Rural schools failing poorest pupils, says Ofsted

20 Jun 13
Schools in many rural, semi-rural and coastal English local authorities are failing their poorest children, Ofsted said today.

The watchdog has issued a league table of all English councils, showing which are providing poor children with a good education and which are letting disadvantaged pupils down.

According to the rankings, Peterborough, West Berkshire and Barnsley councils were the three worst performers. In Peterborough, for example, only 18.6% of pupils eligible for free school meals achieve five GCSEs at A*–C, including English and maths. In West Berkshire, poorer children had the worst attainment in the whole country at primary school and the second worst attainment at secondary school.

The top of the table was dominated by the London boroughs. Of the top 20 performing councils all but one – Birmingham – were in the capital.

Ofsted said this showed there had been a major shift in the distribution of underachievement in England. Whereas two or three decades ago, educational problems were largely confined to the inner cities, particularly London, they had migrated out to the poorer rural and coastal areas.

The watchdog added that a ‘significant number’ of poorer children were being failed by schools in relatively affluent areas such as Norwich, Kettering, Wokingham and Newbury.

Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw said: ‘Today, many of the disadvantaged children performing least well in school can be found in leafy suburbs, market towns or seaside resorts. Often they are spread thinly, as an “invisible minority” across areas that are relatively affluent. We need new policies and approaches to deal with underachievement in these areas.

‘Poor, unseen children can be found in mediocre schools the length and breath of our country. They are labelled, buried in lower sets, consigned as often as not to indifferent teaching. They coast through education until – at the earliest opportunity – they sever their ties with it.’

Wilshaw called for urgent action to tackle these geographical inequalities. He set out eight recommendations aimed at closing the attainment gap for the poorest children. These included re-inspections of outstanding schools that are judged not to be doing well by their poorest children; the creation of ‘National Service Teachers’ who would be directed to work in underperforming schools in less fashionable areas; and a requirement for post-16 providers to report on the rate of progress and outcomes for student who had previously been on free school meals.

Responding to the Ofsted data, head teachers called for all schools to be funded as well as those in inner cities.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘While there is no excuse for complacency, you have to take into account how many rural and coastal schools are funded compared to inner city schools. In the last decade, the intense focus has been on raising achievement in inner city schools, both in support and funding through the London and City Challenges.

‘The Pupil Premium has helped to address the funding gap to a certain extent but overall there is still a huge inequity in funding.’

Lightman added that very low wages in rural and coastal areas meant many families were in employment but living below the poverty line. Their children were not eligible for free school meals, and therefore attracted no additional pupil premium funding to their schools.


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