Norfolk junior school praised during new regional schools commissioner county visit
- Credit: Nick Butcher
The newest name to preside over academies in the east has visited a Norfolk school to learn from its strong results.
Sue Baldwin, the new regional schools commissioner (RSC) for the region, visited Stalham Academy last week to meet staff and students and learn about its cooperative learning, which focuses on children working together in small groups.
Having taken over from Tim Coulson, who was the first RSC for the east, Mrs Baldwin is three months into the role, which gives her responsibility for overseeing academies in the region - including deciding which should convert, approving applications and warning those that are under-performing.
She said she was 'thoroughly enjoying' it so far and was busy getting to know school leaders in both the east of England and north-east London - including at Stalham.
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'I was interested in the work that they're doing here, turning the school around and really improving performance,' she said. 'I'm here to meet the team and to learn a bit more about what they're doing and try to understand more about what they do here, why it's working and what we can pick up and maybe talk to other teachers, other heads, other trusts about.'
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Glenn Russell, headteacher at Stalham Academy, part of the Right for Success Trust, said the junior school had enjoyed two years of improvement and strong key stage two exam results.
'The results in 2015/16, when national average dropped to 53pc, were at 81pc and then last year the national went up to 61pc and we were able to achieve 91pc, so that's about 28pc to 30pc above national for the last two years,' he said.
He said cooperative learning was one of the reasons, as - with set activities which can be used across lessons - it 'maximises learning time'.
Mrs Baldwin, who is arguably the most influential person in local education, said she was 'thoroughly enjoying' being RSC so far.
Her team covers 2,300 schools in the area, an she said the initial focus was building links with schools, trusts and local authorities.
'It's about understanding what's going on, understanding what's really working well and understanding where there needs to be a challenge.
'Beneath it all, you've got all those classrooms out there with all those children and you cannot afford for those children to have a poor education.'
Making the model transparent
A criticism often levelled at the RSC model is its lack of transparency.
RSCs are advised by headteacher boards (HTBs), but concerns over secrecy have been triggered by delays in releasing minutes of meetings and the amount of information kept from the public.
Mrs Baldwin agreed that reports of meetings could be 'a little more rounded', with more detail released where possible.
'A lot of the conversations are confidential conversations, but there's no reason why you shouldn't know that we discussed a school improvement model, for example,' she said. 'We don't say that at the moment and there are moves afoot to have a more consistent approach to getting that information out there.'
But she also said she was keen to hold HTB meetings around the region and make them more accessible.
'Say in the morning we do the business of the HTB but in the afternoon we open it up and have people come in - why not have a roundtable discussion on exclusions?'
So what are the priorities?
Mrs Baldwin said a focus for her work would be around the Norwich opportunity area.
The scheme has seen the government identify Norwich as one of 12 areas which has poor social mobility, a measure of how someone improves their life chances.
She said it was a focus for not just her team, but for the local authority and schools, to make sure children have opportunities that are not 'down played by where [they] come from'.
Part of that, and an ongoing issue for Norfolk in general, is its high number of permanent exclusions.
Bringing down the figures has been listed as a target for the project. Mrs Baldwin, formerly the Department for Education's director of school efficiency, said she would work with trusts, and spread the good practice of those not excluding.
'In the conversations with the academy trusts me and my team would be talking to them about those sorts of issues... We cannot have the extent of exclusions that we have at the moment.'