Why are pupils in the county faring worse?

Teams from Ofsted have begun a series of inspections in Northumberland this week over concerns about the lack of attainment for certain children compared to their peers.

On Tuesday, inspectors started more than a week of co-ordinated checks in the county 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 and nationally.

In total, 17 focused inspections will be taking place, with St Paul’s Middle School in Alnwick and St Cuthbert RC First School in Amble due to be visited this week. Ofsted will conduct an equal number of telephone interviews.

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

Northumberland is an affluent authority where the proportion of children eligible for FSM is relatively low. 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 the county made the least progress of all North East local authorities in English and maths.

The picture for secondary-school pupils is worse – only 26 per cent of pupils on FSM were able to achieve five 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, 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 is a disproportionate number of under-performing secondary schools, which include middle schools.

Ofsted’s latest data shows that 37 per cent were judged less than good at their last inspection, compared with 27 per cent across England.

MP Sir Alan Beith said: “I am concerned by these figures, particularly as the Government is putting extra funding in to provide more support for disadvantaged children and young peoples. Ofsted is doing what it needs to do by trying to establish what the problems are and how better results can be achieved.”