Wilshaw hails “remarkable” schools progress in final report

1 Dec 16

England’s education system has made some “remarkable” progress over the past few years, but remains plagued by a growing north-south divide and a skills gaps that threatens economic competitiveness, outgoing Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said.

Issuing his fifth and final annual report, Wilshaw said the education system could not yet be called “world class”, but some parts were closer to achieving that status than they ever had been.

The report highlights continuing excellence in the early years sector, with 91% of nurseries, pre-schools and childminders rated as good or outstanding. The proportion of good and outstanding primary schools has rise from 69% five years ago to 90% today and the reading ability of the poorest seven-year-olds is now closer to that of their peers.

There has also been improvement in the secondary sector, with 78% of schools now judged to be good or outstanding, however, those in the North and Midlands continue to lag behind the rest of the country.

In the further education and skills sector, the picture was less encouraging with a decline in the number of good and outstanding FE colleges (down to 71% from 77% last year) and concerns that the number of high quality apprenticeships does not meet demand.

Wilshaw said: “The gains for children under the age of 11, in particular, are remarkable. For this younger age group, we are now closer than we have ever been to an education system where your family background or where you live does not necessarily determine the quality of teaching you receive or the outcomes you achieve.

“Our schools have also become great forces for social cohesion. We forget what an incredible achievement this is. Whatever cultural tensions exist outside of school, race and religion are not barriers within them. In the main, schools aim for all children to be taught equally and for all children to benefit equally.”

But he highlighted the regional disparities in school performance, which has been a theme of his tenure as inspector. The brightest pupils and those with special educational needs were particularly ill served by the relatively poor performance of schools in the North and Midlands.

“There is also considerable evidence that it is schools in isolated and deprived areas where educational standards are low that are losing out in the recruitment stakes for both leaders and teachers,” Wilshaw said.

“My advice to government is, therefore, to worry less about structures and more about capacity. No structure will be effective if the leadership is poor or there are not enough good people in the classroom.”

On further education, he said a growing skills gap posed a threat to the UK’s economic competitiveness, particularly in the wake of Brexit.

“As a nation, we can either intervene to inject the system with the vision, skills and energy it needs, or we can be content with the status quo and the consequences of our failure to improve the quality and status of technical education over many years.”

Ofsted’s annual report came as education secretary Justine Greening announced some funding to address underperformance it schools.

It includes a £50m fund for local authorities, available from September 2017, to monitor and commission improvement for low-performing schools and a £140m strategic school improvement fund to ensure resources are targeted where they are most needed.

The Education Endowment Fund has also committed an extra £20m to scale up and disseminate evidence-based programmes and approaches.

Greening said: “I want this investment to not only transform outcomes for children by improving schools, but also to make sure our school-led system learns from that work.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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