Educating Norfolk: EDP readers share their concerns after our education system’s uncomfortable year in the national spotlight

Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Aylsham High School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Monday, February 24, 2014
7:00 AM

EDP readers have revealed their concerns about Ofsted, the academies movement and the ability of Norfolk County Council to help improve the county’s schools.

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Our online survey, which launches a week-long series focusing on education in Norfolk, asked parents, pupils and teachers to rate different aspects of education on a scale of one to five, with five the most positive.

The reliability of Ofsted reports, which have driven much of the past year’s agenda, was given the worst average rating of just 1.7, and the ability of academies to improve education - a solution the government and county council favour for schools they deem failing - was given a score of two.

And the ability of Norfolk County Council, which has a responsibility to support school improvement, to improve education was graded 2.1.

Respondents were most positive about their own school, with an average rating of 3.6, but had less confidence more generally in primary schools, rated three, and secondary schools, rated 2.7.

This week’s focus comes after year in which Ofsted and ministers put education in the county in the harsh glare of the national spotlight, and follows last month’s news that Norfolk plunged 20 places in the national GCSE league table, prompting Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman to tweet: “Needs now to be Norfolk’s #No1Priority”.

Last March, Ofsted was so worried it launched a one-week blitz of 28 school inspections; in July it branded the council’s support for school improvement “ineffective”, and in December it said 20,000 Norfolk children are being educated at primary schools which are “not yet good enough”.

And speaking to MPs this month, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said: “We have some counties in England that are performing incredibly badly, Suffolk and Norfolk being two of them.”

The government is also pressing the issue, with a statutory direction telling the county council’s Children’s Services Department to improve.

There are other concerns.

The National College for Teaching and Leadership has designated more than 900 national leaders of education who use their skills and experience to support struggling schools. Norfolk only has three - none at secondary level. A quarter of governor places are unfilled. Teacher recruitment is a persistent problem.

The council has recognised concerns, acknowledging as it launched its A Good School For Every Norfolk Learner strategy last April that “children and young people in Norfolk schools achieve less well than in other parts of England”.

However, the picture is not uniformly bleak. There are highly-successful individual schools, complex needs schools and post-16 colleges are highly rated, and Norfolk has just gone above the national average for 16-year-olds in education and training.

And while the 2013 primary school league tables showed the county in 136th place for reading, writing and maths, it narrowed the gap with the national average by two percentage points.

Colin Collis, county secretary for teaching union NASUWT, said: “I think things are better than people are being told they are. It’s not helpful to keep talking down Norfolk education. There are hundreds of teachers in Norfolk doing a good job every day and they don’t deserve the constant sniping.”

But there is wide agreement within the Norfolk education system that overall standards must improve.

For Thorpe St Andrew School headteacher Ian Clayton, “no-one can be satisfied from a county point of view”; for George Denby, chairman of the Norfolk Secondary Education Leaders (NSEL) group, “we are not improving fast enough”; for Nicole McCartney, executive principal of Ormiston Venture Academy, “we all know Norfolk has a lot of work to do, but knowing that is a huge step forward”.

Although moves to improve Norfolk education were already under way, it is clear that, in the words of Mr Denby, pressure from ministers and Ofsted has “galvanised everyone into collective action”.

Last summer the county council allocated £1.5 million to support school improvement; more trusts of academy schools are being formed in Norfolk; 52 of 54 Norfolk secondary school headteachers joined the restructured NSEL, and a new Norfolk Primary Headteachers’ Association has been formed.

Ofsted inspection reports for the autumn term showed a 4pc improvement in both primary and secondary schools in Norfolk.

But given the three-year time lag between students thinking about their GCSE options and taking their final exams, leaders warned results will not be instant.

Mr Denby said: “It’s a process that takes time, but we must not use that as an excuse. We have got to learn to work smarter and bring in changes that are going to impact on the lives of these children.

“We have got to be doing it now for all year groups, but people have got to realise it will have a greater impact the longer it is going on.”

What do you think about education in Norfolk? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

What does the state of education mean for our economy? See tomorrow’s EDP.

18 comments

  • ."... I hate teachers with a passion. ...". EDP ,...Can you explain to me why you are allowing a man with a psychopathic hatred of teachers free access to your forum ? Don't you think you should be alerting the police and social services ? Does he work for you ?

    Report this comment

    LARSON.E. WHIPSNADE

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • Pressure from Ofsted and ministers has galvanised the Council, that's true. They've been galvanised into offering schools as a sacrifice to Gove, making them pay for the sins of the county by being forced into academy status. If this is progress, I'll pass. Ask Children's Services about the dictatorial memo they received last year from the DfE, instructing them that all schools in special measures must become academies, in opposition to official DfE policy and regardless of the precise circumstances. This and the Council's spineless submission to such dogmatic bullying are not going to do anything to help our schools. In fact, it's symptomatic of everything that's wrong with them.

    Report this comment

    djw

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • So "V"'s solution is to disregard employment law and sex equality legislation, discriminate against people based on their (perceived) political leanings, and focus on battling a problem of nepotism that hasn't been demonstrated and has no obvious mechanism to function in a diverse and highly fragmented structure. I think we might struggle to have a productive dialogue with such an intellectual giant.

    Report this comment

    djw

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • "V" - "Thoreauwasright. If only you knew what I did for a living." - let me guess, sitting under a bridge brooding on your resentment and saying, in a loud voice "WHO'S THAT TRIP TRAPPING OVER MY BRIDGE?".

    Report this comment

    Thoreauwasright

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • V - any evidence for what you are saying?

    Report this comment

    pablo

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • It's probably asking too much but if the Secretary of State for Education showed teachers a little respect for once.Michael Gove seems to have a limitless capacity for teacher-bashing.He could start by agreeing to negotiate a settlement to the long-running trade dispute over teacher pensions.

    Report this comment

    Peter Watson

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • Sportswagon - Spineless is one word for it. Cavell Primary School is the latest victim of this, having had its governors sacked for being insufficiently pliable. The Interim Executive Board that was installed to act as NCC puppets just asked Gove to make the school an academy even though it isn't in special measures. There's a pretty vigorous SaveCavell campaign on Facebook and Twitter, as this is the frontline of the battle for Norfolk's schools.

    Report this comment

    djw

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • Thanks djw...never realised that Norfolk CC was so spineless. This needs a call to arms methinks!!

    Report this comment

    Sportswagon

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • ....."The unions are the only organisations who care enough for the wellbeing of children to stand in the way of state control"......LOL

    Report this comment

    Fly Tipper

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • ...."are being sacrified "for the greater good"......I don't see it as sacrifice, more a necessary step in the dismantling of union control of state education.

    Report this comment

    Fly Tipper

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • Were the private schools included in this dismal performance? If so, I dread to think where Norfolk would be in the tables if they were taken out.

    Report this comment

    alecto

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • pablo and djw. I have plenty of evidence so dont you worry about that.

    Report this comment

    "V"

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • pablo and djw. I have plenty of evidence so dont worry about that.

    Report this comment

    "V"

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • Sportswagon - Norfolk is pushing academisation because that's what the DfE want, and the failure of Children's Services is so severe that they live in permanent fear of drastic punishment from above. So they do exactly as Gove tells them, and good schools which have already suffered from the Council's neglect and dereliction of duty are being sacrified "for the greater good", in the hope that the DfE will be appeased. Our schools are being used to pay for the sins of Norfolk County Council, and it's an utter disgrace.

    Report this comment

    djw

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • "V": So you have "evidence" to support your enthusiastic support for political and sexual discrimination, and your determination to overturn employment law? What would such "evidence" even look like? Does your dogma offer any explanation for how Norfolk schools in particular seem to be doing so much worse in comparison to other counties than a few years ago? Has there been a sudden migration of ignorant, nepotistic lefty women? This is a serious issue, not helped by your contributions so far.

    Report this comment

    djw

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • V. Vile and ignorant as ever! Interesting that Ofsted is being viewed as the useless, political tool that it is. Why is Norfolk pushing academisation when it is clearly failing? Thankfully the good people of Norfolk can see thro this smokescreen.

    Report this comment

    Sportswagon

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • Instead of misreading the article and making insults worthy of a simpleton "V", how would you suggest Norfolk could improve overall standards?

    Report this comment

    Thoreauwasright

    Monday, February 24, 2014

  • Oh Frodo, how sad your right wing rhetoric! The unions are the only organisations who care enough for the wellbeing of children to stand in the way of state control. How can anyone be so thick?

    Report this comment

    Thoreauwasright

    Monday, February 24, 2014

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

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