Serious concerns have been raised about the outcomes for secondary school pupils in Knowsley by a senior Ofsted’s inspector.
Ofsted’s regional director Chris Russell has written to people overseeing education provision in the borough to raise his concerns about the number of pupils failing to achieve five or more GCSE grades A* to C, including English and maths.
It comes as the chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has said the Northern Powerhouse will “splutter and die” if young people in Manchester and Liverpool lack the skills to sustain it.
In a letter, which was sent to George Howarth MP. Mike Harden, the Chief Executive of Knowsley Council and Anne Pryer, the principal of Knowsley College amongst others, reads: “I am writing to express my serious concerns about the lack of improvement in outcomes for pupils in Knowsley.
“In 2015, almost two thirds of school leavers failed to achieve five or more GCSE grades A* to C, including English and mathematics.
“I am sure you will agree that this is a shocking statistic. Outcomes over time demonstrate that the local education system in Knowsley has already failed a generation of young people.
“The most recent GCSE results suggest that this is set to continue for yet another generation. The overall quality of education provided for the pupils in the area is poor.”
He goes on to say that Knowsley has been highlighted as the worst area in England for secondary school inspection outcomes in 2014/15 with none of the local secondary schools currently judged to be good or outstanding.
He also raises concerns about the “alarmingly high” absence rates in Knowsley’s schools which does “not bode well for children’s safety and well-being, let alone the continuity of their learning”.
Sir Michael has also spoken out amid concerns about declining secondary school performance and pupil attainment in the two cities and many of their surrounding towns.
He said: “Manchester and Liverpool are at the core of our ambitions for a Northern Powerhouse.
“They are the engines that could transform the prospects of the entire region. But as far as secondary education is concerned they are not firing on all cylinders. In fact they seem to be going into reverse.”
He called on all those with power and influence to make a real difference in galvanising change and supporting much-needed improvements in secondary education across Manchester and Liverpool.
“I am calling on local politicians, be they mayors, council leaders or cabinet members, to stand up and be counted, to shoulder responsibility for their local schools, to challenge and support them regardless of whether they are academies or not,” he said.
“I’m calling on them to be visible, high-profile figures that people can recognize as education champions. I am calling on them to make education in general – and their underperforming secondary schools in particular – a central target of their strategy for growth.
“Unless they do, I fear Manchester and Liverpool will never become the economic powerhouses we want them to be. We cannot fight for social mobility with political immobility. Politicians need to act. It requires grit, imagination, faith and bloody mindedness – qualities that, fortunately, I really don’t think are less common in the North than they are down South.”
Cllr Andy Moorhead, the Leader of Knowsley Council and Portfolio Lead for Health, Wellbeing and Social Care for the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, commented: “It is with some interest and indeed confusion that I hear Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments today.
I wholeheartedly agree with him that education is central to growth in Liverpool, and crucial to the ultimate success of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. The young people here are the foundations on which our future success will be built.
“And Sir Michael is calling for local leaders to take responsibility, which is also something we very much agree with.
“That was the very basis on which we tried to negotiate the devolution of decision-making powers and funding for education to our City Region only last year.
“In fact, in our recent devolution discussions we put forward eleven specific proposals to the Government as to how we could provide local leadership, just as Sir Michael is suggesting.
“The response we got – loud and clear – from the Department for Education was that these simply weren’t up for discussion.
“Sir Michael suggests that we should be taking a lead and that’s something we agree with, but, of all the Government Departments involved in devolving powers to us, the Department for Education was the least interested.”