Outcomes for pupils in Dunstable’s schools are ‘woefully low’, Ofsted has warned.
In a strongly worded letter to Central Beds Council chief executive Richard Carr, Ofsted regional director Andrew Cook has outlined his worries that disadvantaged students in the area are falling way behind children of more affluent families.
This problem is at its worst in Houghton Regis and Dunstable, which are said to have “particularly high levels of social disadvantage”.
Mr Cook has said that over the last two years Ofsted has received a number of letters that are “highly critical” of CBC’s effectiveness in both towns.
He added: “Although I understand structural changes in the three-tier provision in and around Dunstable have inevitably disrupted provision, it is nonetheless the case that outcomes for pupils here are woefully low”.
Across Central Bedfordshire the gap in achievement between between children who receive free school meals and those who do not has widened, as just 55% of the former achieve minimum standards in reading, writing and maths.
In a statement Mr Cook told the Gazette that it is “unacceptable” that pupils “are not receiving the standard of education they deserve simply because of the area they live in.”
He added: “Regardless of school structures, improvement is dependent on effectivepartnership, oversight and challenge.
“It is essential that those responsible for education provision across Central Bedfordshire work closely, and rapidly, together to transform the outcomes and life chances of pupils.”
In his letter to CBC Mr Cook also raised concerns that pupils in Key Stage 2 (7 to 11-year-olds) are making weak progress.
According to the Ofsted director many children make good progress in Key Stage 1 but tail off when they move up. This decline means that Central Beds’ Key Stage 2 students make less progress in reading and maths than in any other local authority area in the East of England, he said.
CBC’s dealing of the slip in standards has been blasted by Mr Cook, who says that the authority “demonstrates an unwillingness to challenge school leaders and governors when standards, especially for disadvantaged students, are so poor.”
Following criticism earlier this month from Ofsted, education chief Cllr Mark Versallion said: “Making sure all children in Central Bedfordshire get the best educational outcomes, regardless of their background, is very important to the council.
“This is why Central Bedfordshire Council is working with schools and encouraging them to form new models of leadership and organisation, not just within but among schools, to bring about a more seamless journey for the pupil as they go through the whole education system.”
In response to the criticisms CBC’s director of children’s services, Sue Harrison, has come out fighting, telling Mr Cook that he “misrepresents work to raise education standards in Central Bedfordshire”.
She wrote: “It is disingenuous of you to imply that because we have not issued any formal warning notices we are unwilling to challenge poor standards.
“You are quite aware that we employ a successful school intervention strategy that is providing robust and effective challenge to schools before we get to the stage of issuing formal warning notices.
“During this academic year we have issued 36 letters challenging schools causing us concern.”
She added: “We are collectively determined across all partners to make sure that all of our children and young people reach their full potential, and will not rest until outcomes for all pupils in Central Bedfordshire are among the best in the country.
“Having already made significant improvements in GCSE results – something that you fail to acknowledge – we are committed to making the same improvements for every key stage and for all pupils regardless of their situation.”