Personal reflection on the most recent Blackpool Education Improvement Board (BEIB) Meeting on 22 September 2021

As the independent chair of the BEIB I committed to sharing more widely its work and keeping those in the town’s schools up to date with its actions and decisions.

The Board met yesterday and spent much time focusing on the current impact of Covid-19 and how settings, schools and Colleges were coping with the different challenges that the loss of bubbles and vaccinations for older students etc had brought. It was clear that the word ‘fragile’ best summed up the current position. We also considered the impact of government initiatives to try and support recovery and how tutoring appeared to be affecting availability of supply staff locally. Colleagues felt there was variability in the availability and quality of tutors and mentors, but others reported that within the current group there was some real jewels. Many wanted greater clarity over the funding arrangements for various initiatives and whether they were long term commitments. Members provided access to various online resources that could assist. As the DfE are represented at our meetings it was useful to feedback this information directly.

I provided an update on the recent Children and Families Partnership Board (C&FPB). Our Board reports into this so that wider services and third sector groups, not necessarily education focused, can support. I have mentioned in previous updates that the BEIB is keen to support the development and creation of more support for children and young people’s mental health. Recently, the NHS announced a new Mental Health Support Team had been appointed for the town as part of a government initiative. This was welcomed but there were concerns raised around the timescale for the delivery of this additional service. In response the C&FPB agreed to the establishment of a start and finish group to see what more can be done. I agreed to join this group.

The BEIB committed to undertaking a formal review of its work each year. Fortunately, the Council’s internal audit team agreed to undertake a review of the school improvement strategy during the summer so we piggy backed on to this. The BEIB considered their report which was very supportive and helpful. We agreed to work on the 10 recommendations during the autumn although many of them have already either been introduced or will be shortly. One is for my work to be formally reviewed. This will take place in the next month.

In mid-August, I hosted The Times Education Summit at Blackpool 6th Form College. Rachel Sylvester, the education editor and commission chair got a clear sense of how much progress had been made in recent years and how some issues were preventing further development. One of these is the national approach to digital education. It was illuminating listening to a major Blackpool based digital employer explain what they are looking for in young recruits. It was also heartening to hear a senior colleague at the College cogently explain the digital landscape and what needs changing locally and nationally.

I invited the colleague to share a shortened version of the presentation to the BEIB and explained that many local businesses were working hard to capitalise on the newly arrived fibre optic cable called The Atlantic Loop. This is an amazing opportunity for the town, but it requires a step change in our approach to digital education; if we don’t then great local opportunities will not go to Blackpool students. Attention was drawn again to the recently shared Digital Pathway paper that looks at what schools and Colleges need to do now. If you would like to see this, then please ask your headteacher/Principal for a copy, or just email me directly.

After a short comfort break, we considered some recent data regarding the GCSE, Vocational and A Level programme results. It is difficult to compare the results against other areas and previous years, but it was a heartening picture. We then reviewed the latest data on inclusion, NEET and literacy. These are key elements of the town’s education strategy. We agreed to establish a task and finish group to unpick the reasons why parents/carers are educating their children at home. An academic at a Manchester University had undertaken research into the issue within the town so an invite will be extended to her.

We formally agreed how the GL Assessments will be conducted in all secondary schools this term and the arrangements for the important Moving Forward Event on 30 September at The Winter Gardens. We are hoping to see all schools and Colleges represented and looking forward to listening to Lemn Sissay as one of the guest speakers. The event will include the formal launch of the town’s literacy strategy, more information on place-based approaches as well as a chance to guide education developments over the next year or so.

We raced through the reports from various representative groups due to time pressure but agreed the issues and risks that I should raise at the next C&FPB.

It was a positive and ultra-packed meeting. Poor chairing saw the meeting overrun by 5 minutes.

If you are interested in knowing more about the work of the BEIB or my views on a variety of educational issues, then follow me on twitter @FrankWNorris. You can email me at frank.norris@coop.co.uk.

Best wishes,

Frank Norris

Independent Chair of Blackpool Education Improvement Board

23 September 2021

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