Action plan to help struggling Derbyshire schools - after county’s test scores are bottom third of country

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A strategy to help young people in Derbyshire achieve more has been outlined by council chiefs, after it was revealed the county’s test scores are in the bottom third of the country.

Derbyshire County Council (DCC) has highlighted two key areas of investment to tackle underachievement in schools, after the county was identified as one of 55 Educational Improvement Areas in the recent Government Levelling Up white paper.

The first key area is reading and phonics, which children were found to have a below national average rate for at Key Stage Two.

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The second is essential life skills, in particular aimed at children and young people have suffered emotionally and mentally as a result of the pandemic.

The council's Levelling Up in Derbyshire outlines an action plan to address the poor outcomes of county schools.The council's Levelling Up in Derbyshire outlines an action plan to address the poor outcomes of county schools.
The council's Levelling Up in Derbyshire outlines an action plan to address the poor outcomes of county schools.

The authority plans to make use of £70million allocated to it as part of the Levelling Up fund, as well as an additional £1million of its own money from the General Reserve.

Speaking in a cabinet meeting, member for education Councillor Alex Dale said: “As an administration we’re going to invest £1million of the Levelling Up fund to support education and support our most disadvantaged children and young people.

“Education is a great enabler.”

He admitted that while £1million of the council’s funds was a large sum of money, it would ‘only go so far’, adding: “We need to use it really wisely and ensure we get the best bang for our buck.”

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Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education Councillor Alex DaleDerbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education Councillor Alex Dale
Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Education Councillor Alex Dale

Coun Dale said that while the performance of many of the county’s schools was very good, it was not always consistent.

A DCC report into the matter outlined that in 2019, when the last Key Stage Two exams were held prior to the pandemic, 56.8 per cent of disadvantaged 11-year-old children achieved the expected standard in reading in Bolsover and North East Derbyshire, compared to 58.4 per cent of disadvantaged children across the whole county and 62.1 per cent nationally.

Furthermore, in the same year 78.2 per cent of seven-year-olds achieved the phonics standard in Bolsover and North East Derbyshire compared to 80 per cent countywide.

The report stated: “It is these longstanding issues of lower outcomes in areas of high disadvantage why we need to invest into phonics, reading programmes and in to developing the essential life skills of young people in the county and especially for disadvantaged children.”

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In June 2021, 50 per cent of schools (45 schools) in Bolsover and North East Derbyshire had more than 25 per cent of pupils who were eligible for free school meals – this figure rose to approximately 70 per cent (33 schools) in Chesterfield.

Coun Dale stressed the importance of reading and phonics as a ‘cornerstone of education’, commenting: “We know that children who are good readers from an early age go on to do better for the rest of their education.”

To improve outcomes, the council has set out plans to assist schools with high number of disadvantaged pupils and lower than average results in reading and phonics.

The DCC Levelling Up in Derbyshire report states action plans to address both issues are being drawn up ready for network meetings starting this September, taking into account current year group and capacity of school-based practitioners to support programmes.

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It says: “By working with early years settings and schools who are below the national average in the phonics screening check, or who have disadvantaged children who need to become more confident readers, we will provide them with access to structured support programmes to enable them to develop more fluent readers.”

To address the isolation and loss of face to face learning young people endured during the pandemic, the second part of its strategy utilises the authority’s Sports, Outdoor and Residential Education services to help them develop resilience and the essential life skills.

The report states DCC plans to use programmes centred around science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as the Moving on Moving up scheme, which focuses on engaging young people and a new Spirit of Derbyshire award, which Coun Dale likened to the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

The Levelling Up in Derbyshire Report said: “Our work on building the essential life skills of young people will focus on providing them with structured programmes to learn in the outdoors and with physical and mental challenges which will help them develop teamwork skills, decision making skills, trust and resilience.

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“These are all essential life skills which they will need to tackle life’s challenges and help them secure positive transitions.”

Coun Dale concluded that it was vital the authority worked with existing education providers who ‘know pupils best’.

DCC also plans to work with strategic and regional partners, including the D2N2 local enterprise partnership, which already works with Derbyshire’s schools including those in disadvantaged areas.