Criticism leads to review

COUNTYWIDE testing for Northumberland pupils, to be in place by the summer, is one of the goals of the county council, as it responds to recent criticism from Ofsted.

And a wide range of further options including more support for schools, teachers, leadership and governors were discussed as Northumberland County Council’s family and children’s services scrutiny committee met on Tuesday morning.

It came after school inspectors spent a focused week in the county in October, sparked by concerns about the attainment of pupils on free school meals compared to elsewhere.

A total of 17 schools were inspected and while one was graded as outstanding and three good, a further nine require improvement and four were placed in special measures – St Cuthbert’s in Amble, Lindisfarne Middle School in Alnwick, Guide Post Middle School and Prudhoe High School.

Ofsted also criticised the local authority for a perceived lack of support for its schools.

The countywide testing, which will not be curricular so will not require further teaching, is designed to address one of the key issues raised by Ofsted.

This relates to the transfer of pupils from first to middle and then middle to high school and schools being unable to trust each other in terms of pupil ability and attainment.

Coun Robert Arckless, policy board member for children’s services, said: “We do need to have consistency.We want to get that absolutely right. We can’t hide behind the school system, with middle schools blaming the first schools and high schools blaming the middle schools, that’s got to stop.

“We just want to make sure that where we have information, that we have got it right.”

Daljit Lally, the new corporate director of children’s services, also referred to other measures being brought in, which include ensuring the school support team is up to full strength, allowing two advisors to work two extra days each specifically for English and maths with schools that need support and augmenting the current team with additional skills. Within six months, it is hoped that the team will have been restructured.

And all of these steps are alongside a review of the council’s senior leadership team and of the council’s school improvement and support services.

Coun Arckless ended the meeting by thanking other members for their support and said he felt optimistic about the future, despite the issues. “This has been a very difficult and sometimes painful process. I don’t understimate the scale of the challenge we face,” he added.