THE man in charge of education in Thurrock has said the borough’s schools are on the right track – but progress needs to be robust and accelerated.
In December, the state of education in Thurrock came under the spotlight after Ofsted revealed the borough was in the bottom three nationally for its number of good or outstanding primary schools.
The Gazette also revealed spending on staff within the education department had gone up, despite the council being responsible for fewer schools.
Cllr Oliver Gerrish, pictured, who is the cabinet member responsible for education and children and social care at Thurrock Council, said there has been “rapid improvement” over the last two years which needs continuing.
He added, too, that as more schools convert to academy status, the local authority’s role is changing and more than 55 posts have been scrapped in the last two years.
But increases in the budget for staff encompasses Cllr Gerrish’s entire portfolio, which has seen pressure increase on safeguarding children.
Speaking to the Gazette, Cllr Gerrish, who took up the education post two years ago, said: “The future for us is as diplomats rather than managers, it’s far more about partnership working and understanding the priorities of schools and how they want to work.
“Even under the new Government legislation and guidance there’s a very prominent role in terms of statutory duties for the local authority, in terms of for example, ensuring sufficiency of places in the area.”
In the last two years, there has been a sharp increase in the percentage of children achieving level 2B in English and maths, which has seen Thurrock climb above the national average.
There have also been significant increases in the number of pupils achieving level four at Key Stage Two, but the percentage achieving this level in English and maths combined is still three per cent below the national average, despite being up eight per cent in two years, above the national rate of improvement.
Cllr Gerrish said: “We’ve moved on pretty rapidly in a two-year period.
“We’ve gone from being virtually bottom of the bottom quartile performance for Key Stage Two results in the country, while our most recent Key Stage Two results on last year’s national averages would have put us over the medium performance [had there not been a slight improvement nationally].
“Nobody is saying we’re at the end point of getting to where we need to be.
“One thing I want to emphasise is how ambitious we are for getting above the national average for results and then pushing on further.
“Clearly we need to do everything we can to maintain that progress and accelerate it.”
As the role of the local authority changes, schools are set to receive tailored support to drive improvement and meet individual needs.
Cllr Gerrish also disagrees that schools choosing to convert to academy status show mistrust in the local authority.
All but one of the borough’s secondary schools are now academies and more than 20 primary schools have also converted.
He said: “Schools have taken sober decisions over becoming academies. There is not a mistrust in the council.”