Educating Norfolk: How did it get to this?
07:00 24 February 2014
It has been a long and gradual decline. In 2008, Norfolk was ranked 74th in England for pupils gaining five GCSEs at C or above, including English and maths. Its position has fallen every year since, reaching 138th in 2013.
Some Norfolk educationalists mention a sense of complacency that Norfolk schools were fine at a time when other areas, especially the big cities, were vigorously shaking up their systems.
Ian Clayton, one of Norfolk’s longest-serving education leaders and headteacher of Thorpe St Andrew School, pointed to the effects of two government changes.
He said that when local management of schools (LMS) was introduced in 1988, their financial independence from the council meant there was no longer a strategic oversight of education in the county, while the reorganisation of children’s services in the 2000s to focus on the most vulnerable children shifted attention away from education.
For Gordon Boyd, the county council’s assistant director of children’s services, Norfolk schools retained an inappropriate dependency on the council, despite LMS, leaving a legacy of missed opportunities for innovation and strong leadership.
Others have talked of a historic lack of funding and attention from Whitehall.
A Norfolk County Council request for a Rural Challenge, to mirror the London Challenge which improved education in the capital, was rejected by the Department for Education.
When he retired as assistant director of children’s services in 2012, Fred Corbett said he had faced a constant battle to overcome the prejudices of national education leaders who saw the county as a “backwater”.
Speaking then, he said: “I don’t think it was deliberately anti-Norfolk but it is felt to be a relatively comfortable environment and some of the challenges aren’t appreciated.”
Norfolk may have felt neglected in the past, but, for better or worse, it is now firmly in the government and Ofsted’s spotlight.