The first two local authorities visited under a new inspection regime have been labelled “unfit for purpose” for their support of schools.
After five-day inspections, Norfolk and the Isle of Wight were judged “ineffective” at challenging weaker schools and showing strategic leadership in school improvement respectively. The two authorities were targeted for inspection after a series of blitz inspections on schools in areas Ofsted believed were underperforming.
In many of these, the inspections revealed that several schools were improving, prompting criticism from authorities such as Derby City Council that Ofsted was using outdated figures, with some claiming it was part of a politicised agenda favouring the conversion of schools to academies.
But Norfolk and the Isle of Wight have accepted Ofsted’s criticisms. Inspectors criticised a “legacy of underachievement” in Norfolk, caused by a reluctance to intervene in poorly performing schools.
“In the past we have been too slow to act in schools that are causing concern,” said Gordon Boyd, Norfolk’s assistant director of children’s services.
“However, our new strategy focuses on much earlier intervention and is beginning to show positive signs of progress – the proportion of good and outstanding schools in the county is increasing and the role of the council in supporting school improvement has been found by Ofsted to be effective in the vast majority of recent school inspections. Despite this we realise that there is a long way to go.”
The Isle of Wight lacked a co-ordinated approach to school improvement, inspectors found, and a poor use of performance data meant the authority did not know the schools well enough or intervene quickly enough.
The island brought in support from Hampshire County Council last month to help turn around its failing social services, and now says the nearby authority will also contribute to school improvement.
“We are fully aware of the urgent need to raise the benchmark for education on the island and are strongly committed to improvement,” said Councillor Richard Priest, cabinet member for children’s services on the Isle of Wight Council.
“We are developing an action plan for improvement with support from Hampshire County Council, our strategic partner for children’s services. Clearly we will be making sure that our action plan also addresses the issues that Ofsted has raised.”
Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said that the local authority inspections would continue: as they are triggered by performance against national averages, half of all councils could come under scrutiny.
“If councils want to demonstrate they still have a relevant and meaningful role to play within the new educational landscape, they must act as dynamic and proactive agents for improvement,” he said.