High-flying North East primary school pupils slump after move to secondaries

The region’s primary schools are among the best in the country, but many children become lost when they get to secondary school

Fell Dyke Community Primary School pupils. The school was awarded an 'outstanding' rating by Ofsted
Fell Dyke Community Primary School pupils. The school was awarded an 'outstanding' rating by Ofsted

New evidence from inspections of schools in the region has shown the “North East conundrum” holding back our young people.

Figures released by the education watchdog Ofsted show that the region’s primary schools are among the best in the country, but that many children become lost when they get to secondary school.

Last night campaigners hoping to bring multi-million pound new investment into the region’s schools said that the new evidence pointing to the primary-secondary split added weight to their argument.

They were speaking after Ofsted’s annual publication of which schools are performing well and which are struggling pointed to high levels of attainment at primary schools in the North East that does not translate into good GCSE and A-level results.

The 855 primary schools inspected across the region up to December 2013 fared better than the rest of the country with no schools classed as inadequate and 20% graded outstanding. This is set against a national average of 2% inadequate and 17% outstanding.

But secondary schools are trailing behind the rest of the country, with 6% of the 182 secondary schools inspected classed as inadequate (higher than the national average of 5%) and only 19% rated outstanding, below the national rate of 23%.

Gill Alexander, who chairs the regional group of directors of childrens services, says the responsibility of raising young people’s aspirations extends beyond the classroom.

She said: “There has been some debate in Parliament about the region’s primary-secondary divide. Politicians are now calling it the North East conundrum.

“Why do we do so well at primary, but fall off the horse at secondary? This is what the North East Schools Challenge is trying to tackle.

“It’s complex and I think some of it is to do with culture and expectation. It’s not just about how well schools perform: it’s about raising the aspirations and expectations of young people within their communities.”

The Ofsted report shows that by the time they leave secondary school, the proportion of young people in the North East not in education, employment or training is almost twice the national average, the second worst rate in the UK.

Last year Education Secretary Michael Gove sparked controversy when he singled out schools in the east of County Durham as failing children.

The Conservative refused to apologise when challenged in the House of Commons over claims that the “smell of defeatism” was coming from East Durham schools.

Instead Mr Gove said he was right to challenge failing schools, insisting he was sticking up for parents.

Hilary French, headmistress at Central Newcastle High School, says there is an over-arching aim to raise achievement in the North East.

“It’s about raising the achievement rate of all North East children, not just those in primary,” she said. “After all, it’s only through education that the region can become a stronger element of the UK economy.

“Some schools are performing really well at 11+, but we need to share good practice between schools and improve performance. We blame our cultural heritage and worst of all we blame schools, but the only way we start to make a break is to stop talking and do something about it.”

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