‘Tough action’ pledge on failing schools

Education minster Nick Gibb pays a visit to Westcliff Primary School in Blackpool.  He is pictured with pupils Rose Hayes and Niamh Donnelly.
Education minster Nick Gibb pays a visit to Westcliff Primary School in Blackpool. He is pictured with pupils Rose Hayes and Niamh Donnelly.
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  • Schools minister visited a top performing Blackpool academy
  • Praised Westcliff’s work to share its expertise
  • Promised ‘swift action’ with schools found to be underperforming
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A leading education minister has pledged “swift action” to deal with schools falling below national standards in Blackpool.

MP Nick Gibb, the schools minister, visited Westcliff Primary Academy, Bispham, yesterday – the first school in the resort which chose to become an academy in 2012.

And he praised the work of the school in sharing its expertise with others.

He said: “I enjoyed my visit very much, I was told it was a very good school and everything I was led to believe was true, and more.”

He told The Gazette about the impact he believes academisation has had on both primary and secondary schools in Blackpool during his visit.

He added: “We believe in taking action very swiftly where schools are underperforming or failing, by establishing the Blackpool Challenge Board.”

The Board, established by the regional schools commissioner, bring togethers Blackpool Council and all academy heads and sponsors to work together on improving secondary education. Its chairman is leading education professor Sonia Blandford.

Mr Gibb said the national picture for schools had improved, with one million more rated good or outstanding by Ofsted in recent years, despite the fact that two of Blackpool’s seven secondary schools were placed in special measures by the inspectorate last year.

Montgomery High School was the resort’s first secondary academy, and the other, Highfield Humanities College, is the town’s last local authority run school.

He added that the bar has been raised for schools to achieve the top ratings, making it more challenging.

He said: “Academies can go wrong as well but when they do go wrong action is taken much more swiftly, we can change the sponsor.

“We have raised the bar for judgements, that will be part of the issue that Blackpool is (currently) facing – we want our schools to be better.”

He also also shared his views on the resort’s free breakfast scheme, a Labour- led council program to give every primary school child in Blackpool a free morning meal before classes.

He said: “For children who might not get a breakfast at home it’s a very good idea.

“How local authorities use their resources is up to them.

“Every child should start school with a full tummy because it helps them to concentrate.

“We have brought in universal infant school meals. It’s an expensive program but we feel it will help children to improve their education.”

The minister, known for his preference of “rigorous” teaching and rote learning, called in on lessons in numeracy in the infants and read persuasive writing pieces penned by the juniors.

He also met with Year Five pupils who eagerly told him about their lessons in mythology and Mayan history, before he quizzed them on capital cities, name of monarchs and dates of the World Wars.

Headteacher Susan Wilson said it was an “honour” to have the MP visit her school, which was rated as good with outstanding features after an inspection by Ofsted in 2013.

She added: “This is a Blackpool school that is doing well and achieving above the national averages.

“Too often we get Blackpool schools all lumped together under one bad heading, we wanted to show there’s lots of good things going on.

“We’re a very traditional school but at the forefront of research and development.

“It was an honour for Mr Gibb to visit.”