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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

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Ofsted: 'Serious concerns' about quality of secondary education in Cumbria

Ofsted has today revealed it has “serious concerns” about the quality of secondary education across Cumbria.

Michael Cladingbowl photo
Michael Cladingbowl

Schools in west Cumbria, Barrow and urban areas are “of particular concern” as is the “weak achievement” of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The damning conclusions come after a blitz of inspections at 17 different establishments.

Five have been put into special measures including Stainburn and Southfield schools in Workington, which are now to shut to pave the way for a new single academy; West Cumbria Learning Centre, a pupil referral unit at Distington; and Richard Rose Morton Academy, Carlisle, that is now in the same failing category as its sister school.

Headteachers have also hit out at Cumbria County Council, reporting “insufficient leadership” and that there is a “lack of confidence in the ability” of the advisors the authority has to help them.

The criticisms have emerged in a letter sent to the council from Michael Cladingbowl, the North West regional director for Ofsted, following the inspections before Christmas.

He states a high proportion of secondary schools either “require improvement” or are “inadequate” - the lowest two rankings on Ofsted’s four-point scale of school performance.

None of the schools visited have improved since the last time they were inspected and standards in eight schools have got worse, including five failing ones that have been put into special measures, he said.

Local council efforts have not helped to halt the decline in standards either, it has been found.

Results for 16-year-olds have been significantly below the national average for the last two years.

“There are too few good secondary schools in Cumbria and things are not improving,” Mr Cladingbowl concludes.

“There is little evidence of an effective and shared strategy to improve the quality of education across the county.

“In my view there is an urgent need for the local authority to provide greater challenge and support to its secondary schools and extend partnership working.”

Mr Cladingbowl reports common weaknesses were found across many of those schools inspected.

They were:

  • poor achievement in maths and English for specific groups, including boys and those from disadvantaged backgrounds;
  • too little challenge in lessons for more able pupils;
  • marking that gives too few pointers on how pupils can improve;
  • lack of development of literacy and numeracy skills across all subjects;
  • weak leadership of teaching and the performance management of teachers;
  • ineffective governance - external reviews have been recommended for three schools and in others it requires improvement;
  • poor self-evaluation of strengths and weaknesses, which results in action plans that lack ambition.

Mr Cladingbowl reports that inspectors noted “pockets of good teaching” in almost all of the schools visited, and signs of improving leadership and better governance in a small number.

Ofsted has also taken the opportunity to raise headteachers’ concerns, talking to at least a further 10 heads on top of those who had schools inspected.

“Only a minority indicated that the local authority knew their school well,” Mr Cladingbowl said. “However, local authority support for newly qualified teachers, governors, behaviour management and brokering school-to-school support was valued.

“Headteachers, generally, indicated that local authority support is too reactive and dependent on the outcome of inspections, rather than nipping problems in the bud. They perceived there to be insufficient leadership from the authority but stated that recent changes to strategy have created more optimism within the system. Secondary headteachers said there is a lack of confidence in the ability of local authority advisors who come from a primary background to provide useful advice to secondary schools.”

Heads are optimistic that the new Cumbria Alliance of System Leaders, a combination of key schools, councils and education leaders aiming to drive up standards through more school-to-school support, will help.

Others inspected include St Joseph’s Catholic High in Workington; Netherhall, Maryport; Newman, Carlisle; and Appleby Grammar School. Richard Rose Central Academy and the Furness Academy in Barrow were already in special measures and subjected to monitoring visits instead. Other establishments were in the south of the county.

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