One thinks of failing schools as being under the remit of Labour councils in the inner city. Often they are. But the Education Secretary Michael Gove has been non-partisan in highlighting Conservative councils which have also been letting down children.
East Sussex County Council is among the worst offenders. Despite the ample evidence that giving failing schools new management under sponsored academies means a dramatic rise in standards, the council drags its feet and betrays the pupils it is responsible for.
Mr Gove has written to MPs in the county to highlight the way the council is being obstructive:
One of the main barriers to progress has been the position of the Council. It has in the past worked well with officials to find sponsored Academy solutions for four underperforming primary schools, but is now failing actively to pursue sponsored Academy solutions for others. Instead it is pursuing federations and partnerships with other, stronger schools. Such proposals are unlikely to create the additional capacity to provide the sustainable solution that is required at these schools.
I have asked officials to offer the Iocal authority whatever help it needs to identify the best Academy solution for the schools in question. I believe the discussions would be even more productive if you were able to persuade the Council to take a more constructive position towards sponsored Academies. That is what pupils in East Sussex deserve, and what their parents are entitled to expect.
In every year from 2008 to 2012 East Sussex has been below the national average for the percentage of 11-year-olds reaching the expected standard in English and maths. In 2012, about one in four pupils left East Sussex primary schools below the standard expected – the national average is one in five.
Thirteen primary schools in East Sussex – about one in 12 of the total – were below the floor in 2011, of which five were below the floor for at least three of the five years from 2011 to 2007 inclusive. The "floor" is that at least 60% of pupils reach basic standards in English and maths (level 40) by the time they leave at 11.
Five primary schools in East Sussex are currently in low Ofsted categories – special measures or notice to improve. In nine of East Sussex’s primary schools, less than half the pupils achieved the expected standard at Key Stage 2 in 2011.
East Sussex’s primary schools perform worse than many inner London boroughs which take a much higher percentage of deprived children. In 2012, a lower percentage of children in East Sussex (77 per cent) achieved the expected standard in English and maths at Key Stage 2 than they did in Hackney (80 per cent), Newham (79 per cent) and Tower Hamlets (82 per cent). Yet only 15.7 per cent of maintained nursery and state-funded primary pupils in East Sussex are on Free School Meals, compared to 38 per cent in Hackney, 31 per cent in Newham, and 44 per cent in Tower Hamlets.
There are four primary academies in East Sussex (three per cent of primaries in the local authority are academies, compared to eight per cent in England).
Matt Dunkley, the Director of Children's Services for the council, says he finds Mr Gove's letter "baffling." It seemed clear enough to me.