Graphic: Recruitment is our biggest concern, say Norfolk headteachers

PUBLISHED: 11:30 07 January 2015 | UPDATED: 12:31 07 January 2015

Teaching a History lesson at Pittville High School. PA Photo: David Davies.

Teaching a History lesson at Pittville High School. PA Photo: David Davies.

A teacher recruitment crisis that has left Norfolk schools struggling to appoint and retain staff and leaders is the biggest issue facing education in the county, headteachers have said.

Other challenges

Teacher recruitment, school funding and Ofsted were the three most commonly cited issues headteachers raised at the biggest facing education in Norfolk.

However, heads raised a number of other issues, including aspiration, small schools, workload on teachers, media coverage and the fragmentation of the education system. Among the 17 heads who raised aspiration, many said it was an issue that we all need to address. When asked what the biggest issue was, comments included:

“A history of aspirations being lower than they need to be for Norfolk children to do better than the national average. Collectively (home, school, county) we need to challenge wherever we find aspirations to be low.”

“Aspirations for young people by parents, their communities and schools”

“The need to address low expectations in and of white working class families.”

“Low aspirations by all – teachers, parents, pupils, the community.”

While 12 heads named small schools as the biggest issue facing education in Norfolk, opinion was split between those who believed the problem was that they are under threat, and those who believed they sucked up too much money and dragged down education standards.

Some heads also made a plaintive cry about workload placed on teachers.

One primary head wrote: “Education relies on too much goodwill from staff. It is not possible to provide an adequate education in designated working hours. Staff work and give up time for the wider aspects of school life in their own time, at weekends, evenings, etc. We are all getting worn out!”

More than a third of heads who took part in an online EDP survey said they had been unable to fill at least one teaching position with a permanent member of staff during the past 12 months.

Click here to view the graphic

A total of 134 primary and 28 secondary heads took part in the anonymous poll, with 32% of primary heads saying they had suffered this problem; the figure for secondary heads was 54%.

In a separate question, recruitment was identified as the most serious issue facing education in Norfolk - mentioned by 41 heads.

The level of funding schools receive was raised 21 times, and the school inspectorate Ofsted 20 times.

One secondary school head wrote: “The national shortage is amplified greatly in coastal and rural Norfolk (possibly Norwich too).

“Three years ago when I attended the UEA maths recruitment event it felt like there were almost two graduates per school represented.

“Over the last couple of years this has reversed and it now seems to be at least two schools for every graduate now.

“Recruitment costs spiral ever higher and it gets tougher and tougher to recruit and retain staff, even finding supply can be challenging.

“Given its recruitment challenge I believe further funding from central government should be considered.”

A number of headteachers identified west Norfolk, and rural or deprived areas, as a recruitment blackspots, and said Norfolk’s poor reputation for educational standards was part of the problem.

Some heads said there was a particular issue recruiting high-quality school leaders, echoing comments made by Sir Michael Wilshaw, 
the chief inspector of schools, in a speech to Norfolk heads in October.

He said Norfolk needed more certified National Leaders of Education, and challenged heads by asking how far they had travelled to fill a long-standing teaching vacancy, and what they were doing to grow their own teaching talent.

In November, the The Talented Leaders Programme, which aims to find “great headteachers to improve schools in need of support”, announced it was coming to Norfolk, and hoped recruits would be in place by September 2015.

Promoting British values

More than 40% of Norfolk schools have made, or are planning to make, changes to promote “British values”, according to our headteacher survey.

Last year, the issue frequently arose in the national education debate in the wake of allegations about a hardline Muslim plot to takeover some schools in Birmingham.

In September, Ofsted changed its handbook so that inspectors should consider how far a school’s curriculum “actively promotes the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.

Controversy ensued when some schools had their Ofsted ratings downgraded following snap-inspections prompted by the inspectorate’s new focus on the issue.

One Norfolk primary school head wrote: “We already promote British values as well as trying to develop a multi-faith culture which is more difficult in rural, predominantly white British schools.”

Another said: “In terms of British values, we are only highlighting more explicitly what we already do.”

Another wrote: “We have always promoted values as core to our work, such as friendship, equality, tolerance, respect, responsibility, resilience and self-discipline and will continue to do so. These are not uniquely British values and I am unhappy with the label.”

School improvement target concerns

Norfolk headteachers overwhelmingly believe the county council will fail to meet its school improvement target.

The county council wants all schools to be rated at least ‘good’ by Ofsted by the end of 2016.

According to the latest Ofsted statistics, 71% are currently rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, with 112 schools falling below this standard.

In our survey, 83% of Norfolk heads said they did not think the council would achieve its goal.

One primary school headteacher said: “Good by 2016 is so dependent on issues beyond Norfolk’s control that it is hard to see how this will come about.

“It is not that I think Norfolk is unable to support its schools adequately.”

Another head wrote: “Norfolk County Council’s target is challenging and will always be subject to a ‘rogue’ inspection, but must be the aim if we are to provide the young people of Norfolk with the education they deserve.”

When asked, Norfolk County Council did not say whether it thought it would meet its target, or, failing that, what an acceptable success rate would be.

In a statement, James Joyce, chairman of the Children’s Services Committee, said: “It is an ambitious target and we are confident all school leaders are taking the necessary steps to ensure that their schools are at least ‘good’ by 2016.”

A number of heads praised the council’s two-year Norfolk to Good and Great programme, which started in September 2013 and aims to help schools rated ‘requires improvement’ to ‘good’.

A council spokesman said it would be extended.

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