Ofsted has expressed “serious concerns” about the quality of secondary schools in Cumbria, highlighting the county’s coastal and rural schools as a particular worry.
After targeting the county with a series of 14 inspections during November and December, the watchdog has hit out at the “high proportion” of schools rated inadequate or requiring improvement. More than a third of the schools visited by inspectors during this period were found to be inadequate.
The inspections were triggered by weak GCSE performance in the county's schools in recent years.
“Key outcomes for children at the age of 16 have been significantly below the national average in the last two years and the gap has widened,” wrote Michael Cladingbowl, Ofsted’s North West regional director, in a letter to Cumbria County Council.
“Of particular concern is school performance in coastal and urban areas, and the weak achievement of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“In summary, none of the schools inspected improved and eight declined, including five that were placed in special measures. The support provided by the local authority to maintained schools has not prevented a decline in standards.”
“There are too few good secondary schools in Cumbria and things are not improving,” Mr Cladingbowl concluded.
Last week, former chief schools' inspector Chris Woodhead revealed plans to create an academy trust to take over several under-performing schools in the county.
“If you are growing up in a town like Barrow, which has real problems with jobs, your prospects in life are not that rosy,” he told the Sunday Times. “The schooling you receive is absolutely crucial to your success in life.
“If the multi-academy trust can really give these children an opportunity they would not otherwise have to make something of their lives, that is something worth doing.”
Common weaknesses identified by Ofsted included poor achievement in English and maths, too little challenge in lessons for more-able students and “weak leadership of teaching and the performance management of teachers”.
Anne Burns, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We accept Ofsted’s analysis of the current situation and know there is much more to do to ensure all Cumbrian secondary schools are providing the quality of education that parents and pupils have a right to expect.
“But it’s also right to point out that 65 per cent of Cumbria secondary school pupils attend a school that is ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ – we want that to be 100 per cent, but we should not lose sight of the fact that Cumbria does have many great schools.”
She also insisted that the academies programme meant that “the days when the county council could routinely intervene are long gone”. “I have no doubt about the urgency of this work, Cumbrian pupils deserve the best and we’ll be doing all we can to make that happen,” she added.