EDUCATION watchdog Ofsted has 'serious concerns' for Cumbria's secondary schools.

This morning it released its findings from a blitz of 17 of the county's schools in November and December.

It followed concerns about the poor performance of a number of secondary schools in the county.

Inspectors found GCSE results for children at the age of 16 have been significantly below the national average in the last two years - with the gap widening.

Of particular concern was school performance in coastal and urban areas, and the low achievement of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

While inspectors found pockets of good teaching in almost all the schools, and signs of improving leadership and better governance in a small number, there were common weaknesses across many of the schools.

This included poor achievement in maths and English for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly boys; too little challenge in lessons for more-able students; and weak leadership of teaching and performance management of teachers.

Michael Cladingbowl HMI, Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West said:

"These inspection findings raise serious concerns about the quality of secondary education in Cumbria where too few secondary schools are good. And the picture is not improving.

"There is too little evidence to suggest that the council is providing an effective and shared strategy to improve the quality of education across the county. This needs to be urgently addressed. The local authority needs to provide greater challenge and support and extend partnership working.

"Ofsted will closely monitor the education provision in Cumbria and we will continue to work with schools and the local authority to ensure a higher proportion of young people are provided with a good standard of education."

Of the 14 secondary schools inspected under section 5:

  • None was judged outstanding
  • Three were judged good (one of these was already at this standard and two declined from being outstanding)
  • Five schools were judged requires improvement. In two of these schools, the quality of leadership was good but in the others it requires improvement
  • One school has serious weaknesses and had declined from being good
  • Five schools were placed into special measures.
  • One sixth form college, inspected under section 5, was judged requires improvement, having declined from previously being a good standard.

Of the three schools and academies inspected under section 8, two were making adequate progress. In the other school, progress was insufficient.

Coun Anne Burns, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: "It’s not acceptable that we have schools that are judged to be inadequate and in each of those cases we are working with the schools to develop robust improvement plans which will rapidly deliver the change that is needed.

"I have no doubt about the urgency of this work, Cumbrian pupils deserve the best and we’ll be doing all we can to make that happen.

"We accept Ofsted’s analysis of the current situation and know there is much more to do to ensure all Cumbrian secondary schools are providing the quality of education that parents and pupils have a right to expect.

"But it’s also right to point out that 65% of Cumbria secondary school pupils attend a school that is ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ – we want that to be 100%, but we should not lose sight of the fact Cumbria does have many great schools.

"The council’s role is to monitor, challenge, support and, in exceptional circumstances, intervene in schools to ensure standards are being met. But headteachers and school governors have first responsibility for their school’s performance; the days when the county council could routinely intervene are long gone.

"Indeed with creation of Academies the council has no direct role in the management of nearly half of the county’s secondary schools. That said, the work that we are now doing with headteachers across all schools is about harnessing the skills, expertise and experience that we do have in the have county to benefit all pupils.

"The recent appointment of Lorrayne Hughes to the position of interim Executive Headteacher at Southfield and Stainburn schools is an example of that approach in practice.

Ian Smith, executive headteacher at Millom and St Benedict's secondary schools and Chair of Cumbria Association of Secondary Headteachers, said:

"The individual school reports and their findings require a response. Ofsted has raised the bar. We applaud this. This set of outcomes, is far from unique.

"An examination of Ofsted’s website shows similar outcomes and letters for schools and authorities across the country: Blackpool, Nottingham, Wakefield, Northumberland, Suffolk and Nottingham to name but a few. 

"A very small percentage of inspections across the country (since the inception of the present inspection framework) have resulted in outstanding or good judgements, the majority of inspections have resulted in ‘requires improvement’ judgements.   We accept that in general secondary education in Cumbria requires improvement. 

"The rapid succession of inspections in Cumbria did reveal that standards are not, generally speaking, sufficiently high, yet they did reveal a good deal of good teaching; the inspections also revealed inconsistencies between inspection teams, which can be unhelpful. 

"Further inspections of Cumbrian schools have taken place this term and have resulted in significantly better inspection judgements. Ofsted were inspecting individual schools and given what has taken place, we all know and understand things need to change, but they are, and rapidly. 

"It is worth noting that Ofsted has recognised the potential of system leadership in Cumbria, notably the Cumbria Alliance of System leaders (CASL) and that this has been significantly funded by the County Council.  I can only praise the council’s leaders for backing and funding this exciting new strategy for school improvement in Cumbria. 

"CASL can provide local, tailor-made solutions; there is no need to hand over school improvement to agencies or academy chains from outside Cumbria.  What CASL now has to do is act quickly, impact on results for children and see this being reflected in Ofsted judgements and reports.

"We need impact.  I am encouraged that Ofsted has not found it necessary to inspect the county council’s school improvement function at this time; clearly this is predicated in the belief that CASL has begun to work in an effective manner.   An example of this is the appointment of Lorrayne Hughes as Executive Headteacher of two schools in the Workington area.   Lorrayne Hughes is co-chair of CASL and is leading school to school support in a new and dynamic manner.

"Whilst it is for Mrs Hughes to comment on the work of CASL, I do want to stress the innovative and supportive stance her majesty’s inspectors have demonstrated in beginning  to work with system leaders in Cumbria to provide ground-breaking professional development for school leaders and school improvement more generally. 

"A good example of this is the recent, Through the Lens of Inspection Day, held at the Queen Katherine School in Kendal. In Cumbria we are experiencing Ofsted not just inspecting schools but beginning to discharge its relatively new policy direction as agents of school improvement.

"The letter provided to the county council also draws our attention to the particular concern of school performance in coastal areas, not just in Cumbria but elsewhere in the country too.  This is a fact but it also a fact that it is immensely difficult to attract the right calibre of teachers into some of the country’s most remote, sparsely populated and deprived areas. 

"The report does recognise examples of good teaching and signs of improving leadership and better governance.  It is the role of CASL to join up the best bits of Cumbria and to work with its partner agencies to improve still further the leadership and governance of our secondary schools., so that good practice becomes the norm. 

"The work of system leader headteachers, National Leaders of Education and National Leaders of Governance is already underway and is becoming effective.  I applaud the county council for backing CASL so strongly, particularly at a time of reducing budgets.  I am convinced that within the County the necessary expertise exists to make secondary education in Cumbria good and on the way to being excellent.  Outside intervention is not required.  CASL is already unlocking Cumbria’s own expertise to meet the challenge.  It deserves the full support of all those with the interests of Cumbrian young people at heart."