Suffolk County Council: Sue Cook on the importance of challenge and accountability in education

Sue Cook, Director of Children and Young people's services.

Sue Cook, Director of Children and Young people's services. - Credit: Archant

As many of you will know, last month Ofsted conducted a five day inspection of Suffolk County Council’s arrangements for supporting and challenging schools to improve. We’re awaiting the outcome of that inspection.

The process once again highlighted the seriousness of the challenge facing Suffolk and the importance of us all, regardless of role, challenging others to do better by our children.

Whether that’s Ofsted raising questions about the local authority’s impact in raising educational attainment, Ofsted inspecting school performance, Suffolk County Council holding schools to account or indeed schools driving others to do better - frank and open challenge is needed at all times.

There are indeed many good examples of this in practice. But I believe that much more needs to take place and that the challenge needs to be stronger and more robust.

It’s not going to be easy. We’re all under extreme pressure to achieve instant success in tasks that are complex. Improving the quality of teaching and learning in our schools, for example, takes time to deliver. Nonetheless, improvement is needed now.

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In times of extreme pressure it is important to remember that we are all, including our children, capable of far more than we believe is possible.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a life without poverty, illness or some kind or trauma affecting their early years. But everyone, regardless of their background, has a right to a good or outstanding education that gives them the very best chance of fulfilling, or even exceeding, their natural potential.

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That is the collective challenge everyone in the Suffolk education system is faced with right now. We are all leaders and what we do impacts directly on our children’s futures.

Specifically for the county council, we need to demonstrate consistent effectiveness when challenging schools to improve and transparency in how underperformance is tackled. We need to intervene more decisively, swiftly and robustly to ensure the highest standards of education and the highest quality of leadership and governance. At the same time, we also need to show leadership that respects the autonomy of schools and creates opportunities for continuous, school-led, improvement for the whole of Suffolk.

For schools, we need leaders to be bold, ambitious and accountable. We need heads and governors to be unwavering in their pursuit of excellence and robust in tackling underperformance. There is much of this in Suffolk but it is not yet widespread enough or sufficiently embedded in everyday school life.

Raising the Bar is about our long term commitment to improve educational attainment and aspiration in Suffolk. That work is progressing well. But right now, in our respective roles, we must improve the impact of both our challenge and support. This is key to driving up the pace of improvement for our children.

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