Warning over school standards

The future prospects and basic skills of a generation of Norfolk children were under the spotlight last night as the latest GCSE figures revealed a widening chasm with the rest of the country.

The future prospects and basic skills of a generation of Norfolk children were under the spotlight last night as the latest GCSE figures revealed a widening chasm with the rest of the country.

Well over half of the county's 16-year-olds are leaving school without a qualification in the two essentials, English and maths.

And while the nation's youngsters made a huge leap forward to smash a key target one year early, their peers in Norfolk advanced more slowly and trailed well behind the national average.

The shock slump comes a year after Norfolk appeared to be winning the battle by posting a big improvement in results and edging ahead of the national average.

Meanwhile, despite years of targeted work to narrow the gap between the sexes, boys have fallen further behind girls.

Education bosses admitted they were “disappointed” at the results, which fell well below their own targets, and said they were “determined” to bring about an improvement.

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The blows raise further doubts about the quality of Norfolk's education system - a day after the EDP revealed that more than half of the county's schools did not give children a “good” education.

Of 174 schools inspected by Ofsted in 2006-07, 89 were rated “satisfactory” or “inadequate”. And in the same school year, the number in special measures shot up to 11, the highest level for many years.

The GCSE results come in the wake of concerted efforts to bring Norfolk up to and ahead of the national average, which it has consistently trailed behind at GCSE.

Fred Corbett, Norfolk County Council's deputy director of education, said: “While these are Norfolk's best ever GCSE results and it is great news that the county's performance at GCSE is continuing to improve we are, nevertheless, disappointed that we did not hit our target of 58pc getting five or more A*-C grades.

“We recognise that attainment needs to improve even further and both the county council and Norfolk's schools are determined that these results should keep rising.

“We are committed to increasing the number of pupils achieving the highest grades so that they are in line with, if not higher than, the national average in the coming years. This is one of our main goals and we know that all schools share that objective.”

In the key measure of five A*-C GCSEs including English and maths, Norfolk improved from 44.5pc of youngsters achieving the level in 2005-06 to 44.9pc in 2006-07. The national average improved from 45.8pc to 46.5pc, meaning Norfolk fell from 64th to 77th out of the 150 local authorities.

Suffolk went up from 45.9pc to 47.1pc, and fell one place to 56th nationally. Cambridgeshire slipped back from 50.1pc last year, which put it 28th, to 49.5pc and 40th this time round.

Under the old mark, of five A*-Cs in any subjects, Norfolk made a slight improvement from 55.4pc to 55.7pc. The national average went up far more rapidly, however, from 58.5pc to 60.3pc - smashing one year early the government's 60pc target.

The gap between the small step in Norfolk and the giant leap across England pushed the county down to 104th out of the 150 local authorities.

Suffolk stayed ahead of the national average by improving from 59.4pc to 60.9pc, while Cambridgeshire did likewise by moving from 60.2pc to 60.8pc.

In Norfolk, the performance of boys fell back, from 40.1pc getting five good GCSEs including maths and English to 39.9pc this year. Girls improved from 49.2pc to 50.1, meaning the gap has widened from 9.1pc to 10.2pc.

In Suffolk, boys went from 42.2pc to 42.9pc, while girls improved from 49.8pc to 51.5 - increasing the gap from 7.6pc to 8.6pc. In Cambridgeshire, boys remained at 46pc, with girls falling from 54.3pc to 53.1 - narrowing the gap between the sexes from 8.3pc to 7.1pc.

Mr Corbett said: “Over the past four years the number of boys achieving five or more A*-C grades in the county has increased by seven percentage points which is a significant improvement, particularly as girls' grades have increased by 4.5 percentage points in the same period.

“We have been doing a lot of work to try to support boys in their education, particularly around trying to encourage learning in a way that interests them.

“We are determined that boys' attainment should and will improve and will continue to provide additional support, where it is needed, to boost boys' learning.”

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