A report had been circulated to the Board which provided information regarding the scheduled attendance of Members of the Executive at the Overview and Scrutiny Board.
Todays meeting was attended by Councillor J Brunton, Executive Member for Education and Skills.
The intention was to enable the Board to hear from Councillor Brunton on progress towards objectives and priorities and any emerging issues or pressures within her portfolio.
The Executive Member made the following points in particular;
Schools were visited on a regular basis; every secondary had been visited at least once, some of them twice, and one school three times.
Currently Chair of Governors at Acklam Whin Primary School, Chair of Governors at Complementary Education, a Governor at Kings Academy and a Governor at Acklam Grange, so a wide spread of schools was involved.
Currently Chair of the School Standards Monitoring Group. It was explained that when schools were not meeting their targets, matters were discussed with the appropriate personnel to determine the reasoning for this, what could be done to support the respective school, and what the school itself was doing to raise achievement. A number of schools had reported language barriers and the transient nature of the migrant population as a particular barrier to a stable education. It was felt that it was difficult for the pupils education and difficult for the schools to measure their attainment.
Currently sat on the School Management Forum, which provided opportunity for all Head Teachers and cluster Head Teachers to get together to discuss matters such as finance, support and challenges.
Attendance at seminars and conferences in the role of Executive Member had also been undertaken, and a recent visit to London to meet with ministers regarding the performance of schools within Middlesbrough had been carried out.
Reference was made to the 'School Effectiveness Strategy' which had been presented at a recent Members briefing session. It was explained that examination results published in the summer had been disappointing, as it was expected that more would be achieved than actually was.
Members were informed that in response to the published results, Ofsted were in regular contact with the authority, and the School Management Forum had employed consultants to provide additional support to secondary schools in respect of the core subjects, i.e. English, Maths and Science, as it had been acknowledged that these were a problem in most schools.
Some schools had received support from outside of the area - Acklam Grange School, for example, had received support from Shotton Hall, as well as from the local authority.
In addition, the authority had improved its tracking and data practices, which had resulted in more effective tracking from nursery/reception being undertaken.
With regards to data sharing between schools, it was highlighted that, following an agreement being reached with academies, this was being carried out more effectively, particularly in respect of pupils that regularly moved around.
Currently a Member of the National Literacy Hub, which was important for Middlesbrough's literacy levels; it was felt that these too could be improved.
The 'Raise Online' document, which covered all of the schools in Middlesbrough, had recently been received. A copy was tabled for any Members wishing to view it.
A key matter that the Executive Member was looking to progress revolved around transition, which concerned not only Year 6 to Year 7, but also nursery to primary, primary to secondary, and secondary to post-16, apprenticeships or higher education after that.
It was explained that it had always been an issue in Middlesbrough that children were leaving primary school with good secure 4Bs, but were not achieving at secondary school. Reference was made to a document entitled 'The Wasted Years' and that further work was required to overcome this. A conference with Head Teachers was held last Monday; it was hoped that agreement could be made for secondary Head Teachers to visit Primary Schools in Y6, and vice versa, to review each other's curriculums and offer support to one another.
In response to an enquiry, it was felt that one explanation for the drop in attainment could have related to curriculum size and the number of teachers that were interacting with children. It was felt that an additional step, such as middle schools or similar, could have assisted some of the young people that were not prepared for the transition.
Reference was made to disadvantaged groups and the impacts of this upon learning and attainment. Although a pupil premium was in existence in Middlesbrough, this had not always been successful. It was felt that some schools used it very well, whereas some used it for the full school and some schools targeted disadvantaged groups. Unfortunately, one size would not fit all.
In terms of performance, it was explained to Members that pupils were achieving well at Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2; 4Bs was the target and should have been secured - anything above that was considered as high achievement. However, when moving to secondary school, this achievement was lost around Key Stages 3 and 4. Statistics were presented to the panel to demonstrate this. The statistics showed that in respect of the Key Stage 4 (GCSE) exams, 550 pupils attaining 4Bs last year did not achieve 5 A-Cs, which was disappointing as they should have been secure. Most pupils achieved Cs and Ds with very few achieving As and Bs, which was of great concern.
In response to an enquiry, it was felt that good teaching and engagement was pivotal to attainment levels and although outstanding teaching had been witnessed, engagement was lacking.
It was explained that some schools had felt that the pressure of exams could have provided an explanation regarding the statistics. It was possible that mock exams may have been considered unimportant by pupils. Some schools were actually commencing preparation for their exams on a Sunday by ensuring that pupils were fully prepared for entering the exam on the Monday. This was felt to be good for some young people.
Reference was made to exam structures, with Members discussing the age of pupils taking exams, and the weighting of results in terms of exams and coursework. It was highlighted that there had been more changes to education over the past three years than in the previous twenty-five.
A comment was made regarding 'Progress 8 examinations for 16 year olds, which were weighted more towards English, Maths and Science, and the impacts upon vocational learning. It was felt that this would affect a lot of young people in Middlesbrough.
In response to a query regarding gender differences, it was indicated that a gender gap had been identified, with boys 2% below females.
Members were informed that the predictor targets for 2015/2016 were better than the results achieved in 2014/2015; however, some schools had indicated that the current cohort was not as academic as the previous.
During discussion, consideration was given towards family support and the view of the parent as the role of the primary educator. Members felt it important that review of the home environment, and what was being undertaken to assist with the transition process, was necessary. A Member commented that children spent 15% of their waking time in school and 85% of their waking time not in school, and so it was important to see what was going on in that time. Reference was made to a local research project that was currently being undertaken in relation to this, which would hopefully have results available in March 2016.
Members discussed financial and cost issues, particularly with regards to the provision of after-school clubs and activities during school holidays. Reference was also made to funding cuts and the loss of support from social workers, counsellors and educational psychologists within schools. It was explained that all support was self-financing and money had been spent on teaching.
Reference was made to school trips and some parents being averse to sending their children on holidays because of potential risk, but it was felt that this was important to development of lifelong skills. On a related note, conversations had been undertaken with employers about apprenticeships, with many stating that many young people were not ready for work, which was a huge concern. Issues such as finance, etc. were not being taught as emphasis was being placed on the curriculum and attainment levels. Employers were also saying that literacy levels were still very low, which was of great concern.
A short discussion ensued with regards to school finance and profiling of monies. During discussion, it was suggested that discipline and provision of school meals and breakfast clubs could have been key factors in respect of school attainment levels.
Members discussed social media and the potential impacts upon education, particularly regarding disagreements between girls. It was felt that text message terminology was also part of the wider problem.
A Member suggested that consideration be given towards advising schools in respect of class size and investment in teaching staff, and the positive impacts that this could have had. Regarding recruitment and retention, it was felt that this was a problem across the board within Middlesbrough. It was suggested that more positive promotion of Middlesbrough be undertaken in respect of this. Reference was made to a 'Learning without Limits initiative, whereby children were able to decide what they wanted to do, were provided with a set of questions and picked one to work on. However, it was felt that one size did not fit all, as the predominant issue related to cohort and their backgrounds, as well as teaching and learning standards.
A discussion ensued regarding school exclusion policies in respect of academies and regulated schools, and the reasons why pupils had been excluded. Reference was made to managed moves, Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) and the number of pupils in them. At maximum capacity, the PRUs should have had 90 pupils in them, however, at the end of July 2015, there were 180, which meant that classes were taking place from early morning to late in the evening. PRUs should have been a short stay school and long term.
Members discussed local authority support and representation. Reference was made to Councillor representation on school governing bodies, which had been reduced from three to one for community schools. In respect of academies, local authority representation was not required. It was felt that there was great enthusiasm amongst Councillors in Middlesbrough to establish new ways of working in terms of offering support to schools. The suggestion was made that, if not a governor at a school, Councillors could visit in their capacity as Ward Councillor and introduce themselves to teaching staff. However, in order for this to work, the message that needed to be sent to Head Teachers was the importance of adopting an open door policy. Reference was made to Ofsted inspections and previous recommendations made.
With regards to surplus budgets and how these could be utilised to support schools and their pupils, it was felt that enhanced support between schools could be developed. Although work was being carried out in their catchment areas, for example cluster groups buying in development, etc., potential widening of this could be looked at.
To conclude, the Executive Member stated that continued support of Middlesbrough's schools to the best of the authority's ability was vital. Schools were doing a lot of good work and lots of pupils were achieving good grades, but ongoing work to improve standards was required.
The Chair thanked the Executive Member for her update.