WSCC education policy: a damning indictment

Chief Executive of Devon County Council, Phil Norrey, has delivered a damning report into the ambition, attainment and management of WSCC’s education function as a follow-up to the corporate peer review.

This was a series of reviews conducted at both officer and councillor level commissioned in 2013 by the WSCC cabinet and former Chief Executive, Kieran Stigant. Its purpose was to find out whether new organisational structures and resource allocations set up at that time were able to deliver the council’s priorities. Phil Norrey was part of that original peer review and was invited back to conduct a more in-depth assessment of WSCC’s education policy.

From his report, it is clear the council’s ideological obsession with academisation has not paid off.

Many academies “wish to remain part of the family of West Sussex schools,” and WSCC’s “clear promotion of academisation was all the more keenly resented because of the long survival of a paternalistic relationship between the council and its schools,” he stated. “There is currently no mechanism for managing the relationship with schools,” with the School’s Forum “perceived by some to be a rubber stamp.”

The council’s obsession with freezing council tax and imposing swingeing service cuts has come at a price, as school support services were put under pressure and hard-working staff struggled to cope. “The council is a low spender on school improvement services and its central education function more generally.” Perhaps it is not surprising then that, “West Sussex is the lowest performing of all South East counties at GCSE.”

It performs poorly across a range of key measures: from foundation stage to GCSE, and was placed just 97th out of 151 councils in the GCSE performance of pupils entitled to free school meals.

Mr Norrey goes on to suggest 13 fundamental actions the council must take to address these issues. The council’s lack of meaningful action for its own schools at every key stage prevails throughout the document: “It was clear to us that something had ‘got lost in translation’ between the council’s clearly stated high level ambitions and the mechanisms which might help it achieve them.”

Let’s hope the recommendations made in this report are completed in full. The education of West Sussex children should not be compromised by the dogma of those in charge at County Hall.

As a result of the report, and continued UNISON West Sussex lobbying, the proposed £685k spending cuts to be imposed on the West Sussex Learning Service were removed from the council’s 2015-16 budget at the full council meeting on 13 February.

Download Phil Norrey’s report.