City Needs to Support Education Standards

You cannot have failed to notice a disturbing pattern - the fact that education in Derby has attracted national attention, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

The detail may change in any one year but the general narrative is that we host a school system that punches well below its weight.

It pains me to point this out but our Primary system ranks in the bottom 10 nationally (out of 160) and 60% of our secondary schools are ranked in the bottom quartile. 

This has to be of genuine concern to us all - as citizens, employers and parents/guardians - which why I raised it in a serious moment at last week’s Marketing Derby Annual Business Event. 

That’s not to say there are not excellent schools, great teachers and some fantastic success stories in the city – there most surely are. But, the simple fact is, as a whole, we are slipping behind and we have be honest about the need to do something about it. 

Investors we deal with are certainly aware of how the quality of the city’s education impacts on recruitment, relocation and even property values. 
The irony is that Derby’s economy has moved up the technological ladder and we now host talent-thirsty employers in advanced manufacturing, digital, professional, creative and service sectors. 

The average salaries in the city are now second only to London – our economy punches well above its weight.

This should mean fantastic opportunities for the city’s young people, opportunities to get a quality, well-paid job. However, too many are leaving school with below average qualifications and so many of these roles are taken by others.

I’ve been trying to get my head around why we are where we are on this. How can a city, which consistently tops economic performance tables, have such a disconnected school system?

Education is a political minefield, fuelled by ideologies on what is right and wrong, and the opinions of outsiders are often not welcomed.

Yet, we all have skin in the game - not least as taxpayers who fund the service - and so over the Christmas break I read Ofsted’s Annual Report, produced by the outgoing Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw.

This was presented to Parliament in December and you may remember the headlines as to how Derby’s schools standards were described as ‘pitifully low’.

Whatever you think of Sir Michael, or Ofsted, the report makes interesting reading.

Straight up, you realise that Derby is not alone. ‘Pitiful’ could also be used to describe the performance across much of the midlands and the north.

Take the quality of Primary schools. 

There are 160 education authority areas and in the top quartile most of their schools (high 90% to 100%) are counted as ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’. The top tier is completely dominated by London, with 14 out of the top 25 areas in the country being in our capital. 

I remember when education in London was best avoided and you may be surprised to hear that boroughs such as Lewisham, Hackney, Camden and Greenwich are all national high-flyers.   

Derby sits in the bottom quartile, at 78%, along with the likes of Wolverhampton (78%) Nottingham (80%), Birmingham (82%) Derbyshire and Leicestershire (both 86%).

The same pattern is repeated in the Secondary system. 

London dominates, with an astonishing fact that all 13 top places are taken by boroughs, which host 100% of schools that are outstanding or good. 

In Liverpool, the figure is 50%. In Derby and Derbyshire, it is 67%.

An initiative called the London Challenge was key in transforming their system from the worst to the best. 

The issue goes beyond Derby, or even the midlands and the north. We are slipping down the international tables too.

The recent OECD Pisa rankings placed the UK at 21st and 27th for reading and maths respectively. 

In my view, we need a UK Challenge, if not that, certainly a Midlands Challenge. 

Last week, the government launched its plan for Brexit; this week it launched a new industrial strategy.

The simple fact is, unless we significantly raise our education standards, the ambition of neither will be achieved. 

Meanwhile, Derby cannot hang around waiting for government. 

The time has come for Derby to join-up forces in a concerted, collaboration of governors, heads, teachers, parents, employers and pupils to focus on and support the improvement of schools and raising of standards.

I believe we have the desire and ability to do this and expect that 2017 may be the year it kicks off.

If London can do it, then so can Derby.