STRONG action is being taken to improve education in Bury after it was revealed standards had slipped dramatically. Saiqa Chaudhari reports.

BURY'S poorly performing schools are being issued with warning notices, it has emerged.

One school has already been issued with such a notice about standards and another school has been earmarked for a warning.

The move comes after questions were raised about the significant drop in education standards in Bury, which at one time was one of the best performing authorities in the North West.

Now tough action is being taken to raise standards in Bury's schools after the council announced earlier this year that it is preparing to use special powers as a "rescue raft" to fix failing schools.

It will issue these schools with a "notice of concern" which allows the local education authority to take control and make leadership changes.

An interim executive board would manage budgets, curriculum and staffing until new headteachers and governors are put in place.

At the recent meeting of Bury Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee, councillors were given an update on performance in schools.

Formal warning notices are issued by the local authority if there are concerns about the school, including where they have concerns about unacceptable educational performance.

And if maintained school does not comply with a warning notice, it will become eligible for formal intervention, measures include appointing an interim executive board to run the school, effectively suspending the governing body.

The first two schools at the centre of the formal warning notices have not been identified.

Minutes from the scrutiny committee state: "One school in the borough had received a formal warning notice and officers had had an informal conversation with the school head and the Chair of Governors. The school had 15 working days to respond to the notice and would then be invited to a meeting for a presentation of findings judgement which will determine the next steps."

The report added: "It was explained that there was one more school that would be issued with a warning and go through the same process.

"It was reported that the intervention powers were used carefully and that everything was done to protect the children and staff within the schools."

The report went on to say: "It has been of concern, both politically and professionally, that school improvement standards are not uniformly good.

"Recent performance in key phases of learning has been uneven. Bury has previously held a prominent position both Regionally and Nationally for the attainment of its young people. After a period of administrative turbulence, there is now a determined approach to securing sustained and resistant school improvement. Each element of the school improvement strategy is being tested and strengthened."

Chairman of Bury Council's overview and scrutiny committee Cllr Bob Caserta said: " There finally seems to be an understanding by the Labour-controlled Council that over many years they have allowed poor school management to go unchecked.

"Arrival of a new director of education has brought a new energy to the local authority and is instilling impetus into an improvement programme.

"However, eight years of lethargy towards Bury’s education will not be reversed overnight.

"We now rank 22nd out of 25 Authorities in the Northwest Secondary table with nearly 40 per cent of pupils in an inadequate school. With a further 10 per cent of pupils in a school that requires improvement.

"This authority used to be a education beacon and was one of the reasons parents wanted to live in the area.

"In the meantime, the Bury Secondary schools are not waiting and are rushing to establish academy status.

"Of the 14 or so Secondary schools in the Bury family all, barring three or four are now part of an academy trust, are waiting to become one, or are in negotiations.

"They feel justifiably let down by the authority and because the school’s central government grant is paid directly to these academies rather than through the LEA, it deprives funds which would be set aside to improve the whole LEA family. Further hindering the pace that improvements can be made."

He added: "As the chair of the overview and scrutiny committee, with all the varied problems of Bury Council and the limited time in quarterly meetings to devote to any particular problem, I decided to set up an education sub committee to ensure more detailed oversight into the progress and speed of improvement.

"To be fair, the Labour portfolio holder is working with the sub committee to ensure that change is as rapid as possible and is facing the challenges of the vested interests still prevalent in the teaching profession.

"The Overview and Scrutiny committee is not political. Its purpose is to ensure the people of Bury receive the best service possible for their bucks and our children the best education and I know all the committee members are focused on achieving that goal."