Ofsted warns of stalling secondary schools

Published on Wednesday, 10 December 2014 11:36
Written by Paul Hirons

Too many secondary schools in England are not improving, leading to a widening gap in performance with primary schools, according to the annual report published by Ofsted.

The schools inspectorate released its findings today, based on more than 7,000 inspections of schools, colleges and further education providers during 2013-14. The proportion of primary schools rated good or outstanding increased to 82% from 78% while the figure for secondary schools stagnated at 71%.

Over the last two years there has been an increase of 70,000 in the number of pupils in secondary schools rated inadequate, to more than 170,000 in total, and there are 13 local authority areas where children have a less than 50% change of attending a good or outstanding secondary school.

Ofsted cited factors including poor and inconsistent school leadership, ineffective middle management, too much low-level disruption in classrooms, a failure to challenge the most able students and weak governance for the lack of improvement.

Primary schools that were doing well often focused on basics such as quality leadership, good attendance and behaviours, effective governance and narrowing the gap between those of free schools meals and other pupils, Ofsted said.

The head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that while primary schools have continued on an upward trajectory, weaker secondary schools were "not improving at the same rate" and too many were "declining".

He called for a move away from the debate about school structures "and towards a sharper focus on what works in all schools, regardless of their model or status. The essential ingredients for success are no secret and have been well documented from time immemorial: strong leadership, a positive and orderly culture, good teaching and robust assessment systems."

The need for effective oversight was more important than ever in an increasingly autonomous education system where schools have greater freedom than ever, he said. He also expressed concern about the declining numbers joining the teaching profession.

"More teachers will be needed to match the substantial increase in the number of school-aged children expected over the next 10 years," Wilshaw said. "We also face a major challenge getting the best teachers into the right schools.

"Good and outstanding schools with the opportunity to cherry pick the best trainees may further exacerbate the stark differences in local and regional performance. The nation must avoid a polarised education system where good schools get better at the expense of weaker schools."

Nicky Morgan, the Conservative education secretary, said: "One of my tasks is going to be to make sure we see great leadership across the school system. We have many excellent head teachers and now we want to see more of them working with schools that need the next boost to make sure that they are not failing their pupils."

However, the general secretary of the teaching union NASUWT, Chris Keates, said it was a "well-worn assertion" of Ofsted reports that "the education system in England is improving but is falling significantly short of the mark".

She said: "It does beg important questions about the role Ofsted has played in maintaining and enhancing the quality of education offered in England's schools."

Conclusions drawn from inspections carried out over the last year should be treated with some caution because of changes to Ofsted's inspection system, Keates said. "Supporting teachers and school leaders in focusing their time and energies on teaching and learning will make the biggest contribution to retaining our high quality education system," she added.

Meanwhile Brian Lightman, head of the headteachers' union ASCL, said there were was "no complacency in our secondary schools. Instead there is a steely determination to continue to raise standards."

Tristram Hunt, Labour's shadow education secretary, said there were still "too many children receiving a below par education". He added: "Whilst we have plenty of reasons to celebrate success in our school system, we can see stagnation across secondary school performance. The way to address this is equally clear: by raising the quality of teaching in every classroom, in every school."

Hunt claimed the report was a "damning verdict on David Cameron's failure to deliver more high quality teaching, in all our schools. His policy to allow unqualified teachers into the classroom – leading to a 16% increase this year - means we have the lowest entry requirements in to teaching anywhere in the developed world."

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