Raising Aspiration and Achievement in Cornwall

Since I have been in my post as Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People, one of the primary aims of the Directorate – and therefore the Council – is to raise the aspiration and achievement of our children and young people in Cornwall. I believe that all our children and young people are entitled to the best possible life chances. This can be achieved by enhancing their access to the highest quality educational opportunities, underpinned by challenging aspirations to not just their expect potential, but beyond.

The Raising Aspiration and Achievement Strategy (RAAS) will ensure that high aspiration for all children and young people are shared with families, and across all strands of education from Early Years to Primary and Secondary Schools and Further and Higher Education institutions. This includes high quality and impartial Information, Advice and Guidance. Which is very good in some areas, but not across the board. 

Put simply; raising aspiration and achievement is everybody’s business.

The strategy focuses on a small number of specific priority areas where we are underperforming and aims to drive up standards so that Cornwall’s performance is not merely average, or below average. I believe  it is not good enough to aspire to just being average.

These priorities (in brief) are:

  • High aspiration for all children and young people, particularly the most able
  • Attainment and progress of boys particularly in the secondary phase
  • closing the cap for vulnerable groups
  • school organisation and sustainability for schools

In some Key Stage areas, Cornwall is ‘on target’ in some of the key stages. For Key Stage 1 and 2 is at or just above the national average for 2013. In Key Stage 4 there is a trend of improvement from 2012 when 55.4% (national average 59.4%) of students achieved 5 + A-C including maths and English to 59.3% in 2013 (national average 58.6%).  This is an improvement of 4% and near 1% above the national average. But as I have said before, we should not aspire to be average. But this improvement should be welcomed.

The gender gap is a real area of concern. Whilst girls have achieved at or above the national average, boys performance is of greater concern as they advance through their educational life.

  • Key Stage 4 – 5+ A* – C  (including English and Maths): Girls – 64.9% –  Boys – 72%
  • Higher Educational Degree (2011/12): Girls – 57% – Boys – 43%

The gap for those young people on Job Seekers Allowance is stark (under 25 – As of Feb 2013): Girls – 940 – Boys 1930

This is why the RAAS is important to raising aspirations and achievement in our children and young people. However, this is just the start, as any strategy is just a document. it is what you do with that document that counts. For the RAAS to be successful  it will need everyone working together throughout the educational stages  if we want to give our children and young people the best possible start educationally. By doing this it enable our children and young people to fulfil their full potential.

Cornwall bucks the national trend on GCSE results

The DfE has recently released the national picture on 2013’s GCSE results. For Cornwall these results are excellent with our results bucking the national trend of a decrease. The national picture is 58.6% receiving A-C grades including mathematics and English. This is down from 59.4% in 2012.

For Cornwall, we have seen a jump from 55.4% in 2012 to 59.3% in 2013. This is a huge leap forward. However, this is not the end of the good news, as Cornwall has seen a steady rise in A-C grades since 2009. As in 2009 48.9% were achieving A-C grades.

I am really proud of these results and would like to congratulate everyone on this achievement. This is not only students who took the exams, but the teachers, parents and carers who have helped with support, advice and the knowledge. It shows our schools are committed to providing the best quality education for their students and these results show that once again, their hard work has paid off.

Well done.

NUT and NASUWT Industrial Action and the impact on schools

On Thursday 17th October, there will be industrial action by the NUT and NASUWT in protest against Government changes to their pensions, increased workload and proposals to bring in performance related pay from the autumn. This industrial action is a national dispute between the teaching unions and the Government.

This industrial action will result in disruptions to school provision in Cornwall; when many schools will either be fully or partially closed on this date. I would say most if not all schools affected by the industrial action have already (or will be) informing parents. As a result of this industrial action Cornwall Council is collating a list of those schools affected and has published a list. This list will be updated as and when a school confirms its course of action to Cornwall Council.

This link can be found HERE.

840 extra school places approved, but you cannot have all the money to do it……

Back in July, Cornwall Council were told by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) that our bid and funding for an extra 840 school places had been approved. The amount of funding the council had bid for was £18.8m.

All those who worked on this were over-the-moon on the success of the bid. And a letter was received by the Director of Children’s Service to confirm our bid had been succesful. This money would help the eight – already identified – schools which are facing huge pressures on pupil placements the ability to extent their facilities.

However, when the actual settlement came through, the amount was in fact£7.8m. This massive shortfall of £11m makes it impossible to deliver the project. Even scaling back the project to a very minimum, the cost to do the work will still come to £11.2m. Still a shortfall of £4.2m.

When I was told of the letter and the amount of funding, I was less than gentlemanly like in the choice of words. I really could not understand how the council had been so mislead.

In response to the lack of the full amount of funding, the council has been and is still lobbying the EFA for the full settlement.

I really hope the EFA reconsiders, as these 840 extra places are needed. Or the alternative is in certain areas there will be no places from our primary children and alternative schools would have to be used. This could involve the council having to pick up the transport costs.

My worry is if the EFA do not fund these projects fully, then the council will have to look at alternative options for funding. This is further complicated by the very fact Cornwall Council is not awash with money. And there would be some very stark choices to be made to find the funding. If it cannot find the funding, then these schools might not get the extra places they so desperately need.

This is the statement I released today:

 Cornwall Council’s Lead Member for Children and Young People, Andrew Wallis, has expressed concern at the news that the Government has underfunded the provision of additional places at eight primary schools in Cornwall and says that he is lobbying Ministers to reconsider the decision.

The Council originally submitted a bid in April to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) for £18.8M of Targeted Basic Need Funding to provide an additional 840 school places in Cornwall. The bid was to provide additional places in eight areas where there is the greatest pressure on school places, including at schools in St Austell, Newquay, Bodmin and Redruth.

The authority heard in July that its bid had been successful and that all eight school expansion schemes would be funded.   A letter sent to  Trevor Doughty, Director of Children’s Services, on 30 July stated “The Targeted Basic Need Programme will fund the provision of new, high quality school places in locations experiencing basic need pressures in order to prepare for future rises in pupil numbers. It gives additional support to those local authorities experiencing the greatest pressure on places by funding new academies and free schools as well as enabling investment to expand outstanding and good schools with high levels of demand”.

The Council was also told that officials in the Education Funding Agency would be providing its officers with further information in the near future.

The authority was then contacted by the EFA on 1 August requesting additional information in support of the application.  However, instead of confirming that the Council would be receiving the £18m originally requested, the authority was told that it had only been allocated £7.8m for all eight schemes- £11m less than the bid submitted and previously approved.   The letter from the EFA stated that the level of funding was based on expected construction costs, which are calculated on a national construction framework for the building of new schools, rather than the expansion of existing schools.

Faced with this shock announcement, Council officers immediately reviewed the plans to see if an alternative solution could be identified which could deliver the urgently needed school places within the reduced funding. Unfortunately this showed that even adopting a scaled down approach involving a modular building programme would still cost around £11.2m – leaving a minimum shortfall of £4.2m.

The Council wrote to the EFA on 16 August expressing significant concern over the amount of the allocation and requesting that the total award should be increased to reflect the actual level of building costs in Cornwall.   This request is currently being considered. 

A meeting was held with the eight schools identified for expansion on 17 September so that the Council could share this information with the headteachers and Chairs of Governors.   The Council and the schools concerned are currently seeking alternative routes to secure additional funding to ensure these school places are provided, however a solution has not yet been identified.

Andrew Wallis, the Council’s Lead Member for Children and Young People, said “To say I am disappointed with the Government would be a massive understatement.

“I find it hard to believe that on one hand the Government informs the Council that we have all our bids and funding approved, but then find out the actual funding does not even cover the basic build costs. This leaves the Council in a difficult position regarding having to provide extra school places without the correct funding to do so”.


Changes to regulations for absence during the school term

A few weeks ago the Government announced changes to certain educational regulations for absence from school during the school term. This got quite a lot of media coverage which has resulted in the public and Councillors raising the issue with me. In light of these enquiries I thought it would be advantageous for me to explain the actual changes. Before I do, I should say Cornwall Council has no power over this.

The Government has made changes to Penalty notices for truancy and exclusions. This has resulted in an amendment to The Education (penalty Notices) (England) Regulations 2007. The penalty time scales for payment have been reduced from a maximum 42 days to 28 days, and the penalty increased from £50 to £60 if paid within 21 days or £100 to £120 if paid by 28 days at the higher level.

Furthermore, the Government has also amended the 2006 Education (Pupil Registration) (England) Regulations with regard the Head teachers discretion of holidays/absence in term time. The length of absence is determined by the head teacher who should only grant leave of absence in term time if there are exceptional reasons. Previously, the regulations referred to head teachers being able to approve up to 10 days holiday in term time but that threshold has been removed and it is now up to heads how long they will agree and absence in term time.

Hope that helps.

Food in Cornish Schools is not cross-contaminated (so far)

In light of the ongoing scandal of contamination certain (so far) meat products, I decided to send an email to the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Schools and Families, Neil Burden and the Director of the same asking have we checked all the suppliers who provide school meals.

Here is the response I got from the Leader:

“The Council has a contract with Chartwells to supply meals to 197 schools in Cornwall.   The authority takes the health and well-being of children in Cornwall extremely seriously and immediately contacted the company to seek reassurances about the robustness of its procedures for ensuring the traceability and quality of the food being supplied to our schools.  The company has confirmed that all its nominated suppliers have to meet strict food quality and safety standards and they regularly undergo independent audits to ensure these standards are upheld.”

While I welcome the statement, the last sentence bothers me. In that statement:

The company has confirmed that all its nominated suppliers have to meet strict food quality and safety standards and they regularly undergo independent audits to ensure these standards are upheld

But have they actually checked the food is not contaminated? I am sure ASDA, Tesco and the other supermarkets though the same and had every confidence in their supply chain. Lets hope when either Cornwall Council or Chartwells do physically check , nothing that is not on the label has found its way into the product. If there is cross-contamination, someone will be clearing their desk pretty quickly.

A Fixed Spring Break

The process of looking into a fixed spring break started nearly two (Nov 2010) years ago. The idea is to have this holiday in the first two weeks of April. I first thought it would be a relative simple process, but it is not. Click HERE on previous blogs.

To be clear this change would not have any effect on the religious side of Easter either, as both Good Friday and Easter Monday are statutory holidays. Part of the consultation process included the Church of England and Catholic dioceses who have a good many church-run schools in Cornwall are supportive of the change.

Now, at the recent scrutiny meeting of the children’s committee, Councillors discussed either to recommend to Cabinet a fixed spring break, or leave the (moving) holiday as it is.   This will now go to the Cabinet for final approval and implement the recommendations.

However, there is no rush for Cabinet to decide as the earliest this could be implemented is 2019. Yes, I said 2019 and it is not a typo!

That would be nine years from start to finish to change a holiday……


Helston College C-Block Rebuild Gets the Green Light

There was one bit of good news at Monday’s Cabinet meeting. That is the recommendation for the rebuild of C-block at Helston College has been approved in principle. This is fantastic news for all those children who go to this school. I am glad Cornwall Council’s Cabinet fully supported the proposals.

Now, post this decision, the £10m and change needed to build this new block has to be identified. As in the Cabinet report this money is not readily available. Once this has happened work needs to start as soon as possible. A question that will also have to be answered is will the new block be built on the existing site, or another site?

Still, today’s decision is a good one for the people of the area.

Cabinet to decide on Helston College

On Monday 30th July, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet, will be making some pretty huge decisions that will set the path of the council for years to come. The main one is the option of ‘shared services’. To explain it in the simplest term, it is privatisation. Others might call it something else, but I see it nothing more than selling off certain functions of the council. However, this is not the subject I will be talking about. This blog is on the proposals for Helston College.

For anyone who has ever visited Helston College will know ‘C’ block is in a very poor state. In truth, it is not far off from being a hazard to those who use this site. The college has long campaigned for something to be done, but like most things, it all comes down to money.

Now finally, a series of option are now being presented to Cabinet on Monday. These range from ‘temporary repairs’ which I believe is a pointless exercise because it is merely painting over the cracks and still not solving the problem. I believe the only creditable option is for a total rebuild. Report HERE.

This rebuild option is not cheap. The figure quoted in the report is the costs could amount to just over £10m. That is a lot of money in anyone’s book. However, it is the right and only option to solve the college’s problem. If this is the option that is taken forward, there is a discussion to have if the same site is used for the rebuild, a different site, and how a rebuild will be carried out without affecting the running of the college.

So how will the rebuild be paid for? We all know Cornwall Council is not awash with spare cash, so this money will have to be found from somewhere. A few options could be used. One of these is reassigning money already earmarked in the capital spending. In a biased way, I would say why not. But this would be unfair on that project which gets kicked into the long grass. Cornwall Council could also borrow it using its AAA rating to get a good deal.

Another option, which I have written to the CEO, Kevin Lavery (a few months ago) requesting to use the money from the sale of one school to fund this rebuild. The school in question is the former Richard Lander school site which is being sold by Cornwall Council. I have also spoken to senior Cornwall Council officers about this proposal and in principle this could happen. Though there are some technicalities, though not insurmountable

Of course this is not as simple as cashing the cheque from the sale and writing another for Helston, but it is a creditable option which would not affect another capital project. Sadly, I have no vote in this matter, but I will support any option that gives Helston College the rebuild it desperately needs.

Let’s hope the Cabinet makes the right decision and accepts it has to rebuild this block which will give the school the facilities it needs to educate our young people.

Numbers of School Children in Cornwall

Statistics are not everyone’s cup of tea; so those who hate them look away now. The following statistics are on the numbers of children currently attending school within Cornwall. Also included in the figures are the number of children who are receiving free school meal, ethnicity and the number of children from service families. These has been collated as part of the Single Issue Panel looking into children’s readiness for school that I am a member of.

The total number of children between the in both primary school and secondary school is: 69,293

Primary School: 37644
Secondary: Age 11-15: 28471 – Ages 16-19: 3178 – Total 31,649

In receipt of free school meals: Primary: 5328 (14.15% of pupils); Secondary 3431 (10.84%)

Black and Ethnic Minority: Primary: 1922 (5.1%); Secondary: 1323 (4.2%)

Children from service families: Primary 1026 (2.7%); Secondary: 753 (2.4%)

Gypsy: Primary 85 (0.2%); Secondary 59 (0,2%)

A more detailed breakdown on the statistics can be found HERE.

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