Departing Norfolk education chief reflects on four years at the eye of the storm

Norfolk County Council assistant director of children services Gordon Boyd. Photo: Steve Adams

Norfolk County Council assistant director of children services Gordon Boyd. Photo: Steve Adams

He has been a key figure in Norfolk's education system at a time when it came under unprecedented scrutiny, and underwent dramatic change.

Gordon Boyd, assistant director of education, speaking at the Norfolk headteacher conference. Photo:

Gordon Boyd, assistant director of education, speaking at the Norfolk headteacher conference. Photo: Bill Smith

Now, as he prepares to move back to Scotland to become head of the senior school at George Watson's College in Edinburgh, Gordon Boyd has reflected on his four years as Norfolk County Council's assistant director of education.

He was previously head of City of Norwich School, and first joined the council to work on education for 14- to 19-year-olds.

Soon after taking his current role, Norfolk was in the cross hairs of both the Department for Education and Ofsted, with stinging criticisms about the performance of schools in Norfolk.

He said: 'The interesting question was whether there was some collusion between these agencies to get at Norfolk. My view is that no, there was not.


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'I think our job was to avoid feeling put upon and insecure as a local authority, and not say 'It's not fair'. Rather than saying that, we said, 'Yes, there is a lot of work to do, and headteachers need to be strong, effective and confident'.'

For Mr Boyd, Ofsted's scrutiny was positive, part of its new chief inspector's drive to put the spotlight on 'mediocrity', symbolised by the replacement of the old 'satisfactory' rating for schools with 'requires improvement'.

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He said: 'That was very helpful for Norfolk. It said 'you have a very high proportion of schools that require improvement'. People were aware of that, but had not really been expecting to be judged negatively as a result.'

In March 2013, 33pc of Norfolk schools were satisfactory or requires improvement, compared to a national average of 20pc. In the latest figures, 14pc of Norfolk schools are in that category, compared with 12pc nationally.

There are other signs of improvement, including a steady narrowing of the gap in headline GCSE results between Norfolk and the England average, and Ofsted saying in 2014 that the county council's support for school improvement was 'effective', a year after it was judged 'ineffective'.

However, Norfolk's test results for children at the end of primary school were, last summer, among the worst in England.

As for the scrutiny from the Department for Education, Mr Boyd said that was driven by its policy of encouraging schools to convert to academy status.

As any Norfolk headteacher knows, Mr Boyd has a mantra that the local authority does not run schools, colleges, early years settings - governors and headteachers do.

But he believes that Norfolk County Council still has a vital role: 'Whatever happens to the role of the local authority, no other organisation has the general interest in impartially championing [Norfolk] children.'

He is proud that the council's strategy, A Good Education for Every Norfolk Learner, has been adopted by three successive administrations at County Hall.

Looking back at how Norfolk's education system has developed over the last four years, he said: 'The quality of leadership is undoubtedly high and confident. That is the thing Norfolk was missing.'

He added: 'I think the thing I'm most proud of is to see education leaders of all kinds responding so positively to the challenge of providing a good education in the current climate.'

Do you have an education story? Email Martin George at martin.george@archant.co.uk

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