“Swindon’s children were failed by its schools at every key stage.”

Eleven words that still haunt the town’s headteachers, school governors, councillors and MPs a year since Ofsted’s south west regional director Bradley Simmons published a scathing letter into the state of Swindon’s education.

In the open letter, Mr Simmons made damning comments on the way schools performed in 2016 – taking aim at both primary and secondary schools across the town.

He said: “I have raised such issues in writing with the council on at least three occasions in the past. At times, the council has been, frankly, defensive in its response.”

Mr Simmons called last year’s phonics outcomes as “some of the poorest in the country” and he also raised similar concerns at KS4 pupils’ outcomes.

While the remarks dealt a huge blow to the morale of teachers and headteachers, in the 12 months that have followed, schools have been working round the clock to ensure Swindon’s reputation for educational outcomes continue to improve.

Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for children’s services and school attainment Coun Fionuala Foley believes Ofsted’s stern words was the encouragement many needed.

Coun Foley said: “I am greatly encouraged by the huge strides that have been made by our hard-working teachers and governors who are absolutely committed to improving educational outcomes in all our schools.

“Of course, as we explained on numerous occasions, much of the work to improve standards was already well in train prior to Mr Simmons’ public letter. Although the criticisms in the letter itself did little for the morale in our schools, it has brought a steely determination to raise the bar in all levels of education.

“This was quite clearly demonstrated in the recent provisional results in both primary Key Stages. In Key Stage 1 our five to seven year olds met or exceeded national averages in reading, writing, maths and science, while our primary schools were among the most improved in the country at Key Stage 2.

“Ninety per cent of our primary schools remain good or outstanding and are continuing to share good practice through phonics and writing champions. The Teaching School has also run a number of courses on the effective teaching of phonics, writing and reading.”

Over the last 12 months, Mr Simmons has returned to Swindon to check on the progress of schools and back in July, he commended the town for working with the council and other stakeholders to improve the quality of education for youngsters.

One step the council has taken in recent months was the formation of the Swindon Challenge Board.

Set up with council funding of £600,000, the group, made up of leading figures in the education community, strive to ensure that every school in Swindon is rated ‘good’ or better by Ofsted by 2020, while also increasing the proportion of young people accessing Higher Education by 25 per cent.

Coun Foley added: “We know there is still much to be done at secondary level, but behind the scenes there is a real focus on raising attainment across the board. New headteachers have joined some of our secondary schools bringing new ideas and enthusiasm and those schools who are not meeting national targets are working closely in partnership with outstanding providers. We cannot flick a switch and instantly bring about improvements, but we are confident that the changes that are taking place will have a positive impact.

“Last month, the council’s Cabinet also backed our initiative to make Swindon a Learning Town where we will raise educational standards by engaging a wide range of partners across the town, including local businesses, cultural and community organisations and all those involved in education and training.

“We are on the start of a journey and we have got off to a great start, but there is still a long way to go.”