Funding or strategy not to blame for ‘inadequate’ schools rise, council leaders say

Suffolk County Council offices, Endeavour House. Picture: ARCHANT

Suffolk County Council offices, Endeavour House. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: ARCHANT

A rise in schools rated ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ is not down to poor funding or strategy, council chiefs have said.

Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for economic development Picture: SUFFOLK COU

Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for economic development Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL - Credit: Archant

Data published by Suffolk County Council revealed that the number of schools with the two lowest ratings by education watchdog Ofsted had soared from 39 to 65 in just three months.

It means that one in five schools in the county now have an ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ rating.

County council cabinet member for finance and assets, Richard Smith, was asked if this was down to poor funding or strategy for schools in the county during Thursday’s scrutiny committee.

Mr Smith said aiming for every school to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ was “the right take to have”.

He said: “We owe it to our children wherever they are to get a first rate education.

“It’s not really so much to do with the funding we allocate – once schools become academies they are funded through a different mechanism.

“We are trying our best to give every child in Suffolk a good education.”

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Education cabinet member Gordon Jones pointed to changes in Ofsted’s inspection publishing as having an effect nationally, while the number of schools with one of the top two ratings had increased from 240 to 252.

He added: “The published outcomes we have seen recently for sponsor-led academies in Suffolk show that some have not improved as quickly as we would like or have further deteriorated.

“This is a challenge that we have taken to the National and Regional Schools Commissioner at the Department for Education which is responsible for these schools.

“In the last 12 months, 79% of our county council maintained schools inspected in Suffolk have retained or improved to ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ ratings, compared to only 65% of academies.

“Some of these academies are due to be inspected in the next three years following conversion and we want to see improvement during this time.”

The county council also revealed that it was struggling to cope with soaring numbers of pupils with special education needs, with another three or four new special schools needed in the next two years alone just to meet current demand.

Mr Smith said borrowing could be an option.

“We are awaiting the outcome of the policy development panel.

“They are the kind of thing we can put in the capital budget and borrow money.

“We borrow reasonably large sums of money but nowhere near the upper limit, the problem is the interest paid on that and we have to repay the borrowing as well.

“We know it’s a significant issue and it goes on with the ongoing lobbying of government for more budget.”

The policy development panel is due to come back with recommendations on SEN provision early next year.

Labour reaction

Labour education spokesman Jack Abbott said: “I actually agree with Councillor Smith on this – the problem with Raising the Bar is less about the budget and more about the strategy itself.

“I can understand why, given the financial challenges faced by this council, he is demanding more from his colleagues in order to make sure that the money he allocates to each department is being spent wisely.

“Unfortunately for Councillor Jones, Raising the Bar has failed to deliver with one in five Suffolk schools now rated ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, a far cry from the initial promise that all schools would be rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by 2017.

“If I was Councillor Smith, I would be asking Councillor Jones to ditch what is essentially a PR project for the council and instead produce a plan that is focused on delivering an inclusive education system for all pupils in Suffolk.”

Lib Dem, Green and Independent reaction

Penny Otton, education spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group said it brought into question the council’s Raising the Bar strategy.

“Clearly, the strategy is failing to actually improve the quality of schools in Suffolk – either we’re not committing enough funding, or the strategy itself is flawed,” she said.

“You can’t simply blame new inspection procedures from Ofsted for the rise in the percentage of schools rated inadequate, as Councillor Smith did today – they can only find a school inadequate if it actually is inadequate.

“If anything these figures have simply revealed the reality of school quality in Suffolk that was previously hidden by statistics.

“What the data also reveals is the severe negative consequences of recent upheavals in school funding and curriculum changes.

“Schools are not being supported by the government, and it’s no wonder we’re seeing the effects of this reflected in Ofsted inspections.

“Even the Tory-led LGA has expressed deep concern at the lack of adequate funding for education and the impact this will have on the quality of schools.”

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