Education chiefs today went on the offensive after being damned in a report which accused Blackpool Council of failing the resort’s children.
Watchdog Ofsted said town hall bosses were “ineffective” in supporting struggling secondary schools.
It also said they failed to challenge those with poor results and warned the gap between Blackpool and the rest of the country for pupils aged 11 to 16 was getting wider.
Describing the situation in Blackpool as “dire”, Ofsted labelled the council’s relationship with schools as “too comfortable” for the lack of progress.
It added: “While senior officers and councillors believe Blackpool students deserve the best education, they’ve been ineffective in translating their vision for change into realisable plans.”
But today, the resort’s schools boss Coun Ivan Taylor insisted Ofsted had got its assessment wrong.
And he vowed: “We have got major challenges and we are going to face them.”
Blackpool MP Paul Maynard today joined a scathing attack on town hall bosses who have been slated for failing the town’s schoolchildren.
Mr Maynard, MP for Blackpool North, said: “This report should serve as a wake-up call for the council.
“If we are to provide our young people with the widest possible opportunities, we need to nurture a culture of aspiration within this town.
“Our further and higher education providers are delivering, but despite the best efforts of school leaders, it does not seem the council has provided enough support to the emerging types of sponsors for schools, academies and Free Schools.”
Investigators, who were sent in following concerns of underachievement, also called on the council to use its legal right to step in where schools are not living up to expectations, having criticised it for failing to do so before last year “despite a long history of poor outcomes and low attendance”.
But Coun Ivan Taylor, Blackpool Council’s Cabinet member for Children’s Services, said: “We don’t accept the judgement but we are aware of the weaknesses and we are working on them.
“In maths we are not good enough and in English we had a poor result last year.
“We have got major challenges and we are going to face them. I am sure we will improve in the future.
“I don’t know why they needed a week for the inspection – they had already made their minds up before they set foot in the place.
“Ofsted got it wrong and we are formally objecting to some aspects of the report.
“We are sticking up for our schools and for the people of Blackpool.”
HOW THE FIGURES STACK UP
In Blackpool, the number of pupils who achieved five of more A* to C grades at GCSE, including maths and English, rose slightly to 47.9 per cent in 2012 but remained among the 10 worst local authorities in the country. The national average for state schools was 58.8 per cent.
Stephen Tierney, headteacher at St Mary’s Catholic College, said Ofsted risked undermining the good work being done in Blackpool by being “hyper-critical”.
He added: “It’s a broad brush stroke. In these inspections there is either ‘effective’ or ‘ineffective’ and if you fall on the wrong side of the line, all hell breaks loose.
“There are strong relationships between the local authority officers and schools but you would want that.
“Certainly they have provided ourselves with a level of challenge. Blackpool can be a challenging town to work in educationally but there are good schools, including at secondary level.
“And this comes at a time when councils are having funding difficulties. In the 14 years I have been a head, the school improvements team is the smallest I have known it.”
In light of comments made in the report, the council will now revise its draft Education Development Plan, which aims to help schools improve their Ofsted rating,before submitting it to the watchdog for approval next month.
It is also overhauling its monitoring and record-keeping systems to better track schools’ progress as well as introducing an initiative to boost achievement in English at secondary school level.
In his statement, Michael Cladingbowl, Ofsted’s regional director, said: “The situation for (Blackpool) borough’s secondary schools is dire.
“Urgent attention and swift action must be taken if pupils’ outcomes are to improve.”
The council insisted work was already underway to tackle the problems highlighted in the report before the inspectors arrived in November.
Coun Taylor added: “I do not accept a council that is rated ‘well’ for early years, special schools and primary school provision can be judged as ineffective based on secondary school results.
“Obviously this service has suffered like others due to Government cuts. We are expected to constantly improve standards and results with less money and resource.
“What is important is how we plan to resolve it going forward. Where we have a problem – or had a problem last year – is in the number of people getting five A* to C grades at GCSE, including maths and English.
“We are working with schools, and have been for a while now, to come up with new initiatives to try to redress that situation and we are very active in that field.
“I’m confident we will see better results.”
Ofsted declined to comment on Coun Taylor’s allegations but stood by the comments in the report.
A spokesman said: “All our inspections we report without fear or favour and we would let the contents of the report speak for itself.”
The report sets out a series of areas for improvements that will be assessed again in nine to 12 months.
The Gazette contacted headteachers of other Blackpool secondary school but they were either unavailable or declined to comment.
John Girdley, of the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), warned “ridiculous government policies” are part of the problem.
He said: “I fail to see how the mad rush to set up academies that seems to be going on in Blackpool is going to rescue the situation. By allowing schools to become academies they are ceding control yet are still responsible for driving up standards.”
What the Inspectors had to say...
• Very few of the most able young people achieve their potential by the age of 16
• There are stark inequalities in young people’s access to a good or better secondary school
• Secondary school’s predictions of students’ attainment have been unreliable for several years
• A lack of robust and consistent challenge has led to marked differences in the performance of schools
• Poor record-keeping and a lack of measurable targets mean the council is struggling to hold schools to account
• There is no coherent strategy for evaluating the effectiveness of the council’s school improvement arrangements or for demonstrating they provide value for money
Targets for the council include...
• Ensuring schools provide more accurate predictions of pupil performance
• Letting schools know if they are improving quickly enough
• Ensuring governor attend regular formal meetings to review school progress
• Devising a “rigorous” action plan to boost leadership, teaching, behaviour and achievement