When students across Portsmouth collected their GCSE results last year, Portsmouth City Council was rated the fourth worst authority in the country.
Many pupils had failed to pass English or maths, and figures were well below the national average.
The city council knew something had to be done to improve standards across Portsmouth’s public secondary schools.
And that’s where former teacher Di Mitchell, came in. The council’s head of education was appointed last September in a bid to improve results across the city council schools.
After almost a year reviewing education across the city she’s come to the conclusion that it is not all bad – children studying up to the age of 11 have achieved good results.
And Portsmouth is doing better than most areas of the country when it comes to educating children aged up to five and helping their development.
Six to seven-year-olds have this year achieved the best ever key stage one results in the city – but it all comes unstuck when they reach secondary school.
‘Portsmouth children do well up until the age of 11,’ Di says.
‘They don’t do badly. It’s their journey through secondary school where they drop. That’s the school experience that needs improving.
‘There are lots and lots of reasons why children underperform at that age.
‘Some of it is to do with the schools themselves, some of it is to do with families and some of it’s to do with young people growing up.’
Last year, 65 per cent of students passed their GCSE in English. This is an improvement on 56 per cent in 2010 and 53 per cent in 2009.
In maths, just over half of students passed with a total of 53 per cent, compared to 51 per cent in 2010 and 47 per cent in 2009.
But it’s still well below the national average, which last year was 67 per cent in maths and 71 per cent in English.
So the council has developed a major ‘improving education strategy’ to be rolled out across schools in the city in a bid to raise standards and achieve the national average results.
Di adds: ‘It’s not good enough.
‘That’s the reason for us developing this strategy. Everybody wants to succeed. We are going in the right direction.
‘Key Stage One children have exceeded the national expectation.
‘For a city like Portsmouth, to exceed the national average is quite extraordinary.
‘It’s about leadership. It’s about getting teaching better and encouraging children to learn and to get the grades.’
She adds: ‘The local authority is responsible for addressing the governors – that’s why the governors are so crucial.
‘The schools have got to make sure that their teachers are good or better.
‘And we have got to make sure as a local authority that the headteachers or governors are the right people for the school and have the ability to secure good or better outcomes.
‘If they are unable to do that then we have the responsibility of making sure the children have a better deal.’
On average, only 46 per cent of students in the city achieved the ‘gold standard’ of five or more GCSEs at A*-C grade, including English and maths, last year.
This compares to 57 per cent nationally.
Next week the latest GCSE results will be published. It’s hoped there will be a rise.
Di adds: ‘Nationally the Secretary of State has made it very clear that England is way behind our near neighbours. Parts of Year 11 or Key Stage Four are demonstrating that, yes, in the city we aren’t getting good enough results to enter into further education or higher education or the world or work. So we had to move quickly.
‘It’s about all schools taking responsibility for each other.
‘So we have built on that theme to bring the closest schools together and work with them on the key issues that are going to make a difference across the city.
‘The schools have got to make sure that their teachers are good or better.’
One of the targets the council now has to raise is expectations for pupils, many of whom believe they aren’t good enough to achieve good grades.
‘It’s raising expectations so that pupils can achieve,’ Di adds. ‘There has been a notion in the city that Portsmouth children can’t. But we believe they can.’
Mike Smith, headteacher at City Boys’ School and chairman of the Secondary Headteachers’ conference in Portsmouth, is supporting the council’s strategy.
He says: ‘This strategy recognises there is a greater than ever responsibility on school leaders to secure improvements in educational outcomes. Headteachers in Portsmouth understand that our schools cannot achieve this in isolation.
‘We need to form strong local partnerships which allow resources and good practice to be shared as well holding each other to account.’