For the first time, teams of Ofsted inspectors will on Monday (10 June) begin inspecting local authority arrangements for supporting school improvement in two parts of the country – Norfolk and the Isle of Wight – to find out why these authorities have such a disproportionate number of under-performing schools.
HM Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said that Ofsted was determined to find out what lies behind this under-performance and to challenge and work with local authorities to raise standards and close the gap between the worst and best performing authorities in England.
The five-day inspections are taking place under a new framework, which came into force last month. These new inspections will determine whether councils are providing the right level of support and challenge to schools in their jurisdiction as well as promoting high standards and fair access to educational opportunity for all their children.
Sir Michael said:
Inspectors will be going into Norfolk and the Isle of Wight because too many schools in these two areas are failing to provide a standard of education that children deserve.
Ofsted’s targeted inspection of schools in Norfolk earlier this year and recent school inspections in the Isle of Wight have raised serious concerns about the effectiveness of the local authorities’ support and challenge. In both cases, many school leaders have expressed the view that their local authority is not doing enough to challenge their institutions to improve.
Earlier this year, Ofsted carried out a series of inspections of schools in Norfolk along with an examination of the authority’s support for other local schools. The outcome of these inspections confirmed the rate of progress for schools continues to be poor and behind that seen in the rest of the country. The council had not understood nor established a strategic approach to school improvement and the support provided for some schools had failed to halt their decline into special measures. Feedback also revealed a wide divergence of opinion amongst schools about the quality and impact of support and challenge provided.
In Norfolk, the proportion of good or better primary schools in the area is in the bottom 10 per cent of all local authorities and the bottom 15 per cent for good or better secondary schools. It is also in the bottom five of all local authorities in terms of the proportion of schools judged to ‘require improvement’ or to be ‘inadequate’.
School inspections in the Isle of Wight have raised serious concerns about the effectiveness of the local authority’s support and challenge. Nearly 4,000 (or more than one in three) children on the island go to a school that is not yet good, while recent inspections have shown that two thirds of all the secondary schools are now judged inadequate.
Sir Michael added:
The education landscape has changed but I firmly believe local authorities still have a duty to ensure that schools provide the best education for every child in their area.
The best local authorities understand the changing context, but are determined to play a part within it. However, there are inconsistencies across the country and not all authorities are taking up their role to act as a champion for educational excellence.
I am determined that Ofsted uses its unique position to close the inequality gap in education so that all children have access to a good school no matter where they live.
Ofsted’s Annual Report at the end of November found marked and unacceptable variations in school performance between local authority areas with similar demographics and levels of deprivation.
To start the process of closing the gap in school performance across the country, Ofsted has carried out a series of focused school inspections in selected authorities over recent months. During these exercises, inspectors have also asked a proportion of other schools about the support they receive from their authorities to improve and how good schools are used to support weaker ones.
Inspections under the new local authority school improvement framework will not be universal and Ofsted will inspect only where there are concerns about performance or where requested to do so by the Secretary of State. Local authorities will receive up to five days’ notice of an inspection.
Ofsted will not use a four-point grading scale for judging the effectiveness of local authority school improvement services. Strengths and weaknesses will be evaluated to arrive at a summary judgement.