Ofsted launches attack on council for failing Northumberland schools

Ofsted regional director Nick Hudson branded a "downward trend" of school standards in Northumberland as "unacceptable"

Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth
Northumberland County Council, County Hall, Morpeth

Failing schools in Northumberland are exhibiting an “unacceptable downward trend” which will alarm parents and pupils, a watchdog has warned.

Education chiefs launched a scathing attack on the county’s schooling system and accused council leaders of failing teachers and their students.

Ofsted’s regional director Nick Hudson said Northumberland County Council was failing to tackle declining standards and claimed an emergency review of schools did “not reflect well on the local authority’s capacity or influence to drive improvement.”

It comes after an emergency inspection of 17 schools found standards in three-quarters had failed to improve or declined, while four of those examined over a concentrated two-day period failed the inspection.

Nine schools were judged to require improvement to become good, with six of these schools graded satisfactory at their previous inspection and three previously judged as good.

Robert Arckless, Northumberland County Council’s policy board member for children’s services, released a statement saying the council was taking the issues “very seriously and working hard to resolve” them. In a letter distributed to the county’s schools, Mr Hudson wrote: “This downward trend of school performance is unacceptable against an overall national and regional improvement. Consequently, this means that children in Northumberland have less chance of going to a good school particularly in the middle and high school sectors. This result is unacceptable and will be of great concern to parents, carers and pupils alike.”

The Ofsted review – sparked by falling attainment levels – found school leaders had “expressed concern” about the local authority “being ‘stretched’ and unable to provide the skills, expertise and experience required to assist schools in making improvements”.

In a letter released today, Mr Hudson accuses the council of providing “inadequate support for schools” and branded the local authority strategy for improving under-performing schools as “inadequate”, saying it “lacked clarity”.

He added: “The results suggest that the support provided by the local authority in those schools placed in special measures has not been effective, and it seems that actions to tackle weaknesses have not been swift enough to arrest the decline in these schools.”

Mr Hudson said that “since September 2012 there has been a significant and worrying decline in inspection outcomes.”

Mr Arckless said: “We will be working closely with the schools and increasing the levels of support so that together we can quickly improve the situation for the children and young people where it has been found to be inadequate. Although Ofsted found an improvement in some of the schools inspected and highlighted a range of strengths in Northumberland, we are now focused on making the tangible improvements required. We’re determined to get this right so that there is a good school for every Northumberland learner.

“A meeting between the local authority, Ofsted and all head teachers in Northumberland is already planned where we expect to agree a way forward.

“Since forming the new administration in the summer the policy board has picked up on some of these concerns and we are taking swift action in the strategic leadership of education and developing a plan of action so improvements can be made.”

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