Presented by Andrea Winstone, Strategic Lead for School Effectiveness and SEND, the report stated that most of Thurrock’s children and young people in the early years and primary settings continued to achieve well and that a higher percentage of children at the end of year 6 achieved the age related expectations.
Councillor Muldowney was pleased to hear of the improvement in primary schools but was concerned to hear performance dropping in secondary schools in Thurrock. Andrea Winstone explained that the performance of schools this year was a different picture compared to last year. All schools were academies and the Local Authority had no power within an academy. However, the service had a good working relationship with the teaching schools and helped to identify where support could be sought to help lower attaining schools.
Councillor Redsell thought that schools should consider an officer to look into funding options. She went on to say that schools used to set up fundraising events such as fetes and should consider these. Andrea Winstone said that the service sometimes received grants notifications from a subscription to grants website and that these were sent onto schools. Schools that had an Ofsted rating of ‘Requires Improvement’ were in a better position to acquire the funds needed through the teaching schools and hubs. The Committee further discussed funding options for schools and how there was a lack of communication between schools. The Committee discussed the importance of schools communicating with each other and supporting each other.
Councillor Muldowney commented on the year on year funding cuts and questioned how these impacted upon schools in the Borough. Michele Lucas answered that the central government had invested money into supporting schools. There was a significant pressure on SEND services and this had been recognised which saw a significant increase in the Dedicated School Grants for Thurrock that had been approved by the Schools Forum. However, this pressure was common across all boroughs and not unique to Thurrock. There was a challenge in obtaining the right staff and schools now had to be looked at as a business for education.
Lynda Pritchard commented that the performance of key stage 2 had been low in the past with key stage 4 performing well. She sought clarification on the change in performance levels. She also stated that schools needed more than just funding to improve performance, it was important to have the right staff with a passion for education. Andrea Winstone explained that the change was due to the investment into Early Years learning. This helped to prepare children going into primary schools who were ready to learn. She went on to say that recruitment for primary schools were easier and had a better retention rate for staff. It was harder to recruit secondary school teachers and there was a national shortage seen.
Councillor Rigby thought the issue of performance were more from a shortage of teachers rather than funding. She mentioned that the learning equipment for pupils used to be a notebook, pens and a good teacher. She felt that schools needed to look at ways to attract teachers and retain them. Adding to this, Councillor Akinbohun questioned the salary rate for teachers. Andrea Winstone explained that teachers were paid accordingly to the national pay structure for teachers. However, academy schools had their own pay structures and incentives to try to attract teachers and retain them.
Councillor Muldowney commented that many schools had become academies since 2012 and she was aware that some academies recruited unqualified teachers. She asked for more information and data on this and also sought more detail on the process of a school becoming an academy. Andrea Winstone answered that the information and data was publicly available on the Department for Education schools’ performance website and that the data was held there, not with the Local Authority.
Regarding Councillor Muldowney’s question on the process of a school becoming an academy, Michele Lucas said that as the academy programme had moved forward, some schools had struggled which had resulted in re-brokerage for some of them. If one reached a level of concern, then the solution had been to become an academy or part of a Multi Academy Trust (MAT). There was a system in place for failing schools and it was highlighted that schools that were performing well could choose to become an academy as well.
The Chair sought clarification on recommendation 1.2 and asked how the performance of schools were monitored. Andrea Winstone explained that schools were monitored at the end of the key stage where it was then identified how well each group had performed through published school performance data at the end of statutory returns.
The Chair questioned whether the performance data included SEND schools. Andrea Winstone confirmed that the data did not include SEND schools as not many SEND children undertook exams at the end of the key stages. However, Treetops school may publish some GCSE results if any of the pupils sat their GCSEs.
The Chair sought a breakdown in the performance data given within the report. Andrea Winstone gave a breakdown of:
The Chair questioned the availability of support to schools. Andrea Winstone explained that if a school received a ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’ rating, support could be sought through the hub that sat within the responsibility of Harris Primary. Thurrock currently had 3 teaching schools who were the mechanism for delivering school improvement activity to schools requiring improvement. However, schools can choose where to acquire their school improvement activities from.
For low performing schools, Councillor Akinbohun questioned whether the role of the headteacher was looked at in regards to this. Andrea Winstone explained that the headteacher’s role within a low performing school was for the school’s governing board to decide. She went on to say that low performing schools were offered support and that schools that were performing well were recognised through letters of commendations.
The Committee discussed the recommendations and agreed that the future schools’ performance reports be enhanced to include more detail on SEND learners along with case studies.
1.1 That the Children’s Overview & Scrutiny noted the provisional outcomes of the summer 2019 tests and examinations and commends schools, pupils, and parents/carers on their achievements.
1.2 That the Children’s Overview & Scrutiny considered how they would like to review progress of learners with SEND in light of the Ofsted Written Statement of Action.