City schools on the up as standards rise

STUDY Pupils learn about geography with their teacher
STUDY Pupils learn about geography with their teacher
The Highfield Campus at the University of Southampton, which is home to the George Thomas Building. Picture: Geograph

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At the start of this year, Portsmouth City Council was targeted by Ofsted as being one of the worst performing local authorities in the country.

Inspectors visited the city and carried out a blitz inspection of six schools as the authority had one of the worst rates for children attending good or outstanding schools.

But in the past academic year there have been some huge improvements at the city’s schools.

Now, the number of children attending good or outstanding schools in the city has shot up dramatically, increasing from 54 per cent to 72 per cent.

Last year, the city council launched a new three-year education strategy in a bid to drive up standards.

And it began with the city’s best ever GCSE results which went up from 45.5 per cent in 2011 to 52 per cent last year, in terms of the number of students who achieved the ‘gold standard’ of five or more A*-C grades including English and maths.

And provisional results for both Key Stage 1 and 2 showed improvements across the board this year, with KS2 writing making the biggest improvement of five percentage points on last year.

Now, the council is hoping to build on the success of the past year.

Councillor Rob Wood, cabinet member for children and education at Portsmouth City Council, says: ‘The message for us is about sustainability.

‘We had the GCSE results last year which jumped up by seven per cent.

‘We knew something good was happening.

‘Ofsted have got this new regime that has come out and our schools have reflected what we already knew from the GCSE results.’

Di Mitchell, head of education at Portsmouth City Council, says: ‘We have performed much better than the national picture.

‘We needed to but we have done it in a short period of time.

‘If you want to go to a good or better school you are better off going to a school in Portsmouth than you are in some other places.

‘That’s good for the city both economically and educationally. Odds are you are going to get a good or better school.’

Cllr Wood adds: ‘We are after sustainability. Now we have proven our schools are improving.

‘Ofsted came along and visited us.

‘They are working with us this year.’

And Di says there have been a number of different methods that the council has been using in order to try and improve standards.

‘There have been a number of strategies that we have employed. We have been working with other authorities.

‘We have pulled in all the resources to make a difference. We have had national leaders of excellence working in schools.’

The past year has seen huge changes to the way Ofsted carry out their inspections, as they have become tougher and have changed the marking criteria.

The third grade formerly known as ‘satisfactory’ has been changed to ‘requires improvement’.

‘The biggest change has been the strategy itself which has encouraged schools to be good or better and say that satisfactory isn’t good enough,’ adds Di.

‘That’s been a big challenge.

‘Prior to 2010 most people would have said that satisfactory was satisfactory, it was as it said.

‘But it’s not good enough. Michael Gove is saying that we need good or better and we celebrated that in Portsmouth.

‘Good is what we are aiming for.’

And Di says everyone has pulled together to achieve that.

‘It’s a mix of knowing what we need to do to make a difference and then applying it.

‘We have only been working on this strategy for a couple of years and we have already seen a big difference.’

Cllr Wood says: ‘We’ve set the barrier high.

‘Everybody has got a very clear view of where they need to go and about making sure that we narrow the gap with children on free school meals. That’s a clear area.

‘If we look at that area, that’s going to impact on the overall teaching as well.’

The inspection blitz carried out by Ofsted saw two of the six schools – City Girls and Somers Park Primary – plunge into special measures.

But the council say they were aware of issues at both schools, and work is now being done to really turn things around.

Cllr Wood adds: ‘Because Ofsted have raised the bar it’s going to crystallise the schools that need to make the improvement.

‘There’s nowhere to hide. Of course we are improving the area but we will expect a few people to show evidence that they need to improve.’

Di says: ‘The proof is going to be in the pudding. We have got some schools that will come out of the special measures category in the autumn.’

Cllr Wood says: ‘From within the local authority they have been very good at protecting which schools have an issue.

‘From this stage ongoing, clearly they will be in a better position to implement early intervention in terms of those schools.

‘Previously we had been bumping along the bottom. Now we have proven that with 72 per cent of good and outstanding schools there is a much bigger pool to call on for those schools that are still struggling with improvement. Overall the picture is good.’

Di says that intervention by Ofsted has only helped to improve things.

‘I think Ofsted have helped us. Everybody dreads inspections but I think they have been helping as they are working with us to make a difference.

‘They are working with us not just monitoring us. That’s made a big difference.’

Now, the council has a target to reach for, with the aim of at least 80 per cent of schools across the city being good or outstanding in 2014.

‘It’s a real ambition that we should do that for the sake of pupils,’ says cllr Wood.

‘Based on our recent results I think it’s totally achievable.

‘We are doing better than quite a few of our regional neighbours.

‘It’s nice to see some real improvements happening to education in Portsmouth.’

And Di adds: ‘We have still got work to do.

‘There’s no doubt about that but I think what the schools and the headteachers and leaders have got now is a realisation that it can be done.

‘Teachers are pleased that what they are doing is making a difference.

‘There is a sense of pride in what people are achieving.’

· For more information on the work to raise education standards in Portsmouth, visit portsmouth.gov.uk and search for effective learning.

RESULTS

Between August last year and the end of March this year, the percentage of good or outstanding schools in the city increased from 54 to 72.

During the same period, the percentage of inadequate schools in the city increased from 10 to 12.

Provisional results for Key Stage 2 tests in May, show nearly 77.2 per cent of pupils are now achieving level 4 or above for writing.

And Key Stage 1 results indicate that seven-year-olds in all five areas are scoring above last year’s national figure, with writing again being the area of strongest improvement.

Nationally, between January and March this year, 10 per cent of schools were judged outstanding and 54 per cent were deemed to be good.

A further 31 per cent needed improvement while 5 per cent were inadequate.