Suffolk: County’s ‘synergy’ with Ofsted’s warnings

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector at ofsted with reporter Elliot Furniss at Copleston High School

Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector at ofsted with reporter Elliot Furniss at Copleston High School, Copleston Road, Ipswich. - Credit: Andrew Partridge

Suffolk’s ground-breaking Raising the Bar initiative is already tackling issues raised by Ofsted, which recently warned that the nation’s state schools are “letting down” clever children.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and head of Ofsted, said a culture of low expectations in many schools means that bright pupils are not being stretched and are failing to gain top grades at GCSE.

He said it was “shocking” that, in some cases, school leaders and teachers did not even know who their most able children were.

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) was tasked to lead Raising the Bar by Suffolk County Council a year ago.

Adrian Orr, interim assistant director for learning at the county council, said that the RSA’s No School and Island report, published in May, identified many issues that “chimed” with Sir Michael’s warnings.

And Mr Orr said Suffolk was well on the way to addressing many of Ofsted’s concerns - but there was still much to do.

He said: “The clear message of what the chief inspector is saying is that we are not collectively paying enough attention to these young people who are showing real potential at the end of primary phase.

Most Read

“We know in Suffolk we are not getting enough children to Level 4 and 5 by the end of Key Stage 2 - that’s the driver behind the whole of the Raising the Bar programme.

“The core message of Ofsted and our Raising the Bar is that we have to have high aspiration for all of our young children. There’s synergy between the two.”

Last year nearly two-thirds (65%) of pupils at non-selective secondaries across the country - around 65,000 students - gained a Level 5 in English and maths in national curriculum tests at the end of primary school, one level above the expected standard, but did not get an A* or A grade in these subjects at GCSE, Ofsted said.

Just over a quarter of students - around 27,000 - did not get a grade B in English and maths at GCSE. Sir Michael said the figures were “unacceptable in an increasingly competitive world”.

He said: “Too many non-selective schools are failing to nurture scholastic excellence. While the best of these schools provide excellent opportunities, many of our most able students receive mediocre provision.

“Put simply, they are not doing well enough because their secondary schools fail to challenge and support them sufficiently from the beginning.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Sir Michael is right. Secondary schools must ensure all their pupils – including their brightest – fulfil their potential. That’s why we are introducing a more demanding and rigorous curriculum, toughening up GCSEs and getting universities involved in A-levels.”

One of the key recommendations made by the RSA’s No School an Island report was the establishment of a close link between Suffolk and a London borough.

The RSA says the link will help education leaders, teachers, governors and parents benefit from the strategies and approaches taken by Hackney – the borough chosen for the partnership.

Adrian Orr, interim assistant director for learning at the county council, said the link with Hackney was a recommendation that the council had decided to act on quickly while preparing a more detailed response to the full report, to be published later in the summer.

“Hackney have been very honest and said that they haven’t got all the answers,” Mr Orr said. “Hackney isn’t perhaps an obvious partner for a large shire county like Suffolk, but it’s outside of the usual thinking.”

Hackney has seen its pupils make significant progress above the national level of improvement for both Key Stage 2 exams (SATs) and GCSEs.

While performance in Suffolk has also improved, it has not done so at the same rate at other areas – forcing the county down the Key Stage 2 and GCSE league tables.

Mr Orr added: “Our intention is to have that connection under way well before next term. We are very interested in the things that Hackney did to go from quite a low position in terms of the attainment tables to move quite quickly to seeing its children getting high Level 4 or Level 5 by the end of Key Stage 2.”