AN EDUCATION chief at one of Yorkshire’s best performing authorities has angrily rejected criticism from Michael Gove that the county’s school system is failing successive cohorts of pupils.
The Education Secretary has warned there are too many under-performing primary schools in North Yorkshire and blamed the Conservative-run county council for failing to help turn them into academies.
The criticism comes in a letter sent to every MP in North Yorkshire claiming that decisive action is needed and urging them to persuade the council and schools to pursue academy conversions.
However the council’s executive member for schools Councillor Arthur Barker has hit back saying it is a “gross distortion of the facts” to claim the system in North Yorkshire is failing its pupils.
He said the authority had a commitment to ensure children were educated in the best possible schools “despite the pressure of very large cuts in public funding”.
The Department for Education (DfE) say there is a “hard core” of primary schools which have been under-performing for years in North Yorkshire.
Nine primary schools in the county are currently in low Ofsted categories – either in special measures or which have been given a notice to improve.
In his letter, Mr Gove said it was an “uncomfortable fact” that North Yorkshire primary schools had fallen below the national average for the first time.
The DfE said there was 17 primary schools in North Yorkshire below the national floor targets of expected performance in standard assessment tests sat by 11-year-olds including six from Scarborough, two from Catterick, two from Selby and two from Whitby,
The Government wants failing schools to be converted into academies to raise standards. Academies are state-funded schools which are run autonomously from local councils with funding direct from central Government and the freedom to set their own curriculum, admissions and employment arrangements. Mr Gove has previously said he wants academies to become the norm.
In North Yorkshire, only one primary school out of more than 300 has become an academy. In his letter, Mr Gove says that academies have successfully taken over failing schools and their improvement rate has outstripped the national average.
He adds: “Unfortunately, this transformative drive has not taken root in North Yorkshire, where too many schools continue to under perform. This is particularly the case for primary schools. A significant number of primaries are judged by Ofsted to be unsatisfactory or have performed below national expectations for a number of years. Some schools fail into both these categories.”
He adds that North Yorkshire County Council’s failure until recently to pursue academy conversions for these schools had been one of the main barriers to progress.
Mr Gove said the council had not encouraged its stronger schools to take on the role of an academy sponsor which raises standards elsewhere.
Coun Barker said: “It is quite wrong to suggest that the performance of North Yorkshire’s schools gives cause for concern. On the contrary, the number of schools in North Yorkshire in Ofsted categories is proportionately much smaller than in comparable authorities.
“The facts are there are currently nine schools in Ofsted categories out of a total of 364 schools in the county, one of the smallest percentages in the country.”
He added: “The county council regards academy status as a matter which is best judged by individual schools, the basis on which it was originally designed.”
English and maths Sats scores for 2011 show North Yorkshire primaries achieved the fourth best score of the 15 education authorities in Yorkshire.