Derbyshire education chiefs accused of switching targets when schools don’t make the grade

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
Derbyshire education chiefs have been accused of changing their targets to make them easier to hit when it comes to tackling the county’s under-performing schools.

Derbyshire was listed as one of 55 Educational Improvement Areas (EIAs) in the Government Levelling Up white paper earlier this year, placing it in the bottom third of the country for educational attainment. Derbyshire County Council’s Council Plan Performance Report for 2021/22 showed the number of pupils attending a secondary school rated as ‘good’ or better by Ofsted was 56.9 per cent, significantly lower than its target of 68 per cent – and requiring action.

However, by the first quarter of 2022/23 this target had been replaced by the rate of change in the number of pupils attending ‘good’ or better secondary schools, which was 3.7 per cent against a target of 2.1 per cent and classed as a good performance. Councillor Nigel Gourlay, a Conservative member for the High Peak, which was identified as having the highest proportion of failing schools in the county in 2019, questioned the motivation for the change.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Read More
Telly's 8 Out Of 10 Cats comedian Jon Richardson stars in fundraiser at Staveley...
Derbyshire education chiefs have been accused of changing their targets to make them easier to hitDerbyshire education chiefs have been accused of changing their targets to make them easier to hit
Derbyshire education chiefs have been accused of changing their targets to make them easier to hit

“Every Conservative candidate in 2021 said they were ambitious for our children and would work to give them the best start in life,” he commented. “We were aiming to increase the number of children in schools that Ofsted judged ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, and set ambitious targets.”

Coun Gourlay continued: “The council has now changed its target to reflect the direction of movement, rather than the actual proportion, of Ofsted inspections.”

The authority’s Conservative cabinet member for education Councillor Alex Dale argued rather than giving up on the original measure, the new target was a more accurate way to monitor schools’ performance. He explained: “The new metric being used in the Council Plan following a recent refresh demonstrates our ambition to support our schools to improve their performance further and faster than we’ve managed before.

“Having a clear focus on enabling our rate of improvement to be faster than the national will help us to ensure we are working towards bridging the gap that currently exists. Rather than giving us a snapshot in time, the new measure will also ensure we’re better able to track that the trend is going in the right direction to achieve our broader goals and means we’re better able to assess the impact of any interventions, like our £1m Levelling Up education initiative.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said the overall county figures for students attending a ‘good’ or better school, which was 63 per cent for secondary and 84.3 per cent for primary pupils at the latest count, will still be used as a ‘baseline for measuring each new year’s quarterly performance’.

But Coun Gourlay, who recently published his own guide to teaching reading and distributed it for free among his constituents, was concerned that the new metric was insufficient. The fact is that the worst-performing local authorities are mathematically more likely to improve, and thus the target has been loosened,” he said. “I’m not sure how helpful to parents this new target will be for judging the performance of Derbyshire schools.”

In April, the council set out plans to add £1m of its own money to the £70m allocated through the Levelling Up fund to tackle underachievement in schools, concentrating on areas such as reading, phonics and essential life skills.