ALTHOUGH many Dorset schools have been showing improvement in Ofsted inspections – the county still lags behind some similar counties and the national average.

More Dorset schools are now graded ‘good’, or better than good, by Ofsted. The previous figure of 78 per cent at that level has now improved to 84 per cent, although the national figure stands at 88 per cent.

“There is really good progress with the number of our schools moving up,” said executive director for children’s services, Theresa Leavy, at a meeting this week.

She said the council remained disappointed that levels of attainment hoped for were not being reached by children who had special education or physical needs support packages and those on free school meals because of low family income.

“Children on free school meals in our county are doing less well than children on free school meals in other counties like us – and that concern around social mobility is shared within our school leaders group,” she said.

Other areas of concern, she said, include some pupils at Key Stage 2 and at Key Stage 4 where few reached the highest levels of achievement.

She said there were also concerns, highlighted in a survey, about pupils not feeling safe in some school toilets and the quality, or otherwise, of some of them.

Ms Leavy said the pressure on both teaching staff and support staff within Dorset school was probably greater than it had ever been with around a hundred-plus vacancies currently unfilled.

“It remains a challenge to recruit in this area and to retain staff, we really need to be thinking about how we can offer support in that,” said the executive director.

She said another area needing tackling was the number of pupils being excluded, either permanently or for a limited period, with part of the solution to invest in specialist youth practitioners to encourage better attendance levels.