Sunday, 30 August 2015

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Minister concerned over Cumbria's secondary schools crisis

A Government minister has said that he shares concerns about Cumbria’s secondary schools’ standards crisis – and insists action is being taken to turn things around.

Lord Nash photo
Lord Nash

Schools minister Lord Nash has this week detailed how the Department for Education is working to ensure standards improve at the failing and struggling academies which fall under its control.

He says that the department has already drafted in United Learning to take over the running of the Richard Rose Academies in Carlisle.

The minister, in a letter to Cumbria County Council, also reveals that a government advisor is visiting Appleby Grammar School later this month to find out why performance in English and maths has fallen and how pupils’ attainment and progress in the subjects can be improved. Appleby became an academy three years ago.

It comes after councillor Stewart Young, leader of the county council, demanded answers from Education Secretary Michael Gove after school standards watchdog Ofsted said it has ‘serious concerns’ about the quality of secondary education in the county.

Mr Young received Lord Nash’s reply earlier this week.

Lord Nash said: “I share your concerns about the quality of secondary education in Cumbria, which has fallen below the national average in terms of GCSE performance since 2011.

“We believe that under-performance in any type of school is unacceptable and we are determined to take action wherever there are performance issues.”

He says the Government has a “strong intervention strategy” to turnaround under-performing academies and will send advisors into those schools where there are particularly concerns about specific areas.

If standards remain low the Department for Education can issue formal warning notices to schools or replace academy sponsors with a sponsor that has a proven track record in turning around failing schools.

The minister said: “Concerning Richard Rose Morton Academy and its sister school, Richard Rose Central Academy, United Learning has been identified as the best sponsor to drive forward sustainable improvements, and we are working with it to take on the sponsorship of both schools. In the meantime, United Learning is leading the school improvement board, which officials attend regularly and which I believe Caroline Sutton, [the council’s] assistant director for schools and learning, attends and makes an active contribution. We will continue to monitor progress on this regularly.”

He added: “In light of the recent Ofsted judgement of Appleby Grammar School along with a fall in its attainment and progress results for both English and mathematics, one of our educational advisors will visit the school on March 20. They will identify the issues facing the school and make recommendations for improvement.”

Mr Young said: “I welcome the clarification from Lord Nash following my recent letter to Mr Gove. It is good to see they are monitoring the situation closely as we continue our work with the Cumbria Alliance of System Leaders partnership to help bring about improvements in local schools.”

Ofsted’s concerns about the county’s standards of secondary education were made public last month following a blitz of inspections in 17 schools and colleges. It says there are too few secondary schools doing well.

Cumbria County Council immediately earmarked £500,000 to plough into school improvement measures but its leader Mr Young pressed for answers from the Government to ensure efforts were being made to help those schools outside of its control.

Academies are independent state schools, funded directly from central Government.



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