Warning notices handed to primary schools across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire

Regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Regional schools commissioner Tim Coulson. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

More than 20 primary schools in our region have received warning notices about poor performance as the civil servant who oversees academies exercised new legal powers for the first time.

The letters from Tim Coulson, regional schools commissioner for the East of England and North-East London, told chairs of governors to explain the reasons for 'unacceptably low standards' and the action they were taking, and sought an assurance they were 'actively considering joining a strong local multi-academy trust'.

If he is unconvinced by the information received, he could turn them into academies under powers he gained after the Education and Adoption Act came into force in April.

However, headteachers criticised him for issuing the warning notices in the week in May when pupils were taking critical Year 6 Sats tests.

Christabelle Whiteley-Tye, head of Hopton Primary - one of 12 Norfolk schools to receive a warning - said it was unfair because they were based on the results of test pupils took a year ago.

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She said an Ofsted visit last year said the school's leaders were 'taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement identified', and a recent inspection regime which judges Anglican and Methodist schools said it was 'good'.

She added: 'We are confident the strategies we have in place will ensure Hopton Primary will continue to improve.'

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Norfolk County Council said all 12 schools issued with notices had engaged with it to support their improvement, and it had allocated an officer who has made regular visits and worked with leaders to challenge and monitor the school's improvement.

Suffolk County Council said it had issued its own warning notices to its seven schools after official results were published last November, and had put plans in place, while Cambridgeshire County Council said it identified concerns in its seven schools last August, and has been 'providing a wide range of support depending on the school's needs'.

A Department for Education spokesman said: 'Many of the schools sent warning notices have welcomed the support that a multi-academy ‎trust can offer. If the information provided by the schools is not sufficiently reassuring or convincing, we will consider using the intervention powers set out in the Act.'

Schools' reactions

Karen Sewell, executive headteacher of Diss Junior School, said: 'We are hopeful we can convince him the excellent work that has been going on has paid off in terms of the great progress children are making, but we don't know what our data will look like compared to the national picture.'

She said becoming an academy is 'not a route we are looking to take at the moment'.

Richard Lord, executive head of Bawdeswell Primary, said: 'The warning notice is a reflection of the 2014-15 data, so since that time we have been working to improve the school and improve the data. We are working with the Department for Education (DfE) and will hopefully get some kind of way forward for the school.

'We hope we have had a positive impact, but it's down to where the DfE sets the benchmarks.'

Tim Lawes, headteacher of Catton Grove Primary, said last year's results were actually 'far better' than the headline figures portrayed.

He said a representative of the regional schools commissioner had visited the school since the warning notice was issued, and added: 'We did not change any of our practice or do anything different, and she went away feeling very positive about the school and about our plans to address some of the issues that we already decided upon and implemented.'

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