Education secretary Michael Gove has his say on issues in Norfolk

Education secretary Michael Gove, who says that too many children across Norfolk are missing out on a quality education. Education secretary Michael Gove, who says that too many children across Norfolk are missing out on a quality education.

Education secretary, Michael Gove
Monday, April 14, 2014
5:53 PM

There have been grave concerns over the state of education in Norfolk. We asked education secretary Michael Gove what was being done to address the problems. This is his response.

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State of education in Norfolk a pressing problem that must be tackled

The state of education in Norfolk is the most pressing problem facing the county today.

In February, we ran a six-day series of articles examining this issue in depth: what is going wrong, what is going right, what do we need to improve and how we can do it.

The problems have catapulted our county’s performance on to the national stage, and the depth of concern locally is so great, and the importance of the issue so grave, that we repeatedly asked to talk to secretary of state for education Michael Gove about what he is doing about it. He refused. Instead, we sent him 10 questions. We wanted reassurance that the education crisis in our region was being treated with urgency and seriousness at the very highest levels of government.

After more than five weeks, Mr Gove responded.

He spoke of “extreme concern” about the county council’s failures in arrangements for protecting children, looked after children’s services and school improvement, and said it was vital there is a “relentless focus” on children’s services.

But he avoided directly answering the key questions of whether he had confidence in the council’s strategies to improve education, and whether it should retain control of its children’s services. He said: “We are working with Norfolk to make sure their plans for improvement are robust and undertaken as a priority, and we expect to see rapid improvement across all services.”

He singled out the government’s controversial academy and free school programme as a mechanism to drive up standards, and highlighted the growth in the number of academies in Norfolk, from two in 2010 to nearly 50 today.

And he raised a series of other national government policies he said would help improve education in Norfolk.

Schools in England are on the up.

Since 2010, the number of children taught in underperforming secondary schools has fallen by almost 250,000. Only 154 schools failed to meet our tough new floor standards this year – while 407 would have failed in 2010.

Across the whole country, the independent schools inspectorate, Ofsted, says that schools improved faster last year than ever before in their history.

But we still need to go further, and as quickly as possible.

Children only get one chance at their education – and too many young people are still being failed by failing schools.

As parents across Norfolk know only too well, the East of England has lagged behind the rest of the country for far too long. Despite the hard work and commitment of hundreds of teachers right across the region, far too many children across Norfolk are still missing out on a top-quality education.

Across the county 135 schools are rated by Ofsted as “Requires Improvement” or “Inadequate” – and in the last set of key stage 4 performance tables, out of 151 education authorities, Norfolk ranked 138th.

So we are doing everything possible to drive up standards right across the county.

Our new, more ambitious curriculum and exams will make sure that more young people leave school with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, while the pupil premium is giving schools extra funding to help the poorest young people to catch up with their peers. That pupil premium is this year delivering £24m to Norfolk alone, helping 26,860 disadvantaged children in Norfolk’s schools. Our new measures for holding schools accountable will make it clearer than ever which schools are doing well and which need help – and ensure that we meet our goal of making sure that no child leaves school at 11 unable to read and write or without an understanding of maths.

Many more pupils in Norfolk are now studying the subjects which will help get them a good job, an apprenticeship or a place at university. Thanks to our English Baccalaureate, which recognises achievement in English, maths, sciences, languages, history or geography, the proportion of pupils studying these subjects in Norfolk has risen by 40% in the last three years. That’s a great improvement, but it’s still below the national average – so we want to make sure that numbers rise even higher.

But the most important way to drive up standards is to give schools and head teachers the freedom to make the decisions that are right for their pupils. That’s why we gave every school in the country the opportunity to become an academy, an independent school in the state sector.

In May 2010, there were just two academies in Norfolk. Today, there are forty-nine, including both primary and secondary and they include some of the very best schools in the county.

Norfolk also has some of the country’s most exciting new free schools, like the Sir Isaac Newton free school, one of the UK’s first specialist science and maths sixth forms – part of the Inspiration Trust led by the brilliant Rachel de Souza. Another is the Free School Norwich, led by the fantastic Tania Sidney-Roberts, which is pioneering a revolutionary approach to the school day and year.

We want to help great schools like these to spread their high standards and high ambitions across the whole county – giving as many children as possible the chance to benefit.

When a school is failing, the evidence shows that the best way to transform it is to bring in an academy sponsor with a proven track record of success – like the brilliant sponsors already working in the East of England, including the Inspiration Trust and the Ormiston Trust. Evidence shows that sponsored academies improve more quickly than any other state schools, including council-run schools.

So some of Norfolk’s best schools have now been approved as lead academy sponsors, including Springwood High School, and Costessey Junior School – and since last September, nine of the weakest schools in Norfolk have agreed to become sponsored academies.

We also recognise that schools in Norfolk have been unfairly funded for many years. That is why we announced that Norfolk will receive an extra £16m, an increase of £160 per pupil.

Norfolk teachers are also able to take advantage of our reforms to discipline: clearer guidelines for teachers so they know they can intervene physically when needed, clearer rules on excluding chronic trouble-makers or fresh guidelines on the kind of punishments – like picking up litter – teachers should feel free to impose on rule-breakers.

We want every school in Norfolk to reach the standard of the very best – and to give every child in the county the best possible start in life.

For children, that means the security of a rich, rigorous, rounded education; and for their parents, peace of mind that their child is going to a great school, and can look forward to a great future.

We put 10 questions to education secretary Michael Gove. As well as submitting an article, he sent us the following answers to five questions:

Q) Should Norfolk County Council retain control of its children’s services?

A) Any failure in children’s services is very serious. In the case of Norfolk, we are extremely concerned given the extent of failure across the service – arrangements for the protection of children, looked after children’s services as well as school improvement. It is vital that there is a relentless focus on local arrangements for children’s services. We are working with Norfolk to make sure their plans for improvement are robust and undertaken as a priority, and we expect to see rapid improvement across all services.

Q) Do Norfolk schools receive a fair level of funding?

A) Our new minimum funding levels are the biggest step towards fairer school funding in a decade. Norfolk will receive £16m, which could see per pupil funding increase by £160 per child from £4,334 to £4,494. Funding is allocated on the basis of pupil characteristics such as levels of deprivation, levels of attainment and the number of pupils in care, so for the first time pupils will attract a minimum level of funding regardless of where they are in the country.

Q) Should parents and local communities have a vote on whether their schools become academies?

A) A full consultation is always carried out before any final decisions are made on whether a school should become an academy – and these must always seek the views of a wide range of people – including parents and the local community.

Q) What is the government doing to address Sir Michael Wilshaw’s concerns about education in market towns and coastal resorts, and for white, working class children?

A) This government is taking decisive action to support disadvantaged pupils and close the unacceptable attainment gap between them and their peers.

We are increasing the Pupil Premium to £2.5bn in 2014-15 and doubling the number of disadvantaged two-year-olds eligible for free nursery places to 260,000. In Norfolk, just over £24m was given to schools for 2013-14, to help them support their most disadvantaged pupils – the total pupil premium allocation for this financial year (2013-14) was just over £24m, this will increase [significantly] in 2014-15 – the indicative allocation is just under £30m.

We have turned round more failing schools than ever before and are setting up new free schools to give all parents, not just the rich, the choice of a good school.

We have also introduced a number of new measures to make sure that all schools are held to account for how well they focus on the achievement of their disadvantaged pupils. The Ofsted inspection process now has a clear focus on the progress and attainment of disadvantaged pupils and those schools judged by Ofsted to require improvement are asked to carry out a Pupil Premium Review.

Q) What assessment has the government made of the impact educational under-performance in Norfolk is having on the economy of the county, and the UK as a whole?

A) The simple fact is that international comparisons – whether PISA or the recent OECD adult skills survey – show our education system is not keeping up with the rest of the world. This puts our young people at a major disadvantage when competing with their peers from abroad for jobs.

By giving heads more freedom to be innovative through our academies and free schools programme and introducing a rigorous new curriculum with qualifications that match the world’s best, we are reforming education to reverse this situation and give young people all over the country a fighting chance in the global race.

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