Ofsted has condemned Suffolk County Council for not acting quickly enough to improve the support if offers schools.
The watchdog has also criticised the way the authority handled a consultation with heads over the way it risk assesses schools, saying it led to “strained relationships with many school leaders”.
Publishing its report on Suffolk today, Ofsted says it has concluded that: “While the council had made progress, it had not acted quickly or decisively enough to make significant improvements since the previous inspection last year.”
The report is the latest on a series of targeted investigations on local authority school improvement services where results are lower than expected. These authorities are targeted if the watchdog deems them necessary after a blitz of parallel inspections on the schools they serve.
Inspectors who visited Suffolk in January this year found that too many pupils were not attending schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, particularly in Lowestoft and Ipswich – towns with the highest deprivation levels in the county.
They reported a lack of school-to-school support in the authority, which has the worst results for disadvantaged secondary pupils in the East of England and is undergoing a major re-organisation from a three- to two-tier school system.
But Ofsted also noted “positive steps” taken by the authority to improve the support it offers inadequate schools and to do more to identify those at risk.
The watchdog says this is too recent to have prevented further deterioration in some schools. But it has decided to give Suffolk two years to allow the changes to “embed” before another inspection takes place.
Ofsted’s East of England regional director, Andrew Cook said: “While I recognise that Suffolk council has taken positive steps to improve education in their area, and there are signs for optimism, the county is still not making swift enough progress.
“Much of their strategy has been implemented too recently to impact substantially on pupils’ outcomes. Pupils’ attainment in Suffolk remains below average, particularly for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children. As a result, 25,000 children do not attend a good primary or secondary school. This needs to improve.”
The watchdog found that the authority’s relations with “many” schools worsened when they were informed of the outcome of risk assessments by letter, without being given the opportunity to discuss solutions.
Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, Lisa Chambers said: “There are no surprises in today’s report. This comes as an endorsement of our direction of travel and ambitions for the county’s schools.
“I have always said our programme for long term improvement will not be accomplished overnight. We take on board the areas for improvement identified in Ofsted’s letter. These are all areas we were already aware of and work was already in progress before receipt of Ofsted’s letter.”