Overall, pupils in the south east do well. The proportions of pupils who reach the expected benchmark for assessments, tests and exams at the ages of seven, 11 and 16 exceed the national figures. However, the attainment gap between pupils who are eligible for free school meals and their wealthier peers is the most acute in England.
Some south east schools have bucked the trend, and in areas like Windsor and Maidenhead the achievement of poorer pupils has improved considerably. But in 2012 five areas – Wokingham, Mole Valley, Wealden, Brighton Pavilion and New Forest West – did not have a single secondary school where the gap between the attainment of 16 year olds entitled to free school meals and their more affluent peers was above the national average.
Tackling this gap is a big priority for Ofsted and is the reason for today’s conference which was attended by senior local authority officials, school leaders, college leaders, early years improvement officers, representatives of academy chains and trusts, and Ofsted inspectors. Delegates highlighted what they were doing to improve outcomes for poorer pupils, so that this best practice can be spread throughout the south east.
Tackling the attainment gap was explored at length in Unseen Children, a look at areas with high levels of deprivation, last summer. Today HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw addressed the conference and told delegates that he is committed to revisiting the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their wealthier peers in another landmark report in 2018.
Sir Michael said:
When I write this report, I would like to write about the impact schools in the South East have had in improving outcomes for disadvantaged young people. I want to write about the huge increase in poor pupils from the South East attending our prestigious universities. I want to write that the attainment of poor White pupils in the South East is better than the national average.
That’s the dream. But today your challenge is to commit to a plan to make that ambition a reality.
Sir Michael told the conference that when Matthew Coffey, the Ofsted Regional Director for the south east, talks to teachers and senior officers, closing the achievement gap is high on everyone’s agenda.
The conference concluded with inspectors leading meetings with school leaders and local authority officials to plan their strategy for the next 12 months. Ofsted inspectors will keep working with them to narrow the attainment gap and realise better outcomes for poorer pupils in the months ahead.
- The Twitter hashtag for this conference is #OfstedSE.
- The Ofsted Annual Report 2012/13 for the South East of England is online.
- [‘Unseen children: Access and achievement 20 Years On’ is online[(https://whitehall-admin.production.alphagov.co.uk/government/admin/publications/474322).
- Pupils who currently receive free school meals have parents who receive income support: free school meal eligibility.