Schools ‘could learn from Hackney link’

Pupils from Great Whelnetham Primary and Priory School visited Holy Trinity Primary, in Hackney
Pupils from Great Whelnetham Primary and Priory School visited Holy Trinity Primary, in Hackney
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Schools in Hackney could hold the key to steering Suffolk’s educational attainment rates out of the doldrums, according to a potentially ground-breaking report.

The study, by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, says the county could learn from a partnership with the east London borough which reversed its ailing academic fortunes.

It is one of 20 recommendations made in the report, No School an Island, to overhaul Suffolk which is ranked nationally third and ninth from bottom, for attainment at Key Stage Two and GCSE respectively.

In the report, commissioned by Suffolk County Council, the RSA says it chose Hackney “to deliberately provoke a more radical shift in outlook, exposing schools to ideas and approaches which can help move the county out of its comfort zone”.

The organisation criticises an apparent culture of complacency with standards, and argues that schools rather than the county council should be the drivers of change through greater collaboration with a range of partners.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, said: “Being satisfied with existing standards is part of what allowed Suffolk to fall so far behind.”

It suggests setting up a Suffolk Partnership for Excellence in Learning to provide a forum for all schools to shape the county’s educational priorities.

Furthermore, the RSA highlights “frustrations” revealed in conversations with heads and governors over the difficulty in attracting “high quality teachers to apply to Suffolk schools” as well as a “perception that too many teachers in Suffolk have only ever taught in the county, leading to an inward-looking professional culture”.

It recommends widening the pool of talent by investing in teacher recruitment.

The organisation also warns that small schools could be vulnerable to closure due to Government funding changes and urges those with a roll lower than 100 pupils to form a federation “as early as possible”.

Teachers across West Suffolk have largely welcomed the recommendations, including Chris Lawson, head of Great Whelnetham Primary, whose pupils joined their peers at Bury St Edmunds’ Priory School for a joint activity at Holy Trinity Primary in Hackney, last week.

She said: “There are lessons to be learned on both sides [Suffolk and Hackney] because our environments are so different. We’ve invited Hackney to come over this term.”

Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School, said the report held a very useful mirror upto Suffolk and pointed to the Bury Schools Partnership as an example of collaboration already being implemented.

He said: “The thing it perhaps doesn’t do enough of is help us to know how we can recruit the best graduates and teachers, because that continues to be a real issue for us. We want aspiring and ambitious teachers to think Suffolk is the place where they can be part of a mission to improve the life of youngsters here.”

Vicky Neale, head of County Upper, said the report’s title was “spot on” and the key would be families of schools working together – noting the Bury Academy’s Trust’s all-through approach as an example of what the RSA describes as “good practice”.

She added: “I cannot agree with the report’s comments about the quality of teachers – ours are very professional, set high expectations, are outward looking and already enable us to exceed the targets recommended by 2016.”

The county council will publish its formal response to the report in July.

Cllr Lisa Chambers, cabinet member for education, said: “While we will take time to assess fully all the 
report’s recommendations, the proposed partnership with Hackney is something we’re very positive about and have already started to implement.”