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Education: Cumbria

Volume 479: debated on Monday 1 September 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families how his Department plans to improve attainment levels amongst Cumbrian pupils following the transition from primary to secondary education. (219901)

The Department’s role is to support locally-led improvement strategies. Schools—governing bodies, heads and teachers—have the lead responsibility for raising standards, supported and challenged by local authorities who work closely with partners to bring together all the wider services that enable children to succeed and achieve.

There are a number of initiatives under way that will improve attainment for Cumbria’s pupils. A joint Children’s Performance Improvement Board for Cumbria has been in operation since February 2008. The Board’s aim is to bring strategic drive to tackling the significant underachievement in the local authority’s (LA) secondary schools as well as providing support and challenge to the LA’s school improvement service. The Board is looking at how schools currently in Ofsted categories can be effectively supported to improve and how the LA can develop better mechanisms for identifying and challenging underperforming schools at risk of falling into failure.

The Academies programme is already acting as a catalyst to help transform secondary education in Cumbria. Carlisle will benefit from two Academies offering enhanced curriculum and extended schools facilities. Westlakes Academy and the planned Barrow Academy will improve the life chances of all young people in the area, and will help regenerate the local economies and offer co-located services.

The National Challenge programme launched on 10 June will provide intensive support for all secondary schools in England where fewer than 30 per cent. of pupils achieve five or more good GCSEs including English and mathematics. We are currently waiting for Cumbria to submit plans for their National Challenge schools, identifying what they intend to do to raise attainment above 30 per cent. and how much money they will need from the £400 million available nationally to carry out these plans. Every school will have a National Challenge Adviser as well as access to a range of bespoke school improvement solutions. Where appropriate, funding will provide for radical structural solutions such as Academies and Trusts, including new National Challenge Trusts.