A new strategy has been launched to drive up educational standards across Swindon - in the wake of scathing criticisms levelled by Ofsted.
Swindon Challenge draws together key education stakeholders including the Regional Schools’ Commissioner, headteachers, the teaching schools, governors, local businesses and senior council leaders in a bid to address concerns highlighted by South West regional director Bradley Simmons.
In an open letter at the end of last year, Mr Simmons said Swindon schools were failing its pupils both at primary and secondary level. He said results placing it in the bottom 10 local authorities nationally in phonics and joint lowest performers in reading for seven year olds in the South West.
At Key Stage 2, he said only 44% of 11-year-olds reached the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics, while at GCSE level only 17.3% of pupils achieved the English Baccalaureate.
The Swindon Challenge Board, which also includes an observer from Ofsted, met for the first time yesterday with former Ofsted inspector and Director of Education and Director of Children’s Services in Richmond - Anji Phillips - at its helm as independent chair.
Improving educational opportunities and attainment forms part of Swindon Borough Council’s Priorities and Pledges, and the Council has set aside £600,000 over the next three years to help achieve the outcomes set out in the Swindon Challenge strategy.
Objectives include working to ensure that every school in Swindon is rated by Ofsted as being ‘good’ or better by 2020, while also increasing the proportion of young people accessing Higher Education by 25 per cent.
The board will also employ educational consultants PiXL to shape and influence leadership in schools. And partnership working with national educational bodies and high performing local authorities will also be high on the Swindon Challenge agenda.
Another key target will be to ensure that Swindon’s GCSE results and Post 16 indicators at least meet national averages against national benchmarks for all pupils including those with SEND (Special Education Needs and Disability).
There will be an emphasis on phonics outcomes for Year 1 pupils to ensure they are at the national average or above and that reading, writing and mathematics standards are at least in line with national averages when children leave primary school at the age of 11.
The National Education Trust is working with all of Swindon’s secondary schools to review the provision for disadvantaged pupils and those with special educational needs.
Cllr Fionuala Foley, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “Improving education is at the heart of the Council’s Vision, Priorities and Pledges and we have set some challenging targets over the next few years, which is why Swindon Challenge is so important in helping us to achieve those goals.
“Although we have a number of fantastic schools and exceptional teachers, we know there are areas where we need to do better. We have made great strides already with the work we are doing with phonics and writing in our primary schools and we have worked hard to help some of our secondary schools by setting up partnerships with other schools so they can share best practice and drive up standards.
“But we will not see instant results. This is the start of a journey and it will not be easy, but I am confident with everyone pulling in the right direction Swindon will rise to the challenge.”
Anji Phillips added: “This prestigious Challenge Board will draw on the collective leadership of the Council and its partners to set a blueprint for cultural change in Swindon, in which all stakeholders drive educational improvement to meet the ambitions for all children and young people.”
And acknowledging the angry reaction to the Ofsted’s blanket criticism of provision in the town she said: “Anger does galvanise people and we are hoping to harness that desire to improve outcomes for pupils in the town. Accepting that criticism is important. The work that’s being done should raise aspirations and yield positive outcomes.”