Cllr Sarah McDermott is the Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services on Wandsworth Council.
Wandsworth is probably the best place in the UK to bring up children – not a hollow advertising slogan but backed up by incontrovertible evidence.
In particular, the borough has great schools. Quality education is a main plank of Wandsworth Conservative’s aspirations agenda – the key to getting on in life. We are ambitious for our children – disadvantage is not an excuse for lack of success. Ninety eight percent of our schools are judged to be good or better by Ofsted – but, more importantly, nearly half of schools are outstanding – more than double the national average. Since 2014 nigh on 24,000 children have benefited from an outstanding education – a tremendous leg-up in life whether they are going on to university, taking on an apprenticeship, or receiving extra help for special needs.
With a background in Ofsted I know that it is the outcome that matters. Are children achieving the best they can? In Wandsworth we do not stifle schools with directions on how to teach but give schools the freedom to educate their children in the best way they see fit. The curriculum is theirs to adapt for their pupils. Local authorities are there to nudge, support and give help when asked. And our schools have done us proud with impressive outcomes.
With a very strong cohort of leaders and managers, it’s not surprising that we trust and value our headteachers. Potential leaders are spotted early on. Often they have been nurtured within the borough, starting out as top quality class teachers, moving on to subject or phase leadership roles, before reaching deputy and then headships. So our commitment and investment in a central school support service to successfully encourage, support and train teachers towards the goal of headship is paying dividends. It is rare that we have to go outside the borough to find the best headteachers.
Although our schools are far more autonomous than in the past, they still very much work together as a cohesive group. Headteachers look after each other and are quick to provide mutual support. Money may not be as flush in education as it used to be, but with the 1.5 per cent increase in the basic entitlement per pupil because of the extra £1.3 billion funded by the government, schools are committed to using it wisely and effectively. Leaders are creative and innovative in how they run their establishments to make the pennies go further – they ‘think outside the box’ and always put the welfare and achievement of the children first.
Wandsworth prides itself on its wide range of schools and we know parents appreciate the wealth of choice. We value them all whether they are community, voluntary aided, academies, free or private schools. No misdirected political ideology gets in the way in Wandsworth. We welcome free schools and academies as part of the Wandsworth educational family. We know parents like them so we want to work positively with them, ensuring consistent quality education is sustained across the borough. Our groundbreaking Wandsworth Academies and Free Schools Commission chaired by Pauline Perry, Baroness Perry of Southwark, is instrumental in ensuring newcomers to the borough sign up to the borough’s high educational expectations. And they have not let us down. Harris Academy Battersea had the fourth highest Progress 8 score nationally and the second highest Progress 8 score for disadvantaged pupils nationally – a tremendous achievement for a school based in one of our most underprivileged areas.
But successful upbringing of children is not restricted to school, important as it may be.
Children in Wandsworth have many other advantages out and about in the community. Our libraries are flourishing, so much so that we are planning to open others. There is nothing better to start children off well than instilling a love of reading and books. The parks, commons and open spaces in Wandsworth provide all sorts of opportunities for adventurous learning whether in the playgrounds or just making the most of a good run around. And the leisure centres and swimming pools keep children active and healthy. But most significantly, children will thrive if their parents are doing well. So the Conservatives’ strong promotion of the essential basics of good quality affordable housing, training and jobs in the locality and effective public health underpins successful life in Wandsworth – particularly important for those residents who struggle to cope. No wonder the Social Mobility Commission rates Wandsworth as a very good place in which to start a family and the fourth best in the country for helping people overcome deprived backgrounds.
But there is still more to do in perfecting our educational offer. Why not aim for a hundred per cent of schools to be judged outstanding? We know that our headteachers are exceptional so we would like to ensure we grow some more. Consequently, investment in our educational support service is important and this will be enhanced with bursaries for potential senior leaders to gain extra experience and skills. Already we have committed to invest £17 million on improving school buildings, providing new school places and expanding facilities for children and young people.
We are opening more special needs bases in mainstream schools so children with autism or speech and language difficulties can be educated closer to their homes. Early years’ education is particularly crucial. What we have in Wandsworth is of very high quality but there is scope for more. Where outstanding primary schools do not have attached nursery classes, we will be looking to work with them to see if they can expand and provide extra nursery places – bound to be a popular addition for working parents. School playgrounds are just as important as the classrooms – that’s where physical exercise builds up children’s health. So money invested in helping schools upgrade their outside spaces will be an ambition.
We have thought carefully about these promises. They are ones that get to the heart of educational excellence. We will strive to continue to keep Wandsworth up there at the top of the educational league table. We owe it to our Wandsworth children whatever their background.