Ofsted’s verdict: Norfolk is improving; Suffolk has “a long way to go”; Cambridgeshire is “grim”
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An Ofsted boss has welcomed progress in Norfolk's primary and high schools - but warned of problems in neighbouring counties.
In its annual report, published yesterday, the inspectorate said England was a 'nation divided after the age of 11', with high schools in the North and Midlands performing less well than those in the South.
But Andrew Cook, regional director for the East of England, said there were also unacceptable variations between counties in his patch.
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Norfolk saw a big increase in pupils in 'good' or better primary schools - rising by 8 percentage points since 2014, to 79pc.
The county's high schools continued to lag behind primaries in terms of their Ofsted grades, but the proportion of pupils in a 'good' or better high school rose 4 percentage points, to 67pc.
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Mr Cook said: 'The increase in the proportion of 'good' or better schools, and children attending those schools, is pleasing to see. It's stronger in primary schools, and there has been some improvement in secondary schools.
'I think it's because there is a stronger focus by the local authority on when they support and challenge. There's a much clearer feeling of where a school is on its progression to 'good' or better, and we hope that this improvement will gain momentum.'
However, he said more still needed to be done, and Ofsted highlighted concerns about the progress primary school children in Norfolk and Suffolk make in reading, writing and maths, saying it was among the lowest 25pc in England.
Cambridgeshire and Suffolk
Of Cambridge, Mr Cook said: 'It's really a grim picture. Less than half of secondary aged pupils get the opportunity to go to a 'good' or better school. There are real issues there, especially when you talk about Fenland and Wisbech.'
He said Ofsted's increased emphasis on the performance of children from disadvantaged backgrounds explained why some schools saw their inspection judgements fall.
All of the Cambridgeshire's high schools are academies, but a council spokesman said it was 'working with the regional schools commissioner to develop new ways of monitoring, challenging and supporting secondary schools in Cambridgeshire'.
Mr Cook said there was 'still a long way to go' for Suffolk, and said he was particularly concerned by the slight fall in the proportion of pupils in 'good' or better high schools.
Suffolk County Council said: 'Given that 75pc of secondary schools are academies we will be working closely with the regional schools commissioner to challenge and support under-performing schools to improve standards.'
Paula Heaney, senior inspector for further education in the region, said there were improvements, but from
a low base, and colleges had needed to adjust quickly to meet the new requirement to teach English and maths to students who had not gained a GCSE grade C in the subjects at age 16.
She said: 'All in all, it's an improving picture, but against a backdrop of funding cuts and against trying to get good quality maths and English provision, and ensuring that every student, irrespective of what department they are in, get a consistently good experience.'
The national report said the majority of high schools that became stand-alone 'converter academies' had maintained their standards, but they were more likely to decline than those in multi-academy trusts.
It added: 'Becoming a converter academy does not insulate you from decline. In 2014/15, there were 99 converter academies that declined from good or outstanding to less than good.'
It also said inspection results for free schools were 'broadly in line with those for all schools'.
Mr Cook said he welcomed recent warning notices that regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson issued to under-performing academies in the region, but said more needed to be issued.
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