Changes to the national curriculum, A-levels, GCSEs, league tables and the introduction of free school meals for infants have all been agreed this year, while the free school and academy programmes continued unabated.

As Ms Truss said: “A lot of major pieces of the jigsaw have been put in place and there’s now a greater emphasis on implementation.”

In her ministerial role, much of 2014 will be taken up with preparations for the new national curriculum, which comes into effect in September. For local schools, it will involve six months of preparation for when computer programming starts being taught from five, languages become compulsory from seven and calculators are banned from exams for 11 year olds.

2013 was also the year when Ms Truss came to national prominence, largely because of disputes with Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who blocked her signature proposal for higher child care ratios.

One suspects the two did not exchange Christmas cards, but when asked about their relationship Ms Truss dutifully listed coalition policies their two parties have delivered, mildly adding that “there are a number of other issues on which we don’t agree”.

2013 was also a year when the ‘Norfolk nine’ – the county’s seven Conservative and two Lib Dem MPs – flexed their collective muscles in the education sphere, easing the departure of Lisa Christensen as head of the council’s Children’s Service Department, and demanding a rethink of plans to cut college students’ transport subsidies.

Ms Truss says that in 2014 they will focus on skills in Norfolk, and push the government not to take its eyes off the county. The council’s education cabinet member Mick Castle has called for the government to give Norfolk the same funding inner cities received for the last decade, but Ms Truss argues for attention rather than money.

She said: “We are making the case that Norfolk has lost out and needs to get more of that focus, whether it’s people like [academies minister] Lord Nash visiting the county and being directly involved in seeking solutions, or the county council getting the support it needs, or Teach First coming. I think all Norfolk MPs will be drumming the point to make sure the county gets the attention it deserves.”

The Conservatives are well into their preparations for the 2015 manifesto, but when told that many Norfolk teachers talk of the need for a period of stability in the education system, Ms Truss instead talks about the need for continuing change.

While there were no concrete clues about what a Tory majority government might do, Ms Truss talked about raising expectations, improving accountability systems, and lessons from Shanghai, which topped the international Pisa league tables which this month saw the UK stagnating. Elizabeth Truss said 2013 had been “quite a whirlwind” for her, but after a festive rest there is little doubt she will be back fighting for her vision of education in 2014.

16 comments

  • London Challenge didn't need expensive academies to compete .....they needed cash and huge cooperation with each other to bring about their current high levels of success. This smoke screen of competition never works.....look at our appalling energy companies, rail companies etc which are expensive and useless.

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    Sportswagon

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • She looks like a good egg,yummy Tory too .

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    PaulH

    Saturday, December 28, 2013

  • The academies and free schools have introduced a much needed competitive element to education. They had to be levered in because councils were happy with the status quo, education being in fact a nice little earner and an empire builder. Up to now schools have been bomb proof, and lazy heads and lazy governors of lazy schools knew that the magic cheque would arrive each year without fail. Now schools face a bit of insecurity.....I call it the real world.

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    Fly Tipper

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • Sweet cheeks have u taken leave of your senses. Very admirable to stay true to your Tory roots but I tend to go for those politicians who are getting it right. This pathetic excuse for a politician really has no idea as is proved with countless boobs.....ummmmh literally too.

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    Sportswagon

    Sunday, December 29, 2013

  • Oh no, not another puff article about an indifferent MP. Who is her favourite political figure of 2013? Daffy Duck? Which Tory MP is to get a free praise fest next? Yuck.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Saturday, December 28, 2013

  • I don't often agree with Mr Castle but he is spot on in every aspect of his comments. Indeed what about the MPs' miserable silence during the Tory reign at county hall? What about the £ms spent on the 900 London Challenge school initiative? What about the highly successful, non academy schs in Norfolk? This is all very conveniently forgotten by our MPs which is why they are held in such contempt. They are merely politically grandstanding as usual. Shame on them and bring on the election!!

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    Sportswagon

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • Yet more selling from a minister who just hasn't got a clue what education is about. Lizzie, academies and free schools are FAILING; they are EXPENSIVE; local people DON'T want them; they are UNDEMOCRATIC.......Why no mention of the numerous great schools in Norfolk which bar the 2 Ormiston successes are ALL LA maintained schools? We know why because she has to follow the centralist state dictates from London which forbids any mention of anything except academisation which the clever Norfolk folk have chosen not to embrace. It seems we are a bit wiser than London knowitalls think we are.

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    Sportswagon

    Saturday, December 28, 2013

  • Well done Elizabeth Truss, at least someone is taking an interest instead of the Labour rubbish we have had in the past. Yes there are plenty of people who would like a say but our children's education has failed in the past and Ms Truss is trying to do something about it. Well done and I will be voting for you.

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    Sweet cheeks

    Sunday, December 29, 2013

  • I totally agree with the original statement from Morris, unfortunately Elizabeth Truss is quite clueless and biased in her point of view about education. As Morris states academies and free schools are failing, they are very expensive, local people don’t want them and they are very undemocratic. There is no mention of all the good or outstanding successful LA schools which are performing at an excellent level or academies which have had millions of pounds spent on new buildings, high salaries for senior staff and are still underperforming. The first secondary academy built in Norfolk was the Open Academy and after Ofsted visited last July, “Requires Improvement” after five years of being an academy.

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    GreyMan

    Monday, December 30, 2013

  • There are hundreds of professionals in Norfolk who would love to be interviewed about education and you go and ask the one person who knows nothing! Well done again EDP! Assisting the Norfolk sell out of our young people for countless years now.

    Report this comment

    TheTruth

    Saturday, December 28, 2013

  • Norfolk Schools are a priority issue - it is just a shame that our Norfolk MPs didn't see that things needed doing until after the Conservative administration at County Hall got kicked out in May. I take a pragmatic view on doing the best for Norfolk youngsters so I won't refuse any olive branches from Elizabeth Truss. We may need some investment too - that was part of the reason for transformation of London schools.

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    Mick Castle

    Sunday, December 29, 2013

  • Fighting for continuing change eh? It's constant government interference that has wrecked the teaching profession,and driven all the best teachers into early retirement! It's politicians like this who make the words useless and incompetent seem completely inadequate to describe the wrecking of the education system,of course the only way to get on is to make sure you go to a good public school like Eton,or Harrow,like most of the ministers in the present government.

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    Harry Rabinowitz

    Saturday, December 28, 2013

  • Mick Castle should stick to what he's good at. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to encompass Norfolk schools, given the shambles they are currently in. The fact that some of the stuff that Truss has come up with is poor doesn't make him outstanding by comparison - it wasn't him that got shot of Lisa now, was it? I didn't hear him complaining when Liz and Henry did his dirty work for him in this regard....

    Report this comment

    Fenscape

    Friday, January 3, 2014

  • ....."there was now a “critical mass”."......of academies and free schools. In war time language, the torys have now established a bridgehead against the hitherto invincible Marxist empire of the NUT. Having established this foothold, using a political Blitzkrieg unparalleled in educational history, the Tory generals are now using surgical ofsted strikes against isolated and vulnerable small village primary schools dotted around Norfolk. The small schools are reacting, albeit belatedly, by deperately building ofsted proof cooperative shelters. Unfortunately, like most things run by cooperatives, they will be too costly, ineffective and late on delivery.

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    Fly Tipper

    Sunday, December 29, 2013

  • And don't forget the support she gave to wealthy farmers ensuring that they managed to keep hold of as much public subsidy as possible instead of delivering more public goods.

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    Betty Swallocks

    Saturday, December 28, 2013

  • Sweet Cheeks as someone who has voted Conservative in lots of local and general elections I completely agree that something needs doing. However, if that something is based on politics rather than research, finance rather than people, and rhetoric rather than results then the lesson is clearly 'leave it to those who know' rather than those on a self gratifying mission.

    Report this comment

    TheTruth

    Sunday, December 29, 2013

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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