Press release

Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16: England’s education system still short of world class

A world class education system is within our grasp – but only if serious capacity challenges are urgently addressed, says Ofsted's outgoing Chief Inspector.

Girl and boy pupils at desk

Sir Michael Wilshaw today hailed the “remarkable gains” made by children under 11 over the past 5 years, but warned of a growing north/south divide at secondary level and a serious knowledge and skills gaps that threatens the country’s competiveness.

Launching his fifth and final Annual Report, Sir Michael said that while England’s education system still fell short of being world class, some parts were closer to achieving that status than they have ever been.

Today’s report finds:

  • For the sixth year in a row, the proportion of good and outstanding nurseries, pre-schools and childminders has risen and now stands at 91%. The proportion of good and outstanding nurseries is now almost the same in the most deprived areas of the country as in the least deprived
  • The proportion of good and outstanding primary schools has risen from 69% to 90% in 5 years. The reading ability of pupils eligible for free school meals at age 7 in 2015 was 6 percentage points closer to the level of their peers than 5 years ago
  • Secondary schools have improved and 78% are now good or outstanding. However, secondary schools in the North and Midlands are still behind the rest of the country. The proportion of pupils who achieved highly by the end of primary school who then went on to achieve A/A* in their GCSEs in the North and Midlands was 6 percentage points lower than in the rest of the country
  • Pressures on the supply of secondary teachers have not abated. Fifteen of the 18 curriculum subjects had unfilled training places this year
  • The proportion of good or outstanding general further education colleges has declined from 77% in 2015, to 71% this year
  • There are some signs of improvement in the quality of apprenticeships. However, the supply of high quality apprenticeships at level 3 is not yet meeting demand

Commenting on the overall state of England’s education system, Sir Michael Wilshaw said:

We have seen some significant improvements even over the 5 years that I have been Chief Inspector. There are 1.8 million more pupils attending good or outstanding maintained schools and academies today than in August 2010.

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.

However, Sir Michael, who steps down as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector at the end of this month, made clear that there were still aspects of the education system that weren’t yet working effectively.

He said:

Last year, I highlighted the disproportionate number of secondary schools that are less than good in the North and Midlands, compared with the South and East of England. This year, the gap has widened slightly. More than a quarter of secondaries in the North and Midlands are still not good enough. The geographic divides within the country are particularly acute for the most able pupils and those who have special educational needs.

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. 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.

Sir Michael said the government also needed to address the disparity in the quality of academic and technical pathways.

One of the great achievements of the past decade has been the rise in the proportion of students going on to higher education. However, far more needs to be done to ensure that all young people are equipped with the skills they will need to compete in the local workforce, let alone the global one.

Many FE colleges are facing a period of continuing turmoil while the quality of apprenticeship programmes remains patchy.

The country is facing serious knowledge and skills gaps that threaten the competitiveness of our economy. The decision to leave the European Union has thrown this issue into even sharper relief. 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.

Other key findings from today’s report include:

  • In some parts of the country, fewer than 40% of pupils in receipt of special educational needs support are progressing well
  • 65% of prisons and young offender institutions have learning and skills and work activities that are not good enough
  • Of the independent schools that Ofsted inspects, 12% of those serving primary aged pupils and 15% of those serving secondary aged pupils are inadequate. The proportion of good and outstanding schools has declined in both phases 2 years in a row
  • The scale of unsafe practice being uncovered in providers suspected of operating illegally is a serious concern. However, local authorities have become more alert to the need to identify potentially illegal or unsafe practice.

Notes to editors

  1. Today’s Annual Report is informed by the findings of almost 25,000 inspections of schools, colleges and providers of early years and further education and skills carried out during 2015/16.
  2. Follow the Annual Report on Twitter @ofstednews or #OfstedAR16

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Published 1 December 2016