Ofsted demands Doncaster improve school services

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A YORKSHIRE council has been warned by Ofsted that there is a pressing need for it to improve its support for schools.

The education watchdog has found that Doncaster Council’s arrangements for supporting schools are ineffective.

Ofsted carried out an inspection because more than half of pupils from the town attend schools which it judges to be less than good - in either the inadequate or requires improvement category.

The borough is also in the bottom fifth of the 150 local authority areas across England in terms of exam results.

During the targeted inspection Ofsted inspectors met councillors, local authority officials, governors and school leaders. They also assessed the local authority’s plans to improve education and analysed pupils’ exam results.

Ofsted says it found that Doncaster Council’s systems for collecting and analysing schools’ performance data were not fit for purpose.

It found that the local authority school improvement service does not keep formal records of how well governors are managing and supporting schools.

The council has also been accused of not using its powers to intervene in failing schools in a consistent way.

More positively, Ofsted finds that the local authority has worked well to reduce pupil exclusions, while some headteachers said that there had been an improvement in the way good and outstanding schools help those that are not giving their pupils a good or better education.

Ofsted’s regional director for Yorkshire and the North East Nick Hudson, said: “We have undertaken a thorough inspection of Doncaster Council’s arrangements for supporting schools and found that they are ineffective.

“A local authority needs to have a grip on data about how its pupils are doing.

“That Doncaster’s systems for analysing school data are not fit for purpose is a matter for concern.

“Pupils in Doncaster do not get a good deal compared to other children and young people elsewhere in the region or in England.

“More than half of pupils in Doncaster are in schools that are either inadequate or require improvement. They and their parents deserve better.

“To solve any problem you must identify it first. So I believe that this report is a significant step towards better education for pupils in Doncaster. We have set forward a clear way by which Doncaster Council can do better for its young people, and give them a better start in life.

“I know there are some good schools in Doncaster and many people are working hard to rectify the problems.

“But pupils have yet to benefit from their intentions. Before next summer we will check on what progress has been made.”

Ofsted says that the local authority must: intervene early when schools show signs of failing their pupils by, for example, replacing senior staff and governors; improve the way it collects data about pupils’ exam results, and use that data properly; encourage schools to work together to share how best to improve teaching quality in the area; and tell the Department for Education promptly if academies are failing.

Ofsted has previously carried out targeted inspections of school in Wakefield where it also found the local authority’s school support services were ineffective.

Doncaster Council said the Ofsted report points to many positives in how the local authority supports schools but says there is still much more to do to make the improvements needed.

“The feedback we’ve been given is extremely helpful and gave us a good sense that the Ofsted team found our circumstances very much in line with the information we gave them before they started,” said Eleanor Brazil, director of children’s Services,

“We were clear and honest in what we believed we have achieved in a year and know what we have yet to achieve. We have put a lot in place to work better with schools and help them improve and that work continues,” she added.

Coun Nuala Fennelly, cabinet member for Children’s Services, Education and Skills, said she was determined that the council keeps up the pace on helping schools to improve to make the ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ grade.

“Although the conclusion of the inspectors was that we clearly are not yet in the shape we want to be, we have achieved a lot in a short space of time and from a relatively low base in terms of adequate support. This is an honest appraisal of where we are and we welcome that. I am under no illusions that we have some considerable progress to make and we will do. We are determined and that determination is shared by schools and partners,” she said.

The Council is now putting together an action plan to address the areas for improvement and is expected a re-inspection by Ofsted within a year.

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