Inspector's concern over secondary schooling in Cumbria

Andrew Cook, regional director (North West) for Ofsted
Andrew Cook, regional director (North West) for Ofsted

The man in charge of school inspections across the north west has cast fresh doubt about the quality of secondary education in Cumbria.

Andrew Cook, regional director of regulator Ofsted, also has concerns about how well a school-to-school support body created to drive up standards is doing its job.

Mr Cook spoke to The Cumberland News after Newman Catholic School in Carlisle became the latest in a string of county secondaries to be slated by inspectors since September. Newman has been placed into special measures after failing an inspection in January.

Inspectors’ findings into Newman’s operation were published a week ago, sparking an outcry. However, claims that inspectors “ignored” the school’s unique circumstances in the wake of the winter 2015 floods have been refuted by Mr Cook.

Newman School not only had to move from Lismore Place into the shell of the former Pennine Way Primary School in Harraby, pupils’ work and teaching resources were lost.

Efforts continue to secure a site elsewhere in the city as well as funding from the Government and insurers to build a new replacement school.

Since October, Ofsted has:

Raised concerns about security at Ullswater Community College, Penrith;

Judged William Howard School, Brampton to “require improvement”. Previously it had been judged a “good” school;

Placed four secondary schools into special measures – Newman School in Carlisle; Kirkby Stephen Grammar School, The Whitehaven Academy; and the Queen Katherine School in Kendal;

Told Solway School in Silloth and the Energy Coast University Technical College at Lillyhall near Workington that they “require improvement”.

Mr Cook insisted that schools have not been downgraded because of “single” issues and that his inspectors examine wider issues affecting the life of a school. He said: “There are clear criteria about inspecting schools. They do appreciate and take into consideration circumstances but fundamentally what they are asked to do is follow the school inspection handbook.

“Schools have been judged to be in categories because some of the children are not making good enough progress and that is what schools are all about. When there are schools that are failing groups of pupils, often disadvantaged pupils, that is just not good enough.

“We want schools not to lose sight of groups of pupils, particularly disadvantaged pupils.”

Ofsted’s reports published

over the last six months come three years after the education watchdog raised “serious concerns” about the quality of secondary education in Cumbria.

In late 2013 and early 2014 the regulator carried out 14 inspections and found that a high proportion of local secondary schools either required improvement or were inadequate.

Key outcomes for children at the age of 16 were also significantly below the national average.

Mr Cook said: “There are a few recent inspections that would make me question whether things have improved.

“There are some schools that continue to perform well but where we’re identifying where schools are not doing so well it comes back to how well disadvantaged pupils are doing.

“Cumbria is a large geographical area. Coastal areas is where there are challenges for leaders, some of those schools are struggling.”

Mr Cook also doubts whether the school-led improvement system in the county is having the desired impact.

“If it was working well we would not have schools falling into a category,” Mr Cook said.

Problems would be identified and tackled earlier, he added.

A school-to-school support and improvement scheme is to identify when a school starts struggling and intervenes to help, he added.

A statement from the Cumbria Alliance of System Leaders, the school-to-school support network, said: “CASL is an effective collaborative body which has delivered improvement support across the whole education sector.

“There is clear evidence from Ofsted judgements at primary and secondary that the school-to-school support works – the number of good or outstanding primary schools has continued to rise and at secondary level CASL has supported many school improvement journeys across Cumbria.

“We need to further improve secondary attainment and also work to improve early years’ outcomes.

“We are confident that improvements are being made.”

Mr Cook has taken his concerns to Cumbria County Council’s director of children’s services, John Macilwraith, and Jan Renou, the regional schools commissioner responsible for academies across northern England.

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