Oxfordshire County Council, the council that runs the schools in Oxfordshire has the worst key stage 1 results for literacy at age seven in the UK. It recently lost its bid to be world book capital, this despite having one of the best universities in the world. It is also cutting 313k from its libraries budget, not that it actually saves that amount, it saves practically nothing. Considering the history of Oxford and the fact that the schools spend is the only part of the OCC budget to escape the cuts (the schools budget is outside of councillors control) this is very, very poor.
Their answer to this problem seems to be more volunteers.
OCC is looking for ex teachers and others to do one to one reading with children in the schools that are failing badly. It actually isn’t a bad idea but what needs to be understood is why some schools are doing OK at this and others are failing, making Oxford the worst in the UK. Without understanding the problem it cannot be fixed.
The councillor responsible for schools, Melinda Tilly, was recently interviewed in February by the BBC and came up with some astonishing responses on schools. This below is from a great local blogger @tonyox3 (link at the bottom) who listened to the interview at the time and includes a link to the interview on Iplayer:
“However, Ms Tilley's first comment was that "we don't really know what's gone wrong" with our schools. Strange, given her job title, and it immediately begs the question that if we don't know what's wrong, how can we expect to fix it? Next she was asked if academy status would improve the schools. "Probably", she replied, "we have to do something". Could she guarantee the schools would improve? "I'm not going to guarantee that ... it's not my job", she said. Doesn't academy status mean the County loses control over the schools? "We don't have any control now, really", was her astonishing response. "There's not much point in your job then, is there?" asked the interviewer. Her reply, "I'm just waiting for the music to stop .. [something about finding another chair] .. No, not really."”
While it is true that OCC have no control over the school budget, they are responsible for the schools and have the power to hire and fire the head teachers in those that are poorly performing. They have whole departments in country hall, what are these people doing all day? The comments from the person politically accountable are not inspiring.
I hope then that the head teachers in the poorly performing schools are given time to look at what is working at the other schools and if they are unable to turn it around they are given the boot. If OCC have no control over the schools as Melinda Tilley complains then I fail to see how turning them into academies will make any difference whatsoever.
Today is the start of the Summer Reading Challenge, a libraries initiative to get children and adults reading. I don’t have the data (yet) but I bet anyone a pound that the 80 schools targeted by their new scheme are also the areas where there is poor participation for the Summer Reading Challenge.
I have already put myself up to the local school to volunteer to help kids with reading but I doubt the local school is one of those that are failing because we fantastic levels of participation in the reading challenge, punching well above our weight compared to other libraries, a great credit to our library manager and assistant. As I have previously said though, I will volunteer to help make the service better,but I won't volunteer to replace staff that in our library are performing a fantastic job.
The Oxford mail story on the new reading scheme:
The Blog on the Melinda Tilley interview: