Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Children on free school meals are being failed in Northumberland

Teams of Ofsted inspectors yesterday began over a week of co-ordinated inspections in Northumberland to find out why the attainment for children who are eligible for free school meals (FSM) is well below other children in the county, in the North East region and nationally.

Northumberland is an affluent authority where the proportion of children eligible for FSM is relatively low compared to the North East region and nationally.

However, in 2012, only 61 per cent of children on FSM achieved Level 4 in English and maths at Key Stage 2, compared to 82 per cent of their non-FSM peers in the authority. Nationally and within the North East region, 66 per cent of children on FSM achieve this grade.

In the same period, children between Key Stage 1 and 2 in Northumberland made the least progress of all local authorities in the North East in English and maths.

The picture for children in secondary schools is worse – only 26 per cent of pupils on FSM were able to achieve 5 or more A* to C GCSE grades including English and maths compared to 62 per cent for other pupils in the county. In the North East region, 33 per cent of children on FSM achieved this grade and 36 per cent nationally.

While first and primary schools in the county are doing very well, with 92 per cent of children going to a good or better school, there are worryingly a disproportionate number of under-performing secondary schools.

Ofsted’s latest data from 31 August 2013 shows that 37 per cent of secondary schools - which include middle deemed secondary - were judged less than good at their last inspection, compared with 27 per cent across England. This means over 8, 000 children in the county are going to a secondary school that is not yet good.

Seventeen focused school inspections will be taking place in the authority as a result of Ofsted’s findings that the proportion of children attending a good or better secondary phase school is currently well below the national average.

At the same time Ofsted will conduct an equal number of telephone surveys to other schools in Northumberland, which are not being inspected.

The exercise marks a concerted programme of action by Ofsted to establish why disadvantaged children are not being supported to achieve and why children in some parts of the country have a much lower chance of attending a good or better secondary phase school compared to areas with a similar demographic.

Nick Hudson, Regional Director for the North East and Yorkshire and Humber said:

'While I recognise that primary schools in Northumberland are doing well, I am very concerned that children on free school meals in the county are not getting the education they deserve.

'The proportion of children on free school meals in the county is relatively low and therefore it is even more of a worry that there is a significant attainment gap for these children compared to their peers within the authority, in the North East region and nationally. This is an unacceptable situation.

'That is why today and over the next week, my inspectors will be visiting a number of schools in Northumberland to find out why the pupil premium is not being effectively used to help disadvantaged children, as well as examine the underperformance of secondary schools in the area.

'We will be paying particular attention to the effectiveness and impact of the support these schools are receiving from the local authority.

'Children only get one chance of an education. As Regional Director for the North East and Yorkshire and Humber, I want to tackle the variations highlighted in HMCI’s Unseen Children report and in our Annual Report, to drive improvement in all schools in this region.'

These inspections, which were scheduled to take place this academic year but are being brought forward, will include all types of schools.

The inspections and telephone surveys will give a powerful snapshot of not only how well these particular schools are doing in Northumberland but also a strong indication of the quality of external support and direction given to the schools by the local authority.

The findings and any recommendations will be shared with the local authority as well as schools, parents and the wider public. If Ofsted finds that the local authority is proactive in addressing key issues and that standards in schools are improving, this will be made clear in the letter setting out the principal findings to the local authority.

However, if there is evidence that the local authority is not fulfilling its statutory duty to promote high standards and fair access to educational opportunity, Ofsted may consider carrying out an inspection of the authority’s school improvement function under the new framework.

The local authority school improvement framework, which took effect in June this year, enables Ofsted for the first time to inspect the school improvement functions of any local authority where there are concerns that the statutory duty to improve school standards is not being met. This may include areas where the performance of schools has declined since the data was collected for the last Annual Report. 

Notes to Editors:

1. Nick Hudson, Regional Director for North East and Yorkshire and Humber will be available for interviews on Tuesday 15 October 2013. Please call Ofsted’s Press Office for interview requests.

2. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 03000 130415 or via Ofsted's enquiry line 0300 1231231 between 8.30am - 6.00pm Monday - Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057359.

3. First schools: Age range 4-9 years of age; Middle Schools 9-13 years of age; High Schools 13-18 years of age. 

4. The framework for the inspection of local authority arrangements for supporting school improvement

5. Unseen Children report

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