By Gordon Jones, Cabinet Member for Children's Services, Education and Skills
One of the highlights of my calendar and something I look forward to each year is our Raising the Bar Awards, which launched in 2012.
This annual awards ceremony was held at Wherstead Park, Ipswich, on Wednesday. These awards – I believe - recognise the true superheroes of Suffolk – teaching staff, support staff, educational leaders and most importantly young people who excel in education.
Young people such as Dylan Murray. I had the privilege of sharing a table with Dylan of East Bergholt Primary School and his family. Dylan is a wheelchair user, but this certainly doesn’t hold him back - there is nothing that he can’t do or won’t try. He takes part in every aspect of school life and excels in sport, to the extent that he and his teammates were awarded third place in a pentathlon event at the Olympic Park. Dylan’s perseverance is a lesson to us all of everything that can be achieved even in the face of adversity.
Dylan was one of just many inspirational young people who I met at the awards. Others had overcome visual impairment, ASD and tumours, to go on and thrive in their educational environment. This wouldn’t be achievable without support from the school leaders, governors and teaching staff who provide inspiration on a daily basis.
One such person is Helen Winn, principal of Ipswich Academy. The school has been on quite a journey. During an Ofsted visit in 2013 inspectors identified that teaching and achievement were inadequate and subsequently placed the school into ‘Special Measures’. Whilst many may have walked away at this stage, Helen’s determination and excellent leadership skills has led to Ipswich Academy receiving a rating of ‘Good’ overall, with leadership and management singled out as ‘Outstanding’, in their latest Ofsted inspection in March 2019.
Helen isn’t the only educational leader who has turned a school’s fortunes around. Nick Froy stepped into the role as Headteacher of Newmarket Academy when the school was judged as inadequate and its reputation was very low. Nick has galvanised the school’s staff and results are now where they should be, which has been reflected in the fact that the school is now oversubscribed.
This is just a small selection of the efforts from our county’s educational leaders which have led to Suffolk being one of the best places in the country for a child to carry out their educational journey. If I were to list all the achievements from the night, I would need a whole newspaper not just one page!
Statistics do not show the full extent of the commitment and dedication that some of the county’s teachers and children continue to make, despite the challenges and barriers they’ve had to overcome. But these statistics are important nevertheless. They reflect the outstanding work being done in Suffolk’s schools and educational settings.
I’m delighted that 91% of our local authority-maintained schools and 79% of all Suffolk schools are now judged ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted. This is a real achievement given that since the introduction of Ofsted’s new methodology in July 2018, the national percentage of schools judged good or better has slowly declined, while Suffolk’s percentage has continued to rise.
There’s also been consistent improvements in academic standards throughout a child’s educational journey in Suffolk. The percentage of children starting school with a good level of development at the end of the Early Years’ Foundation stage is now in line with national figures.
Key stage 2 figures released last week provide an early indication that Suffolk has seen gains in the attainment of the expected standard in reading, writing and Mathematics. And at age 16, Suffolk pupils are making more progress and leave key stage 4 with an equal percentage of GCSEs at grade 4 or higher (a standard pass) compared to national figures.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the tireless work of our county’s teachers and educational leaders, day in and day out. We appreciate the challenge faced nationally of recruiting teachers. We’ve risen to this and we continue to support schools in the county to recruit a high-quality supply of teachers and support staff by offering a variety of services, including the graduate internship service and NQT pool. In this school year alone, we have had over 270 Newly Qualified Teachers start their teaching career with us in Suffolk. We also have 11 teaching schools across the county and over 200 examples of good teaching practices on the partnership website.
Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer my heartfelt thanks to the sponsors and supporters of the awards - Opus Teach, Vertas, School’s Choice, Suffolk Safeguarding Board, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, Suffolk Primary Headteachers’ Association and Suffolk Association of Secondary Heads. Their generosity allowed us to recognise the people behind Suffolk’s great achievements and to celebrate their hard work and the contribution that they have made to our county.
I hope that all our nominees and finalists had a night to remember, as it was our way of thanking them for consistently ‘raising the bar’, something we should all strive to do in our daily lives.