WEST NORFOLK: Inaugural conference

Elizabeth Truss MP for South West Norfolk and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Education, will be joining former Qualifications and Curriculum Authority director Mick Waters, Professor of Developmental Psychology, Karen Pine and poet, broadcaster and commentator, Ian McMillan at West Norfolk’s inaugural teaching and learning conference on 26 June.

The conference has been organised by the Improving Attainment Steering Group, a collaboration comprising the West Norfolk Partnership, the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, Norfolk County Council, the College of West Anglia and West Norfolk’s high schools and academies and is part of a unique £400,000 project which aims to raise achievement in West Norfolk.

The intensive one-day conference gives teachers and governors rare access to leading professionals without the need to travel outside the borough, making the most effective use of teachers’ time and schools’ budgets. Speakers will cover topics such as the changes to the National Curriculum post-2014 and the opportunities this can bring for raising achievement, innovative ways to improve teaching and learning, emerging thinking about how to maximise children’s potential and the importance of taking a creative, flexible approach to education delivery. Throughout the day schools will also showcase and share their own best practice.

Elizabeth Truss MP said: “I am delighted to support the first ever ‘Inspire to Succeed’ teachers’ conference. This commitment to ensure West Norfolk achieves academic success could prove to be groundbreaking in delivering a first-class education for our young people.”

Mike Douglass, King Edward VII High School and Chairman of the Teacher’s Operational Group, explained the reason behind the conference: “Teachers are perhaps our most important resource in raising achievement in West Norfolk. This conference is designed to help them to share their considerable expertise and to give them the opportunity to explore new ideas so that they can hone their practice and develop strategies that really work in the classroom.

“If we are to transform the pattern of attainment in West Norfolk, which is vital both for the individuals’ life chances and the long-term success of our wider economy, it is going to take the collective effort of everyone. The teaching conference is one, very important strand of this. We hope that it will both celebrate and build upon the excellence that already exists in our schools and ultimately inspire new approaches that will benefit every child in West Norfolk.”

At the conference all schools and the organisations involved in the Improving Attainment Steering Group will sign a memorandum of understanding pledging their long-term support to work together to improve the overall attainment of West Norfolk’s children.

The conference is the result of a unique project which began in November 2011. For the first time the performance data for all West Norfolk schools was shared. Previously school’s results tended to be seen in isolation, or were included in Norfolk-wide averages. By viewing West Norfolk as a single cohort, key trends could be explored. The West Norfolk Partnership approached both district and county councils and all the schools, academies and the College of West Anglia to develop a coordinated and cohesive approach to raising achievement across West Norfolk as a whole.

Cllr Nick Daubney, Leader of the Borough Council and Chair of the West Norfolk Partnership, said: “Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce, business managers and local leaders so it imperative that we help our young people to develop the skills they need to achieve their potential. Recent performance at GCSE and feedback from local businesses suggest that too many of our students are currently leaving education without the core skills and qualifications required to move effectively into the next stage of their lives, be that employment, training or further education. It was clear that as a borough we needed to address this, so we approached education providers and the county council to develop a cohesive and co-ordinated approach to raising standards in West Norfolk. Ours is a unique partnership and one which is already resulting in improvements. We acknowledge that there is still some way to go, but we are committed to working together to ensure that young people have the skills they need to succeed and to play their part in the wider success of the borough.”

The notion of working as a single unit, with the extra resource and expertise this afforded, was embraced by all and work to identify the core priorities and to determine the first steps began in the summer term of 2012. An initial two-year programme has been developed. Activities thus far have included a programme of visits to highly achieving schools to examine innovative practice in teaching, learning and leadership practice and structures, the development of school wide literacy projects and the design and development of a high quality leadership programme for middle leaders. These streams of work have already translated into changes in the classroom and some encouraging results are being recorded. In just one year, the percentage of pupils attaining 5 grade A*-C (including English and maths) in West Norfolk has increased seven percentage points from 45% to 52%.

Future activities include further roll out of the middle leaders’ programme, looking at other ways to support the development of middle management (such as department heads) within schools, careers events involving local employers and the creation of teachers’ networks in key subject areas. It is hoped that the package of improvements will help to support the retention and recruitment of talented teaching staff.