Two north Northumberland schools now require special measures after being rated inadequate by inspectors.
Alnwick’s Lindisfarne Middle School and St Cuthbert’s RC First School, in Amble, both received the lowest grade during inspections carried out by Ofsted in October.
They took place during a focused week in Northumberland, sparked by concerns about the attainment of pupils on free school meals compared to elsewhere in the North East and nationwide.
A total of 17 schools were inspected and while one was graded as outstanding and three good, a further nine require improvement and four were placed in special measures, the other two being in Prudhoe and Guide Post.
And earlier this week, the regional head of Ofsted wrote to Northumberland County Council to highlight a ‘significant and worrying decline in inspection outcomes’.
In the letter, which was published on Tuesday on the Ofsted website, Nick Hudson, Ofsted’s regional director for the North East, Yorkshire and Humber, said: “These figures do not reflect well on the local authority’s capacity or influence to drive improvement.
“The results suggest that the support provided by the local authority in those schools placed in special measures has not been effective, and it seems that actions to tackle weaknesses have not been swift enough to arrest the decline in these schools.”
The report for Lindisfarne Middle School states that the quality of teaching and behaviour and safety of pupils require improvement, while achievement of pupils and leadership and management are inadequate.
Some of the key findings are that ‘senior leaders have not shown sufficient capacity to make the necessary improvements since the previous inspection’ and ‘overall, pupils’ progress is inadequate and not improving’. The county council is also criticised for providing ‘inadequate support for the school since the previous inspection’.
However, some strengths are highlighted including some good and occasional outstanding teaching, pupils feeling safe at school and ‘attainment for higher and some middle-ability pupils improving as they move through the school’.
Dr Lynn Rose, headteacher at Lindisfarne Middle School, has already written to parents and carers to inform them of the outcome as well as the next steps, which include support from the county council, a review of governance and a HMI (Her Majesty’s Inspector) being appointed to work with them. Speaking to the Gazette, Dr Rose said: “Ofsted highlighted areas for us to improve upon and the main ones were in our action plan. We have encouraging data from this term on some (of the issues) as well.
“We will continue to work as hard as possible and we are now getting more support from the local authority.
“All the staff and governors are committed to doing whatever’s necessary for the education of the children.”
The Ofsted report for St Cuthbert’s has not yet been published, but it too requires special measures.
Chairman of the governing body, Paul Claridge, said: “St Cuthbert’s RC First School has faced many challenges recently, but has been working very hard to turn this situation around.
“Ofsted recognised it is a caring school and behaviour is good. We thank the parents who hold the school in high regard.”
Coun Robert Arckless, policy board member for children’s services at the county council, said the Ofsted inspections had ‘raised a number of issues that as an authority we are taking very seriously and working hard to resolve’.
“We will be working closely with the governors and teachers at both Lindisfarne and St Cuthbert’s to look at ways of raising standards and providing support to improve teaching for all of the children,” he added.
And the issue has resonance for the long-serving Amble councillor, who told the Gazette yesterday: “I’m very sad about the Amble situation in particular and I can well appreciate how it affects people in the town.
“I’m hopeful that in the Alnwick case, we can reach some sort of consensus at a local level. I’m not keen to impose a solution, although I must say the Government doesn’t leave us with many options.”
Local MP Sir Alan Beith is going to raise the issue with Schools’ Minister David Laws.
He said: “This is a very worrying report, both in the number of schools identified as not having improved and its criticisms of Northumberland County Council’s failure to reverse this trend.
“Urgent action is clearly needed when there is found to be underperformance in a relatively large number of schools.”