Council sends damning letters to North East teachers in bid to up standards

In a tough-talking letter, Northumberland County Council have announced a raft of changes in a bid to drive up standards in the region's schools

Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland
Exterior of County Hall in Morpeth Northumberland

Mediocre and complacent headteachers will no longer be tolerated, and new county-wide tests will be introduced in a bid to drive up education standards.

In a tough-talking pre-Christmas letter from Northumberland County Council to schools, a raft of changes have been announced following Ofsted’s report that found a quarter of schools inspected in Northumberland are failing.

The county’s schools system was described in the letter from the county’s corporate director of children’s services as inward looking, lacking leadership and that staff were ‘happy to coast along’.

Brand new ‘non-negotiable’ tests set by the council will be launched this academic year and will be extra to SATS and other school exams.

The council will also hold an internal review of the senior leadership team and school improvement and support services. The council’s corporate director of children’s services, Daljit Lally, wrote the letter, which arrived at schools just days before the end of term. She wrote: “My view is that I do not intend to run schools I intend to hold you all to account for running yours.” She added: “I will expect you all to deliver to the high standards that I will set.”

The message comes as school staff from across Northumberland’s first schools, primaries and secondaries gathered for a conference on how to raise standards following a damning critique of state education in the region by Ofsted’s regional director for the North East Nick Hudson.

In October he attacked schools in the county and branded a gap in attainment levels with schools in other parts of the North East as ‘unacceptable’ as well as shining a spot light on the three-tier system which he said needed significant analysis. Four of 17 schools visited by Ofsted inspectors over a concentrated two-day period during the Autumn term have been placed into special measures and figures show that 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 36% nationally.

The council’s heightened role in education provision in Northumberland will see Ms Lally taking a lead on teaching standards and good practice. Her letter continued: “The Council has chosen to include the director of children’s services as part of a wider role which will seek to integrate a range of services in order to ensure that prospects across the county improve and that we support all young people equally to have the best life chances irrespective of their family circumstances.”

Ms Lally told the Journal last night: “As a council we’re looking at a range of issues to help support schools following the recent Ofsted inspections.

“As part of this process lots of internal work is going on to ensure that we provide a positive response and we will be advising schools of the arrangements in due course.”

But Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said: “Tests do not drive up standards, great teaching and learning drive up standards.

“It also takes time to turn around a school – not hectoring by officials seeking a quick fix. When pressure mounts, great leaders inspire others to raise their game; in this instance council officials seem content to rely on coercion.”

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