Ofsted slams Suffolk County Council’s ‘ineffective’ efforts to improve schools

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Education watchdogs have slammed Suffolk County Council’s ‘ineffective’ efforts to drive school improvement - with some schools left to ‘languish far too long in mediocrity’.

The damning report from Ofsted has called on the authority to ‘urgently finalise strategic plans’ for improvement as pupil performance at Key Stages 2 and 4 is ‘well below’ national average.

Lisa Chambers

Lisa Chambers

Following an inspection of the authority’s school improvement arrangements, they ruled that ‘the most significant weakness is that officers have not been quick enough to address ineffective leadership in maintained schools - this is at the core of why pupils’ achievement is low and why school performance is generally a cause for concern’.

They have listed four key areas for improvement:

1. Urgently finalise strategic plans which demonstrate how the Learning and Improvement Service can contribute to the realisation of the council’s vision for improvement.

2. Improve communication with school leaders so that they understand the local authority’s role in school improvement.

3. Ensure that challenge to, and intervention in, maintained schools that are underperforming, lead to rapid improvements in progress and attainment.

4. Implement systematic and robust checks to evaluate the quality of work provided by the Learning Improvement Service.

Sean Harford, Ofsted regional director for the East of England, said: “It is disappointing to find that Suffolk County Council has been ineffective in the way it supports schools.

“The local authority has not tackled weaknesses in schools quickly enough. That just isn’t good enough when the prospects for the young people of the county are at stake.”

The watchdog found that local councillors and senior officials are ‘ambitious and determined to bring about improvements’.

Cllr Lisa Chambers, the council’s cabinet member for education, said the report made for ‘sobering reading’.

She said: “We welcome Ofsted’s report and absolutely agree with the four areas of improvement they have identified. So much so that work to address each of them is already well underway.

“This report confirms that we are tackling the right issues so that the county council is in the best possible position to support and challenge schools to improve.

“We will now, with this guidance from Ofsted, continue on our journey of improvement.

“Key to solving a problem is recognising there is one in the first place. By launching the Raising the Bar inquiry, seeing SOR through and challenging underperforming schools to improve, the county council has demonstrated this recognition.

“Schools also know full well the scale of the challenge facing Suffolk. We’re already working, together, to make improvements and will leave no stone unturned in our pursuit of a better future for our children.”

The council is preparing to publish a four year Raising the Bar school improvement strategy this month and will then engage with school leaders to ‘ensure their role in school improvement is understood’.

It has also taken a ‘much stronger and more robust stance’ with underperforming schools since September.

Ofsted will re-inspect the council within nine to 12 months.