All working together to help children

On Saturday and Monday, the EDP carried the results of an authoritative survey of Norfolk's headteachers. They told of their anger at poor parenting, their desire to ban mobile phones from classrooms and to scrap league tables - and spoke of the at-times unbearable pressure of a growing workload. Today, Norfolk County Council's deputy director of education FRED CORBETT gives his view.

On Saturday and Monday, the EDP carried the results of an authoritative survey of Norfolk's headteachers. They told of their anger at poor parenting, their desire to ban mobile phones from classrooms and to scrap league tables - and spoke of the at-times unbearable pressure of a growing workload. Today, Norfolk County Council's deputy director of education FRED CORBETT gives his view.

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I was very interested to read the samples of concerns printed in the EDP from the survey of Norfolk headteachers.

Our heads are leading partners in shaping Norfolk's educational aspirations so what they say, even in small numbers, needs to be listened to.

I have worked closely with this excellent group of leaders for nearly 10 years and I am full of admiration for their dedication, hard work and ambition for our children.

Among them are some of the best and brightest school leaders in the country. But they are not all the same, their schools vary in size from 20-plus to 1,700-plus, they are at various stages of their careers and the nature of the pressures they experience varies hugely.

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Above all, they experience significant differences in how much their communities get behind them. Headteachers have been quietly transforming the system of schools in Norfolk, raising standards and managing some of the most complex changes any business or service has ever managed, and mostly with great humour, hard work and imagination.

Although there are always going to be concerns, many of the heads I come across are optimistic about the future and have good reason to be.

The county council has agreed some very important principles with our school heads as we develop the school system. We are all ambitious for our children and the Every Child Matters outcomes for all children must be at the forefront of our thinking and planning.

We want every child to feel safe, be healthy, reach the highest possible standards they can, be prepared to make good decisions about their lives and their future in the world of work and, importantly, to make sure they are able to shape their own lives and those of others with respect.

Together we recognise the importance of high quality teaching and learning and the fundamental importance of having high quality staff and supportive, yet challenging, governors for schools to be effective.

We also recognise that, in the future, success will be built on schools working together, recognising each others' strengths and supporting each other. Norfolk school heads are superb in the way they help when schools run into difficulties - as they do from time to time - and there is huge energy in the system where schools plan things together in groups or clusters.

We encourage innovation, with schools specialising and doing some things differently. We want initiatives but not overload. Headteachers support our expectation that everyone tries to reach the highest standards possible, using the best we know about how children learn.

Our system is built on trust, support and challenge, openness and good communication between schools and the council. We don't always get this right, but it drives us to constantly review and improve. Naturally this places some pressure points in the system.

Thankfully, the vast majority of pupils behave well in Norfolk's schools. There have always been misbehaving children but it does seem that in some places the behaviour of some is more extreme and causes a lot of concern. We are currently working on a new behaviour strategy with additional training and support for school staff and better specialist facilities.

Norfolk is committed to its very good special schools and units and we are currently consulting on the future development of these facilities. The education and inspections act, which came into force this year, has given more sanctions to schools but the focus of the heads' comments was absolutely right.

If behaviour issues are to be properly addressed they need to be done in close partnership with parents. This is not about blame. It is about mutual understanding, respect and consistency in our actions with children.

A significant part of our strategy in the coming year will focus on how parents and carers can support schools and how schools can engage with them more effectively.

I agree with the headteachers that league tables are sometimes harmful to school improvement but I also recognise we need objective data on how well schools are performing and more importantly how well our children are progressing. We are pleased with the significant progress being made but everyone agrees we have further to go on the journey to get it right for every child and good assessment is essential.

Heads nearly always have concerns about funding. Despite much better funding in recent years we would all like significantly more government investment to help meet the needs of our most vulnerable young people. While we know things are going to be tighter over the next few years, especially in places where pupil numbers are declining, the budgets of schools will continue to increase.

We all want good schools for every community. We have much improved standards in schools and are currently investing some £200m to build or redevelop a large number of our schools.

This work coincides with the reorganisation of schools across the county, which sees first and middle schools replaced with primary schools and the age of beginning secondary school standardised at 11, in line with key stages. The massive building programme is set to continue in the next few years.

Having a good place to work helps improve staff morale and should continue to give the message to our children that we all have high aspirations for them. However, we need more than the buildings and funding, we need effective, highly motivated and motivating heads.

We at the county council will continue to support them in their vital role and I hope parents, the wider community, the media and above all our young people will do so as well.

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