Suffolk County Council’s education boss calls on Ofsted to inspects schools more quickly
PUBLISHED: 20:09 16 September 2015 | UPDATED: 11:16 17 September 2015
The leader behind Suffolk’s ambitious target to make all schools ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ in less than 18 months has called on Ofsted to inspect schools more quickly.
Suffolk County Council’s Lisa Chambers made the comments as education bosses call on schools to “keep the accelerator down” to continue and improve standards.
Around 70 schools have ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ Ofsted ratings in Suffolk and would need positive inspections if the county council’s target is hit by January 2017.
Mrs Chambers, cabinet member for education and skills, said it was “frustrating” that schools were waiting for Ofsted inspectors to visit, she claimed.
“It is frustrating and it is something that we need to look at on the school accountability board in terms of the performance of those schools and the number that we are looking at – that number who need to be inspected and are sitting there waiting,” she said.
Currently 77% of schools, including academies and free schools, in Suffolk have the ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ ratings. The national average is 80%.
Ofsted said schools with requires improvement and inadequate ratings receive “regular monitoring visits”.
A spokeswoman for the education watchdog said: “Ofsted takes a proportionate approach to inspection so that resources are focused where they are needed most. Schools that are judged inadequate or requires improvement are subject to monitoring inspections under section 8 of the Education Act 2005.
“Where inspectors monitoring such schools see evidence that the school has improved significantly they may deem the inspection to be a ‘full’ section 5 inspection and report on the school’s overall effectiveness, or recommend bringing forward the school’s next full inspection. This may result in a change to the overall inspection outcome, including the award of a higher grade.”
The council’s Ofsted target is the key measure education bosses will use to monitor the county’s performance over the next two years. It forms the main thrust in the second phase of the council’s flagship education programme Raising the Bar.
Out of the county’s 331 schools, around 65 are academies, including free schools – which are all part of the council’s Ofsted target.
There are two types of academies – high performing converter schools and struggling schools which are given a sponsor to raise standards. Academies are free from county council control and held to account by the Department for Education.
High profile academies in Ipswich, some of which have had poor results in recent years – Chantry Academy (former Chantry High School), Ipswich Academy (former Holywells High School) and Ormiston Endeavour Academy (formerly Thurleston High) have all had new headteachers and/or new sponsors appointed this year.
When Mrs Chambers was asked whether the schools now had the right leadership teams, she said: “Yes, I suppose so...time will tell won’t it – in terms of delivery within those schools but I think we are certainly in a stronger position.”
Nikki Edwards, assistant director for education and learning, said there was some “really strong” headteachers and sponsors coming to Suffolk to help improve standards.
Asked when parents could expect Suffolk to be at the top of education performance tables, Judith Mobbs, the council’s assistant director for skills, said the county would be “performing above the national position” if the Ofsted 2017 target is met.
Mrs Chambers was asked whether in hindsight the council had regretted closing middle schools in a move from three-tier to two-tier schooling. The council spent £29million on revenue costs for the move – described as the biggest restructuring of any county school system in the country.
Mrs Chambers said the council was “incredibly proud” to have made the changes.
She said: “I can sit here now as I sat here in 2005 and say it was absolutely the right decision, my children were in that transition, my children were in middle schools at the time and I understood the difficulty for parents in local areas – my children were in the system – but we were absolutely committed to that.”
Mrs Edwards, said it was the only major schools change in the country where performance levels had not dropped.
Although the council has not ruled out spending more than the current £3.2million invested in Raising the Bar since 2012 – Mrs Chambers said further funds needed to be invested “wisely”.
Mrs Chambers also pointed out that Suffolk schools receive a slice of £400m government money each year.
In the last couple of months results at Key Stage Two, GCSE and A-level have all seen improvements in Suffolk.
Results at Key Stage Two level improved quicker than the national average and also outstripped Norfolk’s performance.
Mrs Chambers commented on the improvements and Ofsted’s review of the council’s performance, published in May, which praised some areas but called the rate of progress “too slow”.
She said: “I think we have achieved a huge amount in the last two years I have been in post, seen some significant changes in the local authority working much wider across the county.
“I said at the time around that [I] probably didn’t agree with Ofsted about the pace, I took it on board but I think we were probably working pretty rapidly in terms of implementing the changes.”