Across Ipswich children are looking forward to a special moment, filled with expectation, wonder and of joy: the end of term. Surely you remember the long slog that is the autumn term, which starts in the Indian summer of September, where every day in the classroom seems to be warm when August at home had been a washout, through the winds of autumn to the cold closed unlit days of late November and December. They’re not the only ones: teachers are on the floor and ready to reach for the Christmas sherry as soon as they can make it home from the last nativity play of term. The only people who do not look forward to that moment as much are the parents, who must deal with deliriously exhilarated but very tired children, ready to get going on a two week long chocolate bender.
The good news for Ipswich parents is this: their little darlings are coming home better taught, better educated and better prepared for life than their predecessors have done for some decades. It is an appalling fact that we are the only large western country where educational standards have gone backwards since the war, so much so that the average 55 year old is more literate than their 25 year old children. Our reforms to schools, still controversial but increasingly accepted as the right thing to do, have ensured that the decline has been arrested. The result was seen in international league tables published over the past couple of weeks. Instead of slipping down the rankings as we have done hitherto, we have now held our position as countries around the world are seeing standards rise. Indeed, in science teaching, we have started going back up the tables – a sign, I hope and expect, of a general improvement that we will see next time we are compared with our global competitors.
The latest report by the chief inspector of schools outlines the numbers for England, which are quite astounding. There are now 1.8 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools than in 2010. The proportion of good and outstanding primary schools has risen from 69% to 90%. The reading ability of pupils eligible for free school meals at age seven in 2015 was six percentage points closer to the level of their peers than five years ago. Secondary schools have improved and 78% are now good or outstanding.
As I have said before, we have an even higher hurdle to vault in East Anglia, where performance has historically been particularly poor. The news is encouraging here too. At primary level 89% of east of England pupils are now in good or outstanding schools, compared with 90% nationally. For the first time, 8 out of 10 primary pupils in all of the region’s local authorities now attend a good or outstanding school. However, many local problems still persist. For instance, whilst 85% of east of England pupils are now attending a good or outstanding school, only 71% in Suffolk do so.
The signs of progress are there. St Marks’s, which I wrote about a few weeks ago, has once again topped the county’s SATS results, whilst St John’s CofE Primary School was mentioned by the Times as one of the best schools in the country. There are others, amongst them Chantry and Ipswich Academy, which under their new heads are achieving results they have never seen before. This is solid progress and we are in a better position than we have been for many, many years. But the overall results for Ipswich – as for England as a whole – show that there are still too many schools not performing at their peak.
The direction is now set, however, which means that the children returning home next Christmas will be better educated still than they were in 2016.