Presenting his assessment of the last completed academic year – 2018/19, Dean Jackson said: “We had a good year last year and midway through this academic year, we are continuing to make the sort of progress we want.”
The sixth education and skills annual report – started by Mr Jackson’s predecessor Andy Johnson – was discussed at the council’s family and children’s services committee.
He explained the two key issues the previous year were special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and exclusions, but news on both was positive since then, with the number of exclusions dropping in 2018/19 and llikely to decrease further this year.
Mr Jackson referred to the council’s successful bid to open a new secondary free school for pupils with SEND, the opening of the new Ashdale site in Ashington, and the secondment of six highly-experienced SEN coordinators to support teachers across the county.
Overall, primary and first schools continue to be an area of strength, with 88% of them judged to be good or outstanding by Ofsted (this figure is now around 91-2%) and the percentage of children achieving the expected level in reading, writing and maths above the national average at the end of Key Stages 1 and 2.
But Mr Jackson said: “We are still not seeing those improvements coming through into secondary schools in terms of the quality of outcomes.”
In 2018/19, the county’s Progress 8 score for GCSEs placed Northumberland top of the 12 local authorities in the North East, while its Attainment 8 score was the second highest.
Mr Jackson admitted this was ‘not a great brag to be fair’, given that both scores were still below the England average, ‘but I would rather be the best in the North East than the worst in the North East’.
He explained that among the issues to focus on were getting the remaining schools out of special measures ‘in the next 18 months to two years’ and support for better outcomes for children with SEND or eligible for pupil premium – a government grant for the most disadvantaged.