Government troubleshooters called in to boost results at ‘stubborn’ Norfolk schools

Two government troubleshooters have been sent to Norfolk to help deal with scores of schools that are 'stubbornly immune' to improvement and end years of education underachievement in the county.

The pair will spearhead a 'help yourself' revolution, with Norfolk County Council nudged aside and the county's outstanding schools signed up to share their secrets and give lower performers a lift.

Sheringham Primary and West Raynham Primary are likely to be the first two 'teaching schools', and could share senior staff and good ideas with schools that are satisfactory or inadequate.

The move signals a shift in emphasis at Whitehall, with the coalition government determined to loosen schools' ties with local authorities and enable them to learn from each other.

It comes against a backdrop of Norfolk being 135th of 152 local authorities for its performance in last May's standard assessment tests (Sats) and 103rd for its GCSE results.

Of the schools, 36 primaries and six secondaries are below the government's 'floor targets' for performance – which leaves them in danger of being taken over and forced to become sponsored academies.

The initiative has come about after talks between the county council and the Department for Education (DfE), which ended in agreement for Norfolk – working with Suffolk and Cambridgeshire – to pilot a new approach.

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Government primary adviser Ann Berger and secondary adviser Heather Flint will be at the forefront. They both have a history of working with the previous government's London Challenge, which improved results in the capital.

Education bosses at Whitehall and County Hall are keen to see if the London Challenge approach could work in a rural county.

In a confidential briefing note to the county's schools, which the EDP has a copy of, Norfolk's deputy director of education Fred Corbett said: 'While we have had significant success in transforming many of the schools in Norfolk, there have been others apparently, and stubbornly, immune to sustained improvement.

'We have long recognised the benefits of school-to-school support and we welcome appropriate support from colleagues with national expertise in developing this.'

He added: 'Too many schools still have achievement levels below the national floor standards. While we remain good at turning schools around there are still too many that run into difficulties and require additional or special measures to bring about the required improvements.

'Our clusters are often good and several are excellent, but there is still a huge variation in the effectiveness and impact of clusters.'

Sheringham Primary headteacher Dominic Cragoe said his school and West Raynham Primary would hear by July 13 whether their bids to be 'teaching schools' were successful.

He said: 'There's cross-party agreement that schools supporting schools is a very effective way of driving improvement. The idea of teaching schools is like teaching hospitals, really.

'The idea is that we would work in association with the University of East Anglia (UEA) and take on a larger part of teacher training, and a large chunk of training existing teachers and modelling good quality teaching to schools where things weren't going so well.'

For a school to be chosen for the role, it has to be Ofsted-rated outstanding at its most recent inspection, with a headteacher who has been in post for at least three years and who has a strong record of supporting other schools.

Mr Cragoe said nine other schools had been identified to act as partners to help with the spread of good practice.

He added: 'This is not about Sheringham and West Raynham as the big 'I am'. Hopefully we can share some of the good practice we have developed and make a difference.'

The teaching school idea was outlined in November's education white paper.

Speaking to the EDP, Mr Corbett said: 'The new government said there wasn't going to be a centrally-directed approach to school improvement, but local approaches.

'We want people who sometimes have felt they've been banging their heads against a brick wall with long-term low results to have the opportunity to meet with other people and have high expectations for achievement.

'We want the freshness of them seeing good practice and learning from each other. Gradually we want to see this network spread out, so that every school is involved in it.'

And he added: 'If you had a perfect system, you would need a relatively small number of people employed directly by the authority.'

Read Steve Downes' blog at Follow @stevedownes1973 on Twitter. If you have a view on the teaching schools initiative, email or call 01263 513920.