Anger over education officer no-show
Chichester District Council plans to write to Ofsted to ask inspectors to look into education services at West Sussex County Council.
The decision was made after Paul Wagstaff, the county’s director of education & skills, pulled out of a meeting to discuss education in the district.
The discussion with the overview & scrutiny committee, would have included the proposed closure of three small schools in the county, Rumboldswhyke Infants, Clapham & Patching Primary, and Stedham Primary.
While Mr Wagstaff sent his apologies and agreed to attend the next meeting, in March, members felt this would be too late as the consultation into the future of the schools would almost be over.
Feelings about the proposals were already running high and Mr Wagstaff’s absence appeared to be the final straw for some.
After hearing from residents, one of whom said getting answers out of the education department was ‘like getting blood out of a stone’, the committee shared their own concerns.
There were questions about the reliability of the data provided by the county when it came to future pupil numbers in the area, while others questioned whether people could have ‘faith’ in the decisions being made at County Hall.
Sarah Sharp (Green, Chichester South) said: “This has been going on for a long time – more than six months – the public have no more confidence in West Sussex as a body to look at itself.
“It needs somebody from the outside to come in and look at it.”
Last year, Ofsted rated children’s services at the county council ‘inadequate’ – a fact highlighted by several members, including Clare Apel (Lib Dem, Chichester West).
She called for representatives of that service to also speak to the district council.
Mrs Apel said: “We have so many young people in our district who are being failed by West Sussex from both the education point of view and the children’s services point of view.
“I think we as a council are duty bound to bring both services in to really answer some very pertinent questions.”
Mrs Sharp agreed, adding: “We’ve got evidence of a culture which isn’t conducive to supporting schools, we have evidence that schools are struggling and are not getting enough support.
“Maybe it’s time for us to encourage Ofsted to come in and look at the education department.
“They’re making these huge decisions which affect many people’s lives. We don’t get answers from that department.”
Christopher Page (Con, North Mundham & Tangmere) said the way the county council predicted school numbers was ‘deeply flawed’.
And David Palmer (Con, Lavant) declared: “The more I’ve listened to this, the more I’m really, really cross that Mr Wagstaff isn’t here today.”
Members agreed to take legal advice before writing to Ofsted.
They also agreed to send a formal letter to Mr Wagstaff, laying out their concerns and the concerns of the members of the public who turned out to speak to him.
A county spokesman pointed out that Ofsted no longer inspects education as a whole, instead looking at children’s services and individual elements, such as schools.
He said the number of children in ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools ‘are the highest they have been for over three years’, with improvements made being ‘well above the national trend’.
The spokesman said Mr Wagstaff had been ‘committed to attend another important meeting’ and added: “We have a statutory duty to ensure there are sufficient school places locally for every child.
“Forecasting pupil numbers is based on factors such as birth rate data, migration trends and anticipated housing numbers and we us software used by many other local authorities to give the most accurate projection possible.”