Press release

Grounds for optimism but serious challenges remain

Major barriers continue to prevent England’s education system from competing with the best in the world

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Launching his second Annual Report, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that, overall, schools and colleges across the country were performing better than they were a year ago.

Children now have a better chance than ever of attending a good or outstanding school, while the further education and skills sector has “raised its game” since major concerns were highlighted in the 2011/12 report.

Sir Michael said that the challenge for the nation was to build on these improvements and accelerate progress so that England’s education system could match the best in the developed world.

Today’s Annual Report finds that a number of factors are impeding educational progress, including:

  • too much mediocre teaching and weak leadership
  • regional variation in the quality of education
  • the significant underachievement of children from low‑income families, particularly white children

Sir Michael also voiced concern that minor disruption and inattention in the classroom had been tolerated for too long in too many of England’s schools. As part of a concerted focus on culture and behaviour by Ofsted in the year ahead, Sir Michael today announced that from January, inspectors will make ‘no-notice’ visits to schools where they have identified poor behaviour as a particular concern.

One of Sir Michael’s first public statements on becoming Chief Inspector two years ago was that the country had “tolerated mediocrity for far too long” and that it had ‘settled into the system’.

He said today:

Looking at the evidence across all sectors, there are unmistakeable signs that England’s education system is gradually improving.

Tenacious and committed teachers and leaders are at the forefront of this. At the same time, our new frameworks have raised expectations and established that only “good” is good enough.

If our destination is the high peaks of a world class education system and the economic benefits that follow, we are now in the foothills.

Sir Michael added:

Serious challenges remain and all the while, many of our international competitors are improving at a faster rate than we are.

It is not an exaggeration to report that the story of our schools and colleges today is a tale of two nations. Children from similar backgrounds with similar abilities, but who happen to be born in different regions and attend different schools and colleges, can end up with widely different prospects because of the variable quality of their education.

He said:

A good lesson is one where children are attentive, challenged, acquire knowledge and make progress. Our judgements about the quality of teaching are predicated not on the style of teaching, but on the amount of useful learning that takes place in the lesson.

But classrooms must be orderly places. Around 700,000 pupils attend schools where behaviour needs to improve. Unless this changes, teachers will struggle to create an environment in which all children learn well.

Sir Michael also said there needed to be a fair distribution of good teachers and leaders throughout the country in order to raise standards. He said the new National College for Teaching and Leadership must ensure that teachers and leaders were provided with the necessary incentives to move to the parts of the country with the greatest need for high quality staff.

And he called on the government to consider a return to more formal external testing of children at the end of Key Stage 1 to make sure every child at this formative age is making the necessary progress.

Today’s Annual Report is underpinned by the findings of more than 8,500 inspections carried out during 2012/13 of schools, adult learning, skills and colleges. A separate report dedicated to children’s social care services was published in the autumn. An annual report devoted to early years education will be published by Ofsted in early 2014.

For the first time, Ofsted is also publishing separate reports on standards in each of England’s regions. The interactive tool, Dataview, also highlights for the first time sometimes stark differences in the performance of schools and colleges in local authority areas that share the same profile.

The key findings for schools are:

  • nearly 8 in 10 schools in England are now good or better – the highest proportion since Ofsted was founded 20 years ago
  • around 485,000 more primary school pupils and 188,000 more secondary school pupils attend a good or better school compared with a year ago
  • nearly a quarter of a million pupils are still languishing in inadequate schools
  • there are only three local authorities where fewer than 60 per cent of primary school pupils attend a good or better school compared with 23 local authorities in 2011/12
  • major concerns remain over secondary school provision in some parts of the country – in 13 local authorities less than half of secondary pupils attend a good or outstanding school
  • inspectors judged teaching overall to be good or outstanding in 65 per cent of schools, up three percentage points from last year
  • there were more English and mathematics lessons judged less than good than in many other parts of the curriculum
  • much of the weakest teaching in schools was concentrated in the lower attaining sets and in the younger age groups, in both primary and secondary schools
  • the significant growth in the number of academies over the last few years has helped to raise standards in many of England’s weakest schools
  • too few of the new converter academies are using their status to raise standards further
  • poor white children, by far the largest proportion of children eligible for free school meals, are being left behind. Since 2007, the attainment of this group has improved more slowly than all other ethnic groups

The key findings for further education and skills are:

  • 71% of all providers were judged good or outstanding – an increase of 7% on last year
  • for the first time in three years, two general FE colleges were judged outstanding for teaching and learning
  • the number of inadequate providers increased from 34 to 41 - including some large colleges that were previously judged good or outstanding
  • a lack of strategic oversight is hampering the ability of colleges and independent learning providers to provide training that matches the skills local employers need – only a third of Local Enterprise Partnerships have an FE and skills representatives on its board
  • this ‘mismatch’ is a direct result of “perverse incentives” that encourage colleges to provide courses that appeal to learners rather than ones that meet local employment needs
  • for young people under 19, there were seven applicants for every apprenticeship vacancy in 2012/13. People over the age of 25 were much more likely to be given an apprenticeship place

Notes to editors

  1. The Annual Report 2012/13 is on GOV.UK.

  2. You can also access Data View.

  3. Follow the Annual Report on Twitter @ofstednews #OfstedAR13

  4. Today’s Annual Report includes a Commentary by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and separate reports for Schools and Further Education and Skills as well as eight regional reports. The sector report on social care was published in October 2013. A separate report on the Early Years sector will be published in early 2014

  5. The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.

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Published 11 December 2013