LEADING figures from across the education community in Swindon took a major step on their path to school improvements last night.

Concerns over performance standards came to a head in November when Ofsted’s Regional Director penned an open letter claiming that pupils in the town were “being failed at every level”.

Bradley Simmons called on “headteachers, chief executives of multi-academy trusts, senior political leaders, governors, the local authority and the regional schools commissioner to unite and ensure that pupils in Swindon get the education they deserve”.

And on Wednesday, that is exactly what they did when the first meeting of the Swindon Challenge Board took place.

Swindon Challenge brings together all key stakeholders in education including the Regional Schools’ Commissioner, headteachers, the teaching schools, governors, local businesses and senior council leaders. Ofsted have agreed to have observer status on the board.

The meeting saw the board outline a key set of objectives aimed at ensuring that ‘excellence underpins all education provision in Swindon’.

Swindon Borough Council has set aside £600,000 over the next three years to support the board but it has been keen to stress this is very much a co-ordinated approach, not just council imposed.

Anji Phillips has been appointed as the independent chairman of the board. She was previously a headteacher, an Ofsted inspector and Director of Education and Director of Children’s Services in Richmond where her department was graded as ‘outstanding’.

Speaking ahead of the first meeting, she said: “This prestigious Challenge Board will draw on the collective leadership of the council and its partners to set a blueprint for cultural change in Swindon, in which all stakeholders drive educational improvement to meet the ambitions for all children and young people.”

Swindon Challenge aims to see every Swindon school rated as ‘good’ or better by 2020, while also increasing the proportion of young people accessing Higher Education by 25 per cent.

Leading educational research and practice will be brought into the town to shape and influence leadership in schools. Stronger partnership working with national educational bodies and high performing local authorities will also be high on the agenda.

Another key target will be to ensure that Swindon’s GCSE results and post 16 indicators at least meet national averages for all pupils, including those with special education needs and disabilities.

There will be an emphasis on phonics outcomes for Year 1 pupils to ensure they are at the national average or above and that reading, writing and mathematics standards are at least in line with national averages when children leave primary school at the age of 11.

The launch of Swindon Challenge comes alongside a number of steps that have already been made across Swindon schools. Phonics and writing champions have been appointed to model and share good practice across primary schools and The Teaching School has run a number of courses on the effective teaching of phonics, writing and reading.

Based on predictions received from all of Swindon’s primary schools, the council anticipates that there will be a considerable improvement in the headline Key Stage 2 indicators and in Key Stage 1 phonics.

The National Education Trust is working with all of Swindon’s secondary schools to review the provision and outcomes for disadvantaged pupils and also for SEND pupils in the borough.

Further funding is being provided to some secondary schools to put teachers through the Improving Teaching and Outstanding Teacher programmes. Specific funded projects are being developed with schools judged as requiring improvement or below.

Fionuala Foley, the cabinet member responsible for education, said: “Improving education is at the heart of the council’s vision, priorities and pledges and we have set some challenging targets over the next few years, which is why Swindon Challenge is so important in helping us to achieve those goals.

“Although we have a number of fantastic schools and exceptional teachers, we know there are areas where we need to do better. We have made great strides already with the work we are doing with phonics and writing in our primary schools and we have worked hard to help some of our secondary schools by setting up partnerships with other schools so they can share best practice and drive up standards.

“But we will not see instant results. This is the start of a journey and it will not be easy, but I am confident that with everyone pulling in the right direction, Swindon will rise to the challenge.”