Ofsted annual report: Norfolk schools ‘claw’ themselves up - but work to be done in further education

The Eastgate Academy in King's Lynn had been rated outstanding by Ofsted. Picture: Ian Burt

The Eastgate Academy in King's Lynn had been rated outstanding by Ofsted. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Improving schools in Norfolk and Suffolk continue to 'claw' themselves up, a watchdog director says - but work is needed on the region's further education.

The College of West Anglia, King's Lynn.

The College of West Anglia, King's Lynn. - Credit: IAN BURT

Ofsted's annual report paints a positive picture, with particular praise for education's earlier years.

In the east, 95pc of nurseries and pre-schools were good or outstanding as of August, in line with the national average.

And in Norfolk, the level of primaries in the top two ratings was 90pc - a rise on last year and equal to the national average. For Suffolk, it was 89pc.

Paul Brooker, regional director for the east of England, said: 'Norfolk and Suffolk have, from five years ago, come from quite a low starting point and they are gradually clawing up the performance table and the inspections reflect that.'

Paul Brooker, Ofsted's regional director for the east of England. Picture: Ofsted

Paul Brooker, Ofsted's regional director for the east of England. Picture: Ofsted - Credit: Archant

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He said early years provision was strong in both counties, and the challenge was to maintain that as children went through school.

East Point Academy, Lowestoft.
PHOTO: Nick Butcher

East Point Academy, Lowestoft. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Norfolk's proportion of good or outstanding secondaries sits at 82pc - above the national average of 79pc, but below the regional level of 87pc. It put Norfolk one place from the bottom in a table of the east.

Suffolk had the lowest percentage for secondaries, on 87pc - though a marked 8pc improvement on last year.

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Mr Brooker said stubborn problems around teacher recruitment and retention remained, isolation in certain areas, particularly coastal, continued and there were still some issues with low expectations.

He said there were issues in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft when it came to early years provision.

But there was a less positive overview of further education - 68pc of providers in the east are good or outstanding, compared to 80pc nationally.

In May, Easton and Otley College was rated inadequate, while the College of West Anglia (CWA), in King's Lynn, was told it required improvement in January.

Mr Brooker said inspections of colleges had been 'very rigorous', and certain institutions had not got to grips with expectations around safeguarding and quality of provision.

But, referencing CWA, he said: 'It is one of those which has always been around the cusp of good. Some of its provision is really, really strong, such as apprenticeship provision.'

'We are pleased they are addressing deep-seated weaknesses'

The watchdog spent a fortnight inspecting provision for children at Norfolk County Council in November.

The visit came after two inspections - in 2013 and 2015 - which both saw the council rated inadequate.

At the end of November, in an email to staff, children's services department executive director Sara Tough said inspectors had, when witnessing certain areas of practice, wanted to 'cry tears of joy'.Mr Brooker said, with the report due in January, he was limited in what he could say.

'There were some real positives in it and all I can really say is Norfolk has been monitored very closely for the last couple of years because they have been inadequate,' he said. 'If you look at the reports we have published, although we have continued to pick up some concerns, it's clear that they have really worked hard on the areas we had identified.

'We are really pleased that they are now addressing what have been deep-seated weaknesses.'

'It's really turned things around'

Mr Brooker highlighted a handful of schools which had enjoyed particularly impressive turnarounds.

He pointed to East Point Academy, in Lowestoft, which, last November, was rated good with outstanding features - up from requires improvement.

While the school, which was taken over by the Inspiration Trust in 2014, had historically struggled, he said it was an example of somewhere which had 'really turned things around - but has sustained it'.

Elsewhere, he highlighted Eastgate Academy, in King's Lynn, Little Melton Primary School, South Wootton Junior School and Stalham Academy as success stories.

Eastgate Academy was told it was outstanding in March, having been put into special measures in its previous visit. It became the first in Norfolk to make the leap.

Mr Brooker said particular praise should go to schools which had improved against a challenging background, and ones which had previously been 'stuck' at poorer grades.

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