Praise for LA with few academies; but criticism of one where most secondaries are

Janet Downs's picture
‘Barking and Dagenham is making good progress in supporting school improvement but there is still more to be done, inspectors have found.

Ofsted Press Release 19 February 2015

Inspectors said the local authority (LA) provided ‘strong leadership’ and ‘clear direction’ which was much appreciated. School-to-school support was effective and existing networks worked well. Barking and Dagenham was in the bottom 20 LAs in England for primary school inspection outcomes but the number being judged good or better had increased since September 2013. Schools with concerns were monitored tightly and these schools told inspectors LA support was good.

The inspection of Barking and Dagenham’s school improvement arrangements was triggered by concerns that results were not as good as in other London boroughs although they were ‘in line with national averages’.

Ofsted advised the LA on how to build on these improvements by spotting underperformance quickly by scrutinising data forensically, challenging schools which were building up ‘significant’ surpluses, and setting a ‘more ambitious’ school improvement target. It also recommended the LA to act more swiftly in issuing warning notices. This is despite a National Audit Office report in October 2014 finding informal intervention, such as brokering school support, was more effective than formal intervention, such as warning letters and academy sponsorship.

Barking and Dagenham is a Labour-controlled LA with very few academies. The overwhelming majority of schools are community schools.

The positive judgement of Barking and Dagenham contrasts with the slating given to Cambridgeshire secondary schools by Ofsted’s Regional Director for the East of England. Only 56% of secondary pupils in Cambridgeshire were at schools good or better, he wrote. And the fault was the low aspirations of teachers, he concluded.

But the data shows Cambridgeshire secondary schools aren’t quite as bad as claimed. One, Sawtry Community College, is inadequate, eleven require improvement, twelve are good, five are Outstanding and three haven’t been inspected yet. Around 40% of Cambridgeshire’s secondary schools are less than good. That means 60%, not 56%, are good or better.

That said, only one of the schools which require improvement, Netherhall School, is maintained by the LA. Eight are academy converters; two are sponsored academies. The single inadequate academy, Sawtry, was satisfactory before it converted. Five of the nine academy converters*which require improvement were good before converting.

Correlation isn’t causation, of course. It would be unreliable to claim the deterioration in Cambridgeshire secondary schools was caused by all but one becoming academies. There are still more secondary schools – all academies - which are good or better in Cambridgeshire than ones which require improvement or worse.

Academy conversion has been promoted as the magic bullet for school improvement. But it doesn’t seem to have worked for all of Cambridgeshire's secondary schools. The Cambridgeshire situation, together with recent reports lukewarm about academies, show the wheels might be falling off the Government's flagship education policies (#wheelsfalloff). And it’s possible to improve, as in Barking and Dagenham, without wasting time and money on changing the structure of schools.

*Abbey College, Ramsey; Cottenham Village College; Hinchinbrooke School; St Ivo School; Soham Village College
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Martin Curtis's picture
Fri, 20/02/2015 - 14:20

Genuinely good to see you being balanced in this - a major factor in this in Cambridgeshire is poor levels of schools funding.

I don't normally use money as an argument for poor performance - but the funding in Cambridgeshire is so comparatively poor that it has to be a factor. (I write as a Cambridgeshire Councillor)

Andy V's picture
Fri, 20/02/2015 - 15:38

Is it all possible to elaborate on this without breaching any confidential council data?

Trevor Fisher's picture
Fri, 20/02/2015 - 20:22

alas janet I have to keep on the same theme - the wheels are not coming off the government flagship. Unless we can get to the audience that swallowed Cameron's carefully designed speech on Feb 2nd, and the Marr programme on Feb 1st, both of which ignored the recent reports, we are simply marginalized.

sorry to have to say it, its a sad fact that telling the truth is not enough. Go public to succeed.

trevor fisher.

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