Press release

Primary schools continue to forge ahead, says Ofsted

Ofsted Annual Report says that primary schools continue to progress but secondary school improvement has stalled.


The gap in performance between primary schools and secondary schools in England is widening, the Chief Inspector of Ofsted said today. Launching his third Annual Report, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that primary school standards are continuing on an impressive upward trajectory – with more than eight in ten schools now rated at least good.

The overall rate of improvement in secondary schools, however, has stalled. A similar number of secondary schools inspected over the last 12 months improved as declined – while over 50 more secondaries are now in special measures than was the case a year ago. During the same period, teaching in the further education sector has improved but too many college courses are still not equipping learners with the skills that employers want and the economy needs.

Today’s Annual Report is underpinned by the findings of more than 7,000 inspections carried out during 2013/14 of schools, colleges and further education and skills providers. Separate reports dedicated to the children’s social care and early years sectors will be published in the coming months.

The report finds that 82% of primary schools are now good or outstanding (up from 78% a year ago) while the overall proportion of good or outstanding secondary schools remains unchanged from last year at 71%.

There are now 700,000 more pupils attending a good or outstanding primary school than in 2012.

A higher proportion of secondary schools than primary schools are outstanding, 113 schools achieving Ofsted’s highest grade in the last year alone.

On the other hand, more than 170,000 pupils are now in secondary schools rated inadequate, an increase of around 70,000 from two years ago.

And there are 13 local authority areas of the country where children have a less than 50% chance of attending a good or outstanding secondary school.

Sir Michael said more primary schools are improving because they attend to the basics, including:

  • improving the quality of leadership
  • effective governance
  • teaching focused on getting the basics right, including phonics
  • good attendance and behaviour
  • enabling the more able pupils to reach their potential
  • narrowing the gap between those on free school meals and other pupils

In secondary schools where improvement has stalled, or standards have declined, inspectors identified the following common characteristics:

  • teaching at Key Stage 3 (11 to 14) failing to build on prior learning
  • poor and inconsistent leadership
  • ineffective middle management
  • too much low-level disruption
  • the most able not being challenged
  • a failure to narrow the gap for disadvantaged pupils
  • weak governance and oversight.

The proportion of further education and skills providers that are good or outstanding has increased to 81% from 72% in 2013.

However, today’s report says that in order to improve the quality and status of vocational training in England, a number of issues need to be addressed, including:

  • poor careers guidance
  • young people not having the right skills and attitudes
  • weak teaching in the FE and skills sector in English and mathematics
  • a lack of employer involvement

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, said:

This time last year, I was able to point to unmistakable signs that England’s school system was improving. This year, I am reporting that primary schools are continuing on an upward trajectory.

Many secondary schools are also doing a superb job, where leadership is excellent, teaching is inspirational and the ethos fosters a learning culture. However, weaker secondary schools are not improving at the same rate as their primary school counterparts and too many are declining.

I believe the time has now come to move away from the debate that has raged for the past five years about school structures and towards a sharper focus on what works in all schools, regardless of their model or status. The essential ingredients for success are no secret and have been well documented from time immemorial strong leadership, a positive and orderly culture, good teaching and robust assessment systems.

Sir Michael said that in an increasingly autonomous education system where schools have greater freedom to innovate and raise standards, the importance of effective oversight was greater than ever. He voiced concern that a number of local authorities and a number of rapidly expanding multi-academy trusts were failing to provide the necessary challenge, support and intervention to their constituent schools.

He also questioned whether the necessary challenge, support and intervention had been put in place quickly enough in the small proportion of cases where converter academies that are not part of any multi-academy trust declined in performance from their previous inspection. Sir Michael said he was encouraged by the rising quality of new teaching recruits and the high standards of initial teacher training in England but was becoming increasingly concerned about the declining numbers joining the profession and their uneven distribution across the country.

He said:

This is a pressing issue. More teachers will be needed to match the substantial increase in the number of school-aged children expected over the next 10 years. We also face a major challenge getting the best teachers into the right schools.

Good and outstanding schools with the opportunity to cherry pick the best trainees may further exacerbate the stark differences in local and regional performance. The nation must avoid a polarised education system where good schools get better at the expense of weaker schools.

Notes to editors

  1. The Ofsted Annual Report 2013/14 is available online.
  2. Follow the Annual Report on Twitter @ofstednews #OfstedAR14.
  3. 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. Separate reports on the Early Years and Children’s Social Care sectors will be published in 2015.
  4. 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 and 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.
  5. Media can contact the Ofsted Press Office through 0300 013 0415 or via Ofsted’s enquiry line 0300 123 1231 between 8.30am to 6pm Monday to Friday. Out of these hours, during evenings and weekends, the duty press officer can be reached on 07919 057 359.
Published 10 December 2014