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Council told to improve secondary schools

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Ofsted assessment highlights a 'mixed' quality of secondary school and sixth form provision in West Berkshire

WEST Berkshire Council has been told it needs to improve its secondary schools and sixth forms in the district.

Ofsted's annual assessment of children's services scrutinises each local authority area's services for children and young people, and while overall West Berkshire Council was found to perform well, the report, published on December 9, said the quality of secondary schools is not as good as that found nationally.

The report, written by children's services assessor Juliet Winstanley, said: “Secondary schools and school sixth forms remain the weakest area of provision locally, with one third only satisfactory and one secondary school and its sixth form judged to be inadequate at their last inspection.”

Ofsted's report is an aggregate of all children's services over the past year and includes schools, nurseries and foster care, derived from a variety of sources.

On the standard of education across the district, it said: “Children's services performed well in 2009 and continue to do so. Provision in many areas is good and improving, but the quality of secondary schools and sixth form schools remains mixed.”

The report said results for 11-year-olds have changed little in recent years and, in 2009, six of the 66 primary schools did not reach the national minimum standards for pupil attainment.

GCSE results are improving, but not as quickly as the average for similar areas over the last three years.

The West Berkshire Council portfolio holder for education, Barbara Alexander (Con, Compton), said the council accepted the findings and it was putting systems in place which allowed it to intervene in schools as early as possible.

“At the moment we are slightly hindered with what we can and can't do,” she said.

“For schools who fall into certain criterias we are trying to get in earlier, but we need the goodwill of the school to allow that. This will allow us to deal with schools which are coasting to a certain extent,” she said.

“We are always concerned if schools don't perform, and we don't want our schools to be satisfactory; we want them all to be good.”

Shadow executive member for education, Alan Macro (Lib Dem, Theale), said the Ofsted report was vindication of criticism that the council did not intervene quickly enough when certain schools got into trouble.

“When the cuts started happening, they got rid of a lot of achools advisors which will make it a lot more difficult to improve in future,” he added.

Although West Berkshire has already reported a number of recent improvements, such as Denefield School being taken out of special measures earlier this month, many departments, including children's services, are facing sweeping cuts as the authority looks to axe £11m from next year's budget.

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