The 2016/17 report, which is going before councillors this month, is the fourth and final annual report by Andy Johnson since he took on the role of director of education at Northumberland County Council.
He intends to retire in 2018 and describes it as ‘a real privilege to hold this post for the past four years’, thanking ‘all the children, parents, staff and governors who have helped me during my time in the county’.
In his commentary at the front of the report, he says: “2016/17 was another year in which the council significantly invested in children’s services. It was both a year of change, with a new administration forming under a new chief executive, and a year of continuity where our previous initiatives came to fruition.
“My successor in the role will, I believe, have a firm foundation upon which to build. No doubt they will continue to focus on: Improving outcomes at the end of secondary schools and academies; Social mobility and the most vulnerable; Improving our response to special educational needs; Building school and academy partnerships.”
The issues for the county are clear, according to Dr Johnson, as Northumberland ‘continues to face challenges due to its geography. Small schools are increasingly under financial pressure to survive and we cannot fail to recognise that in such circumstances the local authority has a vital role to support them.’
On top of this, pressures on the recruitment of teachers and headteachers have not abated.
However, the tone of his commentary is largely positive, certainly in terms of travelling in the right direction. “Good early-years education, particularly for children from low-income backgrounds, is crucial to longer-term academic success,” he writes.
“The last three years has seen considerable change for the better.”
Moving up the age groups, he says that the quality of primary and first schools has remained strong, although he does add that they ‘will face very significant challenges due to their relatively small size if they are to maintain these standards’.
“A worrying sign has been the number of primary schools and first schools have recently dropped one or two inspection grades,” he notes.
At secondary level, Dr Johnson has previously highlighted the disproportionate number where academic outcomes were below average.
But there is some optimism this year: “In 2016/17, the legacy of under-achievement remains, but at last we are beginning to see signs of recovery in schools.”