Ofsted’s 2013/14 Annual Report (“the Report”) was presented to Parliament on 10 December 2014. The Report highlights the “continued improvement” of primary education but progress has stalled in secondary schools. Ofsted consider that the potential of the most able students is not always being fully realised.

The Report highlights that whilst 82% of primary schools are now rated as at least “good”, the equivalent figure for secondary schools is only 71%. In addition, approximately 170,000 secondary schools pupils are attending schools that are rated as “inadequate”. Furthermore, in some areas, children have only a 50% chance of attending a secondary school that is rated at least “good”. 

A summary of the specific areas of concern highlighted by the Report is set out below.

Failing to build on prior learning

The Report highlights that the progress being made in primary education is not being transferred or continued in secondary education, with curriculum that “lacks challenge”.  By the end of secondary education, 66% of pupils who were identified as having achieved highly in English and Maths in primary education failed to achieve at least an A in those subjects at GCSE, with 25% of those pupils not achieving a B grade. This is as a result of a “worrying lack of scholarship” amongst pupils in secondary education. 

A report has been commissioned by the Chief Inspector to investigate this and the outcome is expected later this year.

Poor and inconsistent leadership

According to the Report, in approximately 25% of secondary schools the leadership is not good enough and requires improvement, as the number of schools being rated “inadequate”  in their leadership has doubled in the last two years. This has resulted in a lack of consistent teaching across subject areas, and often even within subject areas.

The Report observes that some headteachers “do not know their school well enough” and have “overly optimistic” views, resulting in monitoring systems that do not identify and address issues swiftly enough.  This, the Report comments, has led to the quality of leadership being twice as likely as the quality of teaching to be the root cause of a school’s problems.

Also as staff involved in middle management are largely unsupported by senior staff, this has reduced their ability to effectively assist in the leadership of schools. 

Low-level disruption

The Report highlights that approximately 400,000 pupils now attend a secondary school where behaviour is rated as “poor”.  The level of gossip, mobile-phone use, and failure of pupils to bring the necessary equipment to class resulted in a “hubbub of interference that makes teaching and learning difficult and sometimes impossible.” This can lead to at least one hour of lost teaching per day, which equates to 38 days of lost teacher time per academic year.  This has a resultant effect on standards.

Attainment gap for disadvantaged students

The Report identifies that the attainment gap between those who are and are not from poor socio-economic backgrounds now stands at 27%, which has decreased only 1% from the previous year. Following on from this finding and the 2013 OFSTED report, the inspection regime has been changed so that a school is very unlikely to receive an “outstanding” rating if it fails to enhance the achievement of disadvantaged pupils.

In addition, the Report identifies that disadvantaged pupils of a White British ethnicity are both the lowest performing ethic group and are demonstrating the slowest rate of improvement. 

OFSTED comment on the academy system

The Report observes that 60% of secondary schools in England are now academies, the majority of which have maintained or improved their provision. A quarter of those secondary academies have joined multi-academy trusts, the best of which have seen “substantial gains in attainment”. 

However, the Report identified that for academies that converted in 2010/11, the improvement in GCSE attainment has lagged slightly behind that of maintained-schools. Also, 89 academies that joined multi-academy trusts have declined since their previous inspection (however only 21 declined to the extent that they “require improvement” or are “inadequate”).  There is concern that some academy trusts expanded too rapidly to be able to adequately support all constituent schools.

The Report also raises concerns regarding the confusion in some areas as to a local authority’s role in relation to academies, and a failure of local authorities to take action when for example safeguarding issues, emerge.

Conclusion

The content of the Report is a stark contrast to the 2012/13 Annual Report which concluded that improvement in schools was happening at a faster rate than ever.   However, the Conservative Party propose (should they remain in Government after the General Election on 7 May 2015), to rapidly expand the academy programme, such that schools that are rated as “requires improvement” will be required to convert to an academy.

This demonstrates that the current Government is still of the view that the academy programme is the best way to improve standards in maintained schools.