Schools across Lancashire are set to be grouped into a series of local networks designed to help them support each other – and improve results in the county.
The plans are also intended to enable schools to share good ideas and to more easily access other public services when they need them.
Details emerged at a meeting of Lancashire County Council’s education scrutiny committee, where some members branded various aspects of the region’s educational performance as “disappointing”.
“Some of the outcomes for some of our young people need to be improved – and just doing the same old, same old is not going to get [us] there,” admitted the authority’s acting director of education quality and improvement, Paul Duckworth.
“ We have to look at it in a more joined-up way, working with partners and meeting wider needs.”
The networks will be rolled out gradually – starting in Burnley and Rossendale – before being extended to the rest of the county council area, which excludes Blackpool and Blackburn.
Each network will belong to one of five “locality boards” that will look at issues across a wider area, based on the same geographical footprint that the NHS has adopted in the county.
Overseeing the arrangements will be a new strategic education board chaired by County Hall’s executive director of education and likely to include significant representation from all school types, although its structure has yet to be finalised.
Committee members were told that the plans were not intended to “ride roughshod” over existing collaborations between schools, but to create other partnerships on a more formal footing. Support to schools currently provided directly by the county council will also continue.
“It’s about collaborating on a local basis around some of the issues and barriers…to say which of those other services can we draw in?” Mr. Duckworth said.
Thirty of the new school networks will be formed, with each falling beneath one of the locality areas – ranging from a total of three groups in Fylde and Wyre to 10 across Central Lancashire.
Every network is expected to be allocated a senior adviser from the education department at County Hall, along with a worker from the children and family wellbeing service.
More than 400 schools have so far been briefed on the plans at a series of events held across the county in recent weeks.
MUST DO BETTER?
One of Lancashire County Council’s most senior education officers told members of the authority’s education scrutiny committee that he “shared their disappointment” at some of the latest statistics on pupil outcomes in the region.
Paul Duckworth, acting director of education quality and improvement, was speaking as the committee pored over data which showed a dip in some areas, with performance below the national average on several measures.
At the secondary level in 2019, the county’s “attainment 8” score – based on pupils’ achievements in specific subjects including English and Maths, sciences, history and/or geography and a modern language – is in line with the England average and the previous year’s performance in Lancashire.
However, the “progress 8” score – the degree to which pupils have made expected advances between the end of primary school and taking their GCSEs – has fallen in Lancashire compared to 2018 and is well below the England average. The percentage of pupils getting a “standard pass” in English and Maths has also dropped by 0.6 percent over the same period.
But committee member and Preston South East county councillor Jennifer Mein said she found the progress statistic the “saddest” of them all.
“I think we have gone over and above in supporting schools over the years – but why have we got these results? It isn’t good enough for our children,” she said
Paul Dyson-Knight, a senior education adviser at County Hall, said that a fairer measure might be to compare pupil progress based on like-for-like characteristics rather than simply those with the same level of attainment when they left primary school.
However, he accepted that pupil outcomes at key stage 2 – aged 11 – suggested that they should be “doing better” by the time they take their GCSEs, particularly given Lancashire has “slightly fewer low ability pupils and slightly more high ability pupils” than the national average.
At the primary stage, the proportion of seven-year-olds achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths fell between 2018 and 2019 – with the combined percentage across the three subjects down from 64.2 percent to 63.3 percent. That leaves Lancashire behind the England average – 64.9 percent – on that key stage 1 measure for the third year in a row.
However, the county has increased the proportion of disadvantaged pupils achieving that standard for each of the last four years – and it now stands at 45.3 percent.
The same combined reading, writing and maths measure at key stage 2 has fallen in Lancashire year-on-year from 64.8 percent to 64.0 percent, putting the county behind the national average for the first time in four years. However, the score is still almost 10 percent higher than in 2015.
Once again, the proportion of disadvantaged pupils achieving the expected standard continues its four-year upward trend to stand at 45.4 percent – 2.7 percent higher than last year and almost 14 percent up on 2015.
However, committee member and Preston West county councillor John Potter described the overall picture as “not good enough”.
“This report is quite disappointing in terms of what we are doing for our kids,” he said.
In a statement issued after the meeting, cabinet member for schools Phillippa Williamson said: “”We are determined to ensure that all children and young people have access to a good education and are able to make the most of every stage of their learning.
“Whilst many of our children and young people are able to achieve and to do well, we are aware that there are areas where we can – and need – to do more to support some pupils, particularly those living in more challenging circumstances and with special educational needs and disabilities. Also, some children need some additional support when they start school.
“We are developing the way that we work with schools and the ways that we will work in closer partnership with other services including Inclusion and Children and Family Wellbeing. The new ways of working will bring about quicker and easier access to services to help us to achieve our aims of raising achievement for everyone, helping all children to do well at school and having the opportunity to make a good future for themselves,” County Cllr Williamson said.
TEACHERS SHOULD “THINK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX”
Education scrutiny committee member and Heysham county councillor Andrew Gardiner called on teachers to forge a closer relationship with the families of the children in their care.
Recalling one of his own teachers who visited his family home when he was at primary school, County Cllr Gardiner said “the barriers” between schools and parents should be broken down.
“Teachers do a fantastic job – [but parents] usually see a teacher for about five minutes every term in primary and for about 30 seconds in senior school as you go round them [all].
“Parents aren’t engaging with schools and schools aren’t engaging with parents – and the child is stuck in the middle.
“Teachers need to think outside the box about how they work with parents. Do they keep in touch outside the school and meet the parents? Because it works – the children in class actually feel their teacher cares about them.
“Parents [feel] that their child is getting the best education, because that teacher has taken 20 minutes out of an evening to go and see that parent in their own home and understand their situation,” County Cllr Gardiner said.