Emergency review shows scale of 'failing' Northumberland schools

Union chiefs claim an Ofsted inspection of 17 schools was "driven by politics" and an attempt to create academies "through the back door"

Chris Radburn/PA Wire Northumberland has been singled out as "failing" children on free school meals
An emergency review has found a startling number of Northumberland schools are failing

Nearly a quarter of schools inspected in Northumberland during an emergency review are failing, it has emerged.

Ofsted chief Nick Hudson, the regional director for the North East, criticised schools in the county and branded a gap in attainment levels compared to other parts of the North East as an “unacceptable situation”.

Following inspections held in the wake of the claims, The Journal understands that four of the 17 schools visited by Ofsted inspectors over a concentrated two-day period have been placed into “special measures”.

A full list is yet to be formally released but those schools identified as under-performing will be the subject of frequent re-appraisals.

Coun Robert Arckless, Northumberland County Council’s policy board member for children’s services, last night said any schools that are deemed to need improvement would be given increased “levels of support” in the hope of “rapid improvement”.

The Northumberland authority was singled out as “failing” children on free school meals and having low levels of good and outstanding secondary schools compared to the rest of the North East.

Figures show that in 2012 only 26% of pupils on free school meals in secondary schools were able to achieve five or more A* to C GCSE grades, including English and Maths, compared to 62% for other pupils in the county.

Across the North East, 33% of children on free school meals achieved this grade and 36% nationally. A review was implemented at 17 sites to examine the under-performance of secondary schools in the area.

But Colin Dyson, the National Union of Teachers’ divisional secretary for Northumberland, last night claimed the review had been “driven by politics” and was a way of creating academies “through the back door”.

He said: “There seems to be a political aspect to this. They were not just looking at 17 schools, they were looking at schools that you could argue already had issues.

“Ofsted will obviously deny that but in terms of the public and the schools and the school community, there’s a feeling that there’s a political drive.

“That drive is either in terms of whether the county council has done enough to support these schools before they were put in special measures. There’s also a strong feeling that this is academies by the back door.”

Mr Dyson said Ofsted inspections were not fair and called for a level playing field. He said: “There’s a feeling that different people approach the inspections differently with a different hat on. One school that might have one judgement could be seen differently by another inspector.”

In a statement Coun Arckless said: “Schools are receiving copies of those reports now and over the next few weeks. The reports are then made available on the Ofsted website five days later. We will be discussing the reports and their recommendations with all the schools and academies as they become available.

“If schools are identified as requiring improvement or in special measures then we will be increasing the levels of support so that together we can rapidly improve the quality of provision for the children and young people where it has been found to be inadequate.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education declined to comment.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Ofsted does not have a preferred model for schools; we are independent and are not furthering any political agenda. Our overall objective is to ensure that all children, regardless of the postcode they come from and regardless of whether they attend an academy, free school or maintained school, have access to a good quality education.”

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