Teachers, governors and the county council have teamed up to lay the groundwork for the future of education in West Sussex.
A new policy, which saw the start of “a true working partnership” between the council and educators was introduced at the first meeting of the Education and Skills Forum on Thursday (October 22).
Called The Policy Agreement for Education in West Sussex 2015-2019, it laid out the responsibilities of schools and the council and set targets for where they would like to be by 2019.
One of those targets was for the county’s educational performance to rank in the top 25 per cent, compared to similar authorities.
Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for education and skills, said of the policy at the meeting at County Hall North, in Horsham: “Although it’s got West Sussex County Council on the front, it’s a joint level agreement for education in West Sussex put together by representatives from all the schools and governors.”
Mr Hunt said 99 per cent of the trusts which run the county’s academies supported the policy and added: “There’s a lot of exciting work ahead.”
When it came to the performance of the 11-year-old students at the end of Key Stage 2, there appeared to be a lot of hard work ahead if West Sussex was to make it into the top quartile.
The policy report placed the county 26th out of 33 similar authorities in 2013, leaping to 18th in 2014, before dropping back to 29th this year following results Mr Hunt had described as “disappointing”.
At the end of Key Stage 4, however, things looked much better. In 2013, West Sussex placed 20th out of 33 and rose to 15th in 2014. Regarding the 2015 score, the report said the early indication was West Sussex results had improved by at least 1 per cent.
Another aspect of education which the group aimed to improve was the proportion of pupils who attended schools rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
Jay Mercer, interim director of education and skills, pointed out that one-fifth of the county’s children attended schools which either required improvement or had been rated ‘inadequate’.
Acknowledging the work faced by teachers, governors and the council to reach the performance targets, the report looked beyond 2019 and added: “We will not rest when we reach this benchmark, and aspire to be the highest performing authority in the country.
“This policy outlines the start of that journey together.”
Five areas of responsibility
The new education policy lays out the legal duties and responsibilities of schools, governing bodies and the council in five areas.
They are: school performance, child protection and safeguarding, school places and admissions, special educational needs and vulnerable children, and funding and data sharing.
Introducing the policy, Councillor Jeremy Hunt said: “The policy outlines our respective responsibilities and, importantly, sets ambitious targets where we, the schools and the council, would wish to be in 2019.
“As partners, our shared commitment and determination will now continue to deliver upon these ambitions in new and innovative ways.”
There can be no place for indecision and crossed wires when it comes to our children’s education.
So the news teachers, governors and the county council have teamed up with the ambition of making big improvements to the educational performance of West Sussex was cause for celebration.
It made no sense at all for schools and the local authority to work almost as two separate entities, with the council operating a top down approach to information and decision making.
The launch of the Education and Skills Forum alongside the new education policy for 2015-2019 will mean the people who make the big decisions which affect 108,000 children in our county will be doing so as a team – whether they are teachers, governors, councillors or officers, they will all know what is being done, what progress is being made and what problems need addressing.
The targets set within the new Policy Agreement for Education in West Sussex may appear overly ambitious to some – but what’s the point in striving for improvement if you don’t have the courage to aim for the top of the pile?
We would rather see an education team which has such a strong belief in our children that it plans for success, than one which aims low in the hope of being pleasantly surprised when the youngsters prove their worth.
Whether or not targets set in the policy are met is something only time will reveal – but the Government could play its part by addressing the issue of education funding today.
If West Sussex received the same money as some of the more generously funded authorities, our schools would be able to afford to hire twice as many teachers as they currently do.
Headteachers have been making this point for an age and their concerns have now spread to politicians of all parties, causing enough concern for them to write to the Prime Minister in the hope a fairer system of funding can be introduced.
Surely there’s one important lesson the Government can learn from this – if enough people tell you something’s broken, find a way to fix it.
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