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Ofsted: Suffolk schools 'languishing in mediocrity'

Reporting by David Harrison

Schools in Suffolk are “languishing in mediocrity” because the county council’s efforts to raise standards have been "ineffective", an Ofsted inspection has found.

The local authority’s failure to challenge and support schools was damaging pupils’ life chances, the watchdog warned in a letter released on Tuesday.

The inquiry into the council’s work on education was carried out because Ofsted was concerned that pupils in Suffolk’s primary and secondary schools were performing well below national averages, particularly at Key Stages 2 and 4.

And in its letter, Ofsted said that the council’s strategy was “weak and has left some schools languishing in mediocrity”.

The judgement comes just days after the company behind a Suffolk free school admitted it was providing a sub-standard education to its students.

Sean Harford, Ofsted’s regional director for the east of England, said: “Too few pupils in Suffolk attend a good or outstanding school, and far too many attend inadequate schools. That is unacceptable."

It was “disappointing” that the council’s support for schools had been “ineffective,” he added.

“The local authority has not tackled weaknesses in schools quickly enough. That just isn’t good enough when the prospects for the young people of the county are at stake.”

The council launched a “Raising the Bar” policy in the summer of 2012 in a bid to recognise the need to raise standards in its schools.

“But there have been no significant improvements in pupils’ attainment since that time and there is still no clear strategy for how the local authority will make improvements,” Mr Harford said.

The watchdog recommended that the council should take urgent steps to tackle the problem of low pupil attainment.

And it added that it would “monitor developments” and carry out another inspection within the next 12 months.

Councillor Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education, skills and young people, welcomed the report and said that the local authority agreed with Ofsted on the areas that needed improvement.

“Work to address each of them is already well underway. This report confirms that we are tackling the right issues,” she said, adding that the council would use the “guidance” from Ofsted to raise standards.

“Results are improving in Suffolk, but too slowly,” Ms Chambers said. “And although 70 per cent of schools in Suffolk are rated good or outstanding, this isn’t enough. We must all work to drive up standards.”

The Ofsted letter is the second piece of bad news for Suffolk schools in less than a week. Last weekend Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES), the Swedish provider that runs England's first for-profit free school, IES Breckland, told TES that it had been forced to stage its own inspection due to concerns around standards.

IES' inspection found it was “not representative of our schools or our vision of how our schools should be".

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