School chief’s blast in north/south row

John Jones has stepped down from Blackpool Council
John Jones has stepped down from Blackpool Council
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Blackpool’s education boss has blasted the Government after inspectors from Ofsted warned of a growing north-south divide between schools.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said a lack of political will is contributing to the “growing divide” which means that of the 173 failing secondary schools in the country, 130 are in the North and Midlands, with just 43 in the South.

He highlighted 16 local authority areas – which included Blackpool – where fewer than 60 per cent of children attend good or outstanding secondary schools. Only three of those were in the South.

He said: “The extent to which under-performing secondary schools are concentrated in particular parts of the country is deeply troubling.”

But Coun John Jones accused the Government of “gambling with pupil’s fortunes” by removing schools from local authority control.

Six of the resort’s seven secondary schools are under academy control with the final school – Highfield Humanities College – due to convert following an order by the Government.

More than eight in 10 pupils go to academy-run secondary schools in Blackpool.

Coun Jones, Blackpool Council’s Cabinet Member for School Improvement, said: “It’s no secret that, while a large majority, 79 per cent, of our primary schools are rated good or outstanding, our secondary schools need to up their game.

“Improving the quality of education is one of this Council’s main priorities as we work with local headteachers as part of the Blackpool Challenge Board. However that work becomes so much more difficult when the Government continues to force schools to become academies and take them out of any local authority control.

“If the Government is so concerned about children’s education, then it should stop gambling with pupil’s fortunes and leave schools to be run by the local council and local community who know the area best.

“One of the biggest factors in a child’s education prospects is a stable home life.

“When benefits are being cut and support services have to be reduced because of the Government’s cuts, that creates the uncertainty and instability that is massively unhelpful not just to children’s wellbeing but also to their school grades, their behaviour and to their future prospects.”

Sir Michael Wilshaw added: “We are witnessing an educational division of the country after age 11, with secondary schools performing well overall in the South but struggling to improve in the North and Midlands.

“The facts are stark. Compared to secondary school children in the South, those in the North and Midlands on average make less progress in English and maths, perform worse at GCSE and attain fewer top grades at A-level.

“If left unaddressed, the consequences will be profound. Our society, our future prosperity and development rely on the better education of our children.

“As things stand, too many secondary schools in the North and Midlands are failing to equip young people with the skills and knowledge they and the country need.

“I fear that unless we resolve these divisions our country’s educational progress will be seriously impeded and we will not be able to compete as well with our international competitors.”

Sir Michael said more good leaders and teachers, and a greater focus on the most disadvantaged, was needed to turn things around.

His report said that, in the worst cases, “secondary school leaders have allowed a culture that not only has low expectations of pupils but also tolerates poor behaviour and low-level disruption”.

Sir Michael said that the key to raising standards in secondary schools is “collective action and political will”.