Essex: Number of pupils studying in high achieving schools is below national average - ‘improvements must be made quickly’, says Ofsted’s regional director

Essex’s education chief has spoken of his determination to improve standards after a new report revealed the proportion of pupils studying in high achieving schools in the county is below the national average.

Findings from Ofsted’s Annual Report 2012/13, published yesterday, show that in Essex’s secondary schools, 72% of students attend an establishment that is has been rated either good or outstanding by inspectors - against a national average of 74%. At primary level, 70% of children are at either good or outstanding schools, compared with a national average of 78%.

Essex County Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for Education and Lifelong Learning, Ray Gooding said the authority has already recognised the need to improve under-performing schools and that his team was “determined to do all we can to ensure that every child gets the education they need”.

At Ofsted, regional director for the East of England, Sean Harford, said the results from Essex taken in conjunction with those from neighbouring counties, showed “improvement must be made and made quickly”.

The report also revealed that in Suffolk 73% of secondary school pupils and 66% of primary school pupils are studying at school deemed good or outstanding. In Norfolk, the figures are 62% and 63% respectively.

Mr Harford said: “While secondary schools in this region are closing the education gap with national performance, this cannot be said for primary schools. The picture for primary aged children is dire.

“Despite the relative affluence of the region, primary school pupils in the East of England have one of the lowest chances of attending a good school in the country. It cannot be right that nearly 250,000 children are going to a school that is not good enough. Improvements must be made and made quickly if children are to have a better starting chance.”

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He added: “Leadership and management are also the worst overall in the country. As Regional Director for the East of England I am determined to focus minds through our inspection and improvement work. Ofsted inspectors will monitor, challenge and support those institutions that are underperforming and we will not walk away until education standards improve in the region.”

In response, Mr Gooding said Essex County Council recognised that the number of schools judged good or better had fallen behind the proportion nationally and that it had worked with the strongest schools to raise standards and quality of under-performing schools.

He added: “Last academic year, the proportion of secondary schools judged to be good or outstanding in the county increased by 9% and the proportion of primary schools judged to be good or outstanding in the county increased by 10%.

“Across the county there is a very pleasing increase in the number of schools now judged the best in the country with the accolade of outstanding – already this term, there have been nine more schools that have been inspected and recognised with this excellent judgement.

However, Jerry Glazier, general secretary for teacher’s union, NUT Essex, said it was questionable whether Ofsted’s inspection reports reflected the reality of life in schools and the challenges facing teachers.

He said: “ Ofsted inspections are data-driven exercises and do not take into consideration socio-economic circumstances, the size of the school and the nature of the data that has been taken.

“It is difficult to draw conclusions from the report – they are based on a percentage of schools in Essex and I have no idea whether they are representative.”