Hastings heads fighting to close education gap

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Headteachers , academy sponsors and Ofsted have pledged to work together to close the education gap affecting children in coastal communities.

A meeting at the Sussex Coast College, in Hastings, on Friday (June 3) highlighted the need for a more collaborative approach by education leaders to the problem of under-achievement, especially in disadvantaged children.

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Attempts to attract more teachers to areas such as Hastings and St Leonard’s was high on the agenda as was the need to overcome the isolation felt by many schools in the towns.

Jenny Jones, executive principal of The St Leonards Academy and The Hastings Academy, was delighted with the determination shown by her colleagues to ensure their children were given the best education possible.

She said: “We have felt geographically isolated and it’s just wonderful that there’s the sense that this is the start of something exciting.”

Ms Jones said she felt the challenges faced by coastal schools to not only attract teachers but to get the best for children with difficult backgrounds had been treated as “excuses” for too long.

Hastings schools for decades have been lagging behind

Jenny Jones

She added: “Hastings schools for decades have been lagging behind.

“Now there’s a lot of exciting things that have happened around academies that enable schools to work more closely together.

“We’ve got common goals and we’ve come together as a team of leaders to look at strengthening across all of us, not just our individual schools.

“There’s a real sense of common focus.”

Senior Ofsted inspector Mike Sheridan, who used to be a primary school teacher, said Ofsted had known there was a problem in coastal schools for some time.

He said: “My objective and our intention is for Ofsted to use our skills and influence in really getting to grips with what it is that prevents young people from doing better in coastal areas.”

Mr Sheridan said he recognised many people had ideas to improve the situation but there wasn’t anyone “holding the reins”, something the meeting was called to address.

He added: “What we want to do is make sure schools have all the resources they need to improve their practice so the children in Hastings do as well as they possibly can.”

Ms Jones said the way to attract teachers to the area was to give them a sense of being valued and the ability to improve and develop professionally.

While acknowledging ambitious teachers might be keen to gain experience and move on, she said she would rather have a “really fantastic teacher” who made a difference in her classrooms for three or four years than some one who became part of the furniture but never inspired the children to learn.

Ms Jones added: “Our children are as capable as any children nationally. We have to raise the aspirations we have of them and they have of themselves.”

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