Press release

Schools not doing enough to support most able students

An Ofsted report finds that many of the most able children attending non-selective secondary schools are failing to achieve their potential.

Schools are still not doing enough to ensure the most able children fulfil their potential, an Ofsted survey has found.

The most able students report, published today (4 March 2015), finds that many of the most able children who attend non-selective secondary schools are failing to achieve their potential, compared with students who attend selective and independent schools. The report follows up on an earlier survey carried out in 2013 – and concludes that very few improvements have been made over the intervening 2 years.

In the most successful non-selective schools, the most able students thrive because school leaders provide a challenging curriculum and are tenacious in making sure that teaching is consistently good or better for all students. Successful leaders use the information they receive from primary schools to make sure that students are doing work that stretches them as soon as they join year 7. This continues throughout the students’ time at the school and culminates in their successful applications to the best universities, training providers and employers.

Launching the report today, Sean Harford, Ofsted’s National Director of Schools, said:

Schools exist to help all young people fulfil their potential. They must identify and nurture the talents of their students, so they can go on to achieve the best that they can. To do this, schools must ensure that the education they provide challenges and encourages children at all levels.

This report has focused particularly on those identified as the most able. While inspectors found pockets of excellence, too many of these children are not being challenged sufficiently – and thousands of highly performing primary pupils are not realising their early promise when they move to secondary school.

For our part, Ofsted will make sure that inspections keep focusing sharply on the progress made by the most able students, particularly those from poorer backgrounds. Inspectors will also report more sharply about how well schools promote the needs of the most able through the quality of the curriculum and the information, advice and guidance they offer to their most able students.

It is especially disappointing to find that, almost 2 years on from our first report, the same problems remain. I hope school leaders see this report as a call to action – and raise the bar higher for their most able pupils, so that they can reach their full potential.

Ofsted inspectors visited 40 secondary and 10 primary, non-selective schools to assess the teaching, curriculum and guidance they provide for their most able students. In a further 130 routine inspections, schools were asked how they supported these students. The report also draws upon the evidence from interviews with university admissions tutors and over 600 online responses from secondary school students.

Inspectors found that the needs of many of the most able students – defined as those who achieved the highest national curriculum level at the end of key stage 2 – were not being prioritised by schools. Too many were receiving teaching within a curriculum that did not sufficiently challenge them and around a quarter of those who showed very strong potential in English and maths at age 11 did not go on to achieve a B grade at GCSE.

Inspectors also saw complacency in many of the schools they visited; aspirations of what students could achieve were simply not high enough. Moreover, the report concludes that:

  • the most able students’ achievement suffers even more when they are from poorer backgrounds
  • the most able girls continue to outperform the most able boys significantly, and where there is a reasonable proportion of most able students, they do far better than when they are in a small minority in a school
  • many secondary schools are still not giving demanding work to the most able students in their opening years in secondary schools
  • information, advice and guidance to students about accessing the most appropriate courses at universities, or in preparation for demanding apprenticeship and other training opportunities are not good enough
  • students’ classes in key stage 3 are often affected by low-level disruption
  • school leaders are not properly evaluating how to help prepare the most able for universities

As a matter of urgency, Ofsted recommends that school leaders must:

  • develop a culture of high expectations for students and teachers in secondary school
  • make sure that teachers use information provided by primary schools about the most able students to help manage their transition to secondary school
  • appoint staff and governors with responsibilities specifically to champion the needs of the most able students from poorer backgrounds
  • involve universities in training school staff to provide advice to the most able
  • provide training for all teachers so that their teaching challenges the most able students

Notes to editors

  1. The most able students – an update on progress since June 2013 is on GOV.UK.
  2. 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.

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