Ofsted chief voices fears for brightest pupils

Boy sitting A level Sir Michael urged comprehensive schools to learn from the independent and selective sectors

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England's chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has ordered a "landmark report" into how state schools teach the most able students.

Ofsted's head warned some pupils, who got top marks at primary school, were not doing as well at secondary school.

Such students ought to be pushed, as they would be at independent or grammar schools, he told the Sunday Telegraph..

The news comes as league tables reveal hundreds of schools failed to produce pupils suitable for elite universities.

The tables, released on Thursday, showed almost a quarter of England's sixth forms and colleges had no pupils with the top A-level grades sought by leading institutions.


Setting out a "rapid response" to the data, Sir Michael promised the watchdog's survey would investigate fears that some of the brightest secondary school pupils are being let down by teachers who fail to stretch them to get the best exam results.

Many are left to coast in mixed ability classes, or entered too early for GCSE exams in order to gain the minimum C grades required for league tables, he warned.

He also said the report - to be published in the spring - would address the "nonsense" that a tiny number of independent schools were sending more youngsters to Oxford and Cambridge than thousands of state secondary schools.

England's comprehensive schools would have to learn lessons from the independent and selective sectors, he said.

The new report is due to be carried out over the coming months by Ofsted inspectors visiting a sample of more than 50 secondary schools, looking at statistics on gifted and talented provision and pupil progression, according to Sir Michael.

"I am passionate about this, it will be a landmark report.

"I am as concerned as the next person on the issue of social mobility. Are our children and our children from the poorest backgrounds who are naturally bright doing as well as they should?"

Leading universities have been urged in recent years to do more to recruit bright students from a wider set of backgrounds.

But data released this week shows that many schools are not producing students of a high enough calibre to automatically get places at such universities.

League tables - drawn from the latest official government figures on pupils' academic achievement - have shown some 594 (23.4%) of the 2,540 schools teaching A-levels had no pupils with the two As and a B in the subjects recommended for the best degree courses.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    And Mr Gove and the rest! Smoke screens and mirrors is what this is about.Divert attention then change this and that to suite your dogma.It's propaganda of the worst kind.All pupils deserve good schools and teachers.Not all pupils wish to learn! Teachers like pupils need praise to operate well and all they get is criticism. Ofsted and it's Head are guilty of undermining confidence.Must do better!

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Teachers who are outstanding at teaching 3 ability groups, usually mixed gender classes are 3 x the teachers than the independent / single gender grammar teacher who teaches only single sex, high ability class acheiving 100% A*-C. The latter only has to prepare one lesson without the many variables in a mixed ability and gender school. Perhaps more setting in E-Bacc type subjects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    #27 while there is a significant difference between cost of state school and private school it is not as wide as you think.

    £30,000 a year is for full boarding and also covers the cost of maintenance of buildings and similar which may not be within council budget Actual teaching cost is closer to £8-10,000

    The fact that the parents are more motivated having paid for it makes a big difference

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    'Inclusion at all costs' policies have ensured that every pupil is held back to the level of then most disruptive pupils in their class.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    As someone who is only 20, I would class myself as a 'higher ability' student I believe mixed ability classes are detrimental to performance. In one of my classes my teacher said she wanted us all to pass the subject, and was basically spending the most time aiming for a C. I realise we need to take responsibility for our own learning, but that was asking far too much and holding me back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    I feel this happened to me in the 1990s. I came out of primary at the top of my class, coped well with the first couple of years at secondary before leaving with a handful of poor GCSE and A levels. After a few years break from education I went to university and was highly successful there, so I feel it was not ability that let me down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    I had to take my son out of our local state school to do his A levels at Brighton College.
    They were simply unable to support him whilst having to deal with the appalling level of behaviors exhibited by his classmates, the constant firefighting by teachers and the continued need to focus on the less abled or lazy.
    He was ignored and left to his own devices for years until we got him a bursary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Grammar Schools focus on the high achievers. Independent Schools have much smaller class sizes. "Bog Standard Comprehensives" like mine have to deal with the whole range of abilities in large classes. You are not comparing like with like.

    OFSTED hammer us if we drop our A*-C rate when the true measure of a school is the progress. That means you have to value all students' achievement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    In my life time the education system has diluted the substance of the curriculum to enable more students to achieve higher grades. The shame of it is in the really of how the earth spins this has changed, its now more chaotic and more complex requiring more able minds to comprehend it. The only sane conclusion is that the education system has failed several generations of young people. Deplorable

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    "pupils who got top marks at primary school" - Its well known that Primarys often inflate pupils grades to meet their targets! I'm a secondary English teacher and the difference in their supposed KS2 grades and what they can actually achieve is often shocking. It then seems like the kid isnt achieving their potential under us, when actually we're playing catchup to an unrealistic target.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Dig out the "O" level and "A" level papers from 40 years ago and set current exams to those standards. Get rid of Ofsted, league tables etc. Job done!""""""
    I sat my highers (Scotland) about 40 years ago and have seen the papers my children and then grandchildren were set. The standards are staggeringly much higher now than they were in my day!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    27. John A
    I feel for you. I only want the best for my children and am fortunate enough to be able to provide it.
    The difference between the state schools and Public is so vast that most state schools students are hamstrung for the rest of their lives versus Public School kids.
    This is the fault of the State not the Public schools. We should invest more and let Public Schools show how its done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    @13 Porsche-turrett

    Mr Wilshaw WAS at a multi-ethnic, failing inner city school. Within a few years he turned it from a despairing dump into an inspirational gem, with happy, alert kids achieving beyond anyone's expectations and some even getting to Oxbridge. That's why he's in his current job; he couldn't be more qualified.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    There are 975 teaching hours/year in a school. If I teach each class 1 hour a week,I spend 4% of a child's time at school with his/her class.
    Divide that by 30 for each pupil, and I can equally spend 0.13% of that child's time at school with them. Scale this up to the week and teachers spend (if averaged out equally between each child)

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    20 Phil

    'Why don't we spilt up pupils ... call it something like streaming.'

    Or 'setting', which is what nearly every school does. So if you're good at maths and weak at English you can be in the top set for maths and a lower set for English. Check it out at any of your local schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The fact is that not only do the few independent schools take up half of all Oxbridge entries, but that the remaining grammar schools take up the rest. Students would not be hit by the reintroduction of the Tripartite System - those who are clever would excel and even those who are disruptive and slow will do better than the current system of equality by the standard of the worst pupil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    The left wing teaching unions are too powerful to allow bright children to flourish. They only care about short working days and long holidays for their members. Oh, and closing schools whenever there's a snowflake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @ 27

    Typical response from someone who sounds off without reading the article. Wilshaw isn't talking about average spend or typical students. He says the brightest secondary school pupils are being let down by teachers who fail to stretch them to get the best exam results. They should be able to compete with independent and grammar school children and are not doing so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    This has been a problem for years, I recall being viewed as a nuisance for finishing class work & homework half way through the lesson at comp school. I was bored, frustrated and rebellious & ended up getting through 3 schools before leaving with no qualifications. I guess you could say that was a state education fail. I still ended up with a PhD from Cambridge but no thanks to the state system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I don't want to sound like an apologist for teachers but I don't see how one teacher can push the "brightest and the best" to reach their maximum while still catering to the other 25+ students in the classroom.

    From my experience at school it was always the case that the brightest were left to their own intitiative to push themselves while the most needy received the most teacher attention.


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