Northamptonshire County Council has officially launched its new ‘Race to the Top’ strategy in which it is investing £1 million in a bid to become one of the best performing local authorities for education by 2020.
The county council, which is currently ranked 114th out of 150 for the quality of its secondary schools and 129th for its primary schools, is inviting all 367 schools in Northamptonshire to come forward with ideas about how education standards can be improved.
No new staff will be employed to instigate the Race to the Top strategy but the county council will rely on its existing communications channels with schools to spread the message of the new project.
Four workshops are also due to be held in four different parts of the county in the next couple of months where schools will be invited to find out more about how to bid for funding.
Councillor Jim Harker, leader of the county council, accepted that £1 million would not provide funding for every school but said the local authority hoped to secure more money from the Department for Education in future years if the project was successful.
Councillor Harker said the local authority had decided to act after figures published last year showed a third of schools in the county were not rated good or outstanding by Ofsted.
The council leader said he believed the council could still have an impact on improving the performance of schools despite the fact half of the schools in the county are now academies, therefore no longer under direct control of the local authority.
He said: “We came to the conclusion that it is about time that changed.
“It is not good enough, particularly for an aspiring county like ours. Particularly when there is a need to provide and educated workforce for the businesses that want to locate here.”
Councillor Matthew Golby, director of children, families and education, said he no longer wanted the county’s education standards to be “plagued by mediocrity”
He said: “We don’t want to just aim to be above average, we want to be among the best performing local authorities in the country.”
Councillor Harker said one of the ideas he would like to see schools come forward with was homework clubs or activities that occupied pupils after school lessons finished at 3.30pm.
He said homework clubs or sports activities could be provided “relatively cheaply”, possibly using volunteers, that may help to improve education standards.
Councillor Harker said he thought one of the main reasons schools were underachieving in Northamptonshire was due to poor leadership.
Part of the Race to the Top strategy will involve sharing best practice amongst headteachers and creating a coherent teacher training programme to produce the school leaders of the future.
The Northants Enterprise Partnership is also working in partnership with the council to help improve the interaction between businesses and schools.
Race to the Top will be overseen by a Strategic education and Skills Partnership Board, involving business leaders, county council staff, the Department for Education and the voluntary sector.
However, it has not yet been established how often this board will meet.
Opposition councillors have criticised the scheme for its relatively low level of funding, which is 0.2 per cent of the annual Northamptonshire school’s budget of £420 million.
Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Abington and Phippsville) said: “£1 million for schools in Northamptonshire does not add up to a hill of beans. Much more is required than that.”