What challenges will 2019 bring for Norfolk’s schools?
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The landscape for education and childcare in Norfolk has been through many changes in 2018, from the 10th anniversary of the county's first academy to revolts over school exclusions and the potential closure of children's centres. Bethany Whymark looks back at the legacy of these trends – and forward to what 2019 might hold.
Education is certainly not alone in facing a funding crisis.
The £400,000 for schools to purchase 'the little extras they need' which Philip Hammond announced in the Autumn Budget will have gone little way towards plugging the gaping funding holes faced by many.
In the coming year it's likely parents and teachers will have to continue to put their hands in their pockts to fill gaps left elsewhere, while school governing bodies will keep facing difficult decisions about where scarce resources should be allocated.
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With cuts already being made to school transport, subjects on the curriculum and support for vulnerable children or those with special educational needs, it's difficult to see where there is any meat left on the bone left to trim off.
But many schools continue to shine through this adversity – and we look forward to sharing their stories in 2019.
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The performance of Norfolk's schools is likely to come under continued scrutiny in 2019.
Figures released in December showed that Norfolk had the highest proportion of under-performing primary schools in the country, in regard to 11-year-olds meeting expected standards in reading, writing and mathematics.
Some 22 primary schools in the county were deemed to be under-performing – which means fewer than 65pc of pupils reached expected literacy and maths standards.
While neighbouring Suffolk has also had problems with school performance in recent years, it is perceived to be making faster progress than Norfolk.
Even the regional head of Ofsted said there is no obvious reason why the latter county is falling behind.
Parents in Norfolk will soon be wanting answers from schools, academy trusts and other decision-makers as to why schools in their area are not keeping up with regional standards.
Special educational needs
After Ofsted flagged this as a concern across the country in its annual review, inspectors are set to turn up the heat on schools to ensure their special needs provision is up to scratch.
Norfolk County Council told this newspaper in December that it expects mainstream schools to put support in place for students with special educational needs and disabilities – but the provision of that support, from teaching assistants to quiet rooms, has shrunk as budgets have been squeezed.
With no more funding on the horizon, the situation could reach a tipping point.
Alongside this is the possibility of a Norfolk local area SEND inspection, a new practice started by Ofsted in 2016. Norfolk is yet to be assessed so inspectors could come knocking in the next 12 months, while Suffolk, told it must improve in its first inspection, will soon be due for a second.
Norfolk County Council is also due to begin work on three new specialist schools in 2019 – expect more details on this project soon.
The debate over the future of Norfolk's children's centres is set to continue in the new
year – and it is not likely to be any less fierce than it was in 2018.
At its January meeting, Norfolk County Council's children's services committee is due to discuss the findings of its consultation on the closure of 46 of the county's 53 children's centres.
The plans caused outrage and some 4,500 responded to the consultation.
However, some opposition councillors have called for more information and more clarity in relation to the current operation and expense of children's centres.
There is also concern over the lack of alternatives to the closure plan put forward by the council, rather than making such drastic cuts to the current service.
Expect parents, carers, the council and other service providers to end up at loggerheads over this issue again.
Following consultation early next year, Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, is putting its new inspection framework into action in September 2019.
The framework is expected to have a more holistic focus, looking at how a school tailors its curriculum and teaching to suit local demand and how it makes pupils more well-rounded individuals.
While exam performance will still be important, the new framework will take some pressure off schools and teachers to chase top
results and instead look at individual schools' progression.
It follows in the footsteps of Progress 8 scores – introduced by the government as another measure of pupils' performance at GCSE level which takes into account how much they have improved, rather than how highly they have achieved.
It will be interesting to see how this new approach from Ofsted affects previously poor – or outstanding – schools.
Farewell to homework?
No-homework policies in schools have been around for a few years – and have received mixed reviews from parents.
Could the greater perceived pressure on children, partially demonstrated by the increases in young children and teenagers being treated for mental health problems, be a catalyst for no-homework policies to become more widespread?
How often our children are tested and the effect this has on their mental health has been under discussion for several years – from the review of SATs taken by primary school children and the documented rise in teenagers reporting exam-related stress. Decreasing the amount of work pupils are asked to do outside the classroom could be a natural next step.
Experts have also claimed that cutting down on homework gives children more time to develop other important life skills, particularly at primary school age.