I recently received a letter asking me what is being done to raise standards in our secondary schools, and whether a public meeting should be called about the issue.
Educational attainment is an issue which, most of you will be aware, is at the top of the council’s priority list. But the letter I received demonstrates that perhaps fewer of you will know about the vast amount of positive work that has and is going on to tackle this issue, with many successes recorded along the way.
I have replied to the letter and have let the writer know that, in my opinion, a public meeting isn’t the way to resolve these issues. It’s one way to make a big noise – which is fine if you’re interested in making a name for yourself – but it won’t get to the bottom of the issue. What is needed is a gathering of those experts who are in a real position to influence and change educational attainment – teachers, governors, parents, business, leaders in education… and that is very much what we have been busy doing.
In fact, there has been much improvement in educational provision and opportunity in Knowsley in recent times and there is much to be proud of. In 2017, our outcomes for young people from Early Years to Key Stage 4 showed improvement and whilst standards are not yet where we wish them to be, the rate of improvement has been pleasing. We have built upon the success again this year, working hard to secure an A level offer from September 2018 at Knowsley Community College, again maximising the opportunity for young people to excel academically.
All of these improvements have been possible because of the council’s commitment to maximising our contribution to education across the borough as outlined in the council’s Corporate Plan for 2017-2020.
In January, our new Assistant Executive Director for Education, Jill Albertina, took up her newly created post, bringing with her 11 years of experience as a successful Head Teacher in the borough.
Jill is leading on a refreshed Education Strategy that will unify the strong ambition and intent of the council and its partners with a clear focus on diminishing gaps between the Knowsley child and their national peer, particularly at Key Stage 4.
We have also recently produced a Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Strategy that will support the development of inclusive, good quality education across the sector for our most vulnerable learners. Approximately 20% of school-aged children in Knowsley have SEND – 6% higher than the national average. In order to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all of our children and young people, the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Strategy for 2017-2020 has recently been approved at Cabinet. This strategy was developed with our children, young people and their families, and sets out clear priorities around education, health and social care over the next three years.
Our education landscape in Knowsley is broad and diverse and whilst the council has a key role to play in its development, so too do other partners including our professionals, schools, academies, parents and pupils. We are working strategically to ensure that all those responsible for education across the borough are working in a way that enables young people and families to thrive.
Our Education Commission – consisting of well-respected and highly regarded professionals in education – has been reviewing and researching our education offer in Knowsley and has developed a work plan to drive forward a number of key recommendations focussed on educational attainment. This work will allow us to learn from success on a national level and make use of important research from the Education Endowment Foundation to develop a Knowsley system.
Working with the Education Commission, the council has recently been successful in a Department for Education funding bid of just over £744,000 which will be used on a range of measures to improve education in Knowsley. This includes strengthening the transition from primary school to secondary school and improving literacy, the quality of teaching, leadership and collaboration between schools. Thirty schools will be targeted through this initiative – 26 primary schools and four secondary schools.
Strong leadership is essential across the education agenda and we have recently appointed a lead Governance Officer responsible for ensuring school Governing Bodies have the right membership, knowledge and skill set to challenge school practice and procedures. A recent recruitment drive resulted in the appointment of a number of new Governors who, after training, are now in post and providing challenge and leadership within our schools.
I know that standards of behaviour in our secondary schools is being prioritised too. Four out of six are part of Multi-Academy Trusts who have adopted the standards, culture and ethos of the Trust they belong to. I know that each of the Trusts have engaged with the parents at their schools and standards of behaviour was a key priority for them. The other two secondary schools are Catholic and their culture and approach to education provision and behaviour is driven by their mission and values, agreed by the school, the wider community and the Archdiocese.
Similar to behaviour, pastoral care is unique to each individual secondary school, but all of our schools have structures in place where dedicated staff are there to look after the personal and social wellbeing of the pupils. In the most recent Ofsted inspections, four secondary schools in Knowsley were judged to be ‘good’ for personal development and welfare.
We all know that improving educational attainment won’t happen overnight, but I hope you will agree – having read all of the above – that this is clearly a priority for the council and something that we are taking extremely seriously.
I will continue to keep you updated through my blog and I’d also urge you to take a look at www.knowsleynews.co.uk, where the successes of schools and pupils are regularly celebrated.