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 392.

    My daughter and her friends learner early that the only way to get recognition and reward was to be naughty for 4 days then be nice for 2 hours. That was the only way to get praise and a head teachers award. Bright kids get bullied and repressed and teachers supported this. Having both benefited hugely from a grammer school education, we ended up, sadly, paying for her education twice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    Reading Rebecca Riots' posts - I get the distinct feeling that people aren't reading between the lines. It looks to me that the teachers/school were using her learning style and abilities to help them teach the 'unruly' - and why should that be so? Why should those 'less abled' effect the learning and achievements that are more able to do so? I highly doubt Rebecca got paid for her TA duties!

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    10. andylass

    Have encountered this lately with my son who is developing as a talented Mathematician. In the interests of egalitarianism in school he is taught at the pace of the less able and consequently became bored. We are paying for his tuition privately now,....
    You won't like this, but if your son is talented in Maths, books will be enough for him. No need for tutors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    There are many very good teachers, but also part of the problem are those teachers who dont have passion or understanding and arent very good.

    These "professonals" often can excel at "playing the game" of the tickbox culture of what is "required" and can "deliver" lessons and stay on message

    Its time the system distinguished between Those who can teach and Admin bunny bureaucrats

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    My daughters education is suffering and she is at one of the best state schools in our area.
    The problem is mixed abilities and the head's inability to expel disruptive pupils.One "Boy" disrupts every class he is in and still he is allowed to stay at school when he should be kicked out for the good of the others who wants to learn.
    I pity the teachers who have to suffer idiots like him every day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    Q: What do you say to someone with a Phd. in Astrophysics?

    A: Can I have fries with that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    I see the calls for grammar schools are being made again. Where is the campaign to bring back secondary moderns schools?

    Classifying 90% of the population as failures (and that's what the system did, however supporters of grammar schools dress it up) is disgraceful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    My whole year group did our GCSE Maths exam in March instead of June so anyone that didn't get a C could retake. In my class no one had to retake, but that was because we had a really good teacher and he taught us faster so we finished early. Some hadn't finished learning before we had to take the exam,
    Science we had to do an extra six topics in the same time as the double science did theirs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    My apologies to the lefties who believe that all children are equal and all kids can become rocket scientists as they can't. Holland still has a graded secondary school system and kids get the best education by going to a Grammar school or a school that teaches more practical subjects.
    Kids from 12 onwards are taught what they can understand as it's no good trying to teach above a child's head.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    Look at what the Germans do and keep Gove as far away as possible from the decision making process.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    Upsetting the apple cart is what needs to be done?

    And in both directions. Left and right wing. They are both badly wrong.

    Attitudes are the basis of the problem and the misplaced political pet views of adults being foisted onto pupils as a pretence for education

    Know your place child & do as we tell you? You must be joking,

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    I really do not like the attitude that the less able should do vocational study and become plumbers, electricians, builders, car mechanics etc.
    Those who excel in such areas are very able indeed and the problem solving skills that are needed can be high level. There are many different intelligences, many things to be good at. As Salinger pointed out we should Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    We can only push the best if we have the full support of the school system. This year we have been asked to have mixed ability triple science classes compared to the setted system before. The result, not one of my high targeted pupils is above target at this point in the year, last year 60-70% were. Mixed ability teaching does not work if you want to fully push the brightest children in your class

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    I grew up in Finland and was lucky enough to experience one of the greatest education systems in the world. I think Britain is getting it all wrong. We all go through exactly the same system regardless of our backgroung and we only had one, mixed ability group. Competition was not encouraged but supporting each other. We didn't have teaching assistants either but instead we had competent teachers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    Here's an idea Grammar Schools!
    The politics of stupidity and envy has a lot to answer for.
    In this age of specialization ought we not be more honest and face the fact that people are not all the same and reintroduce them. Grammar schools served this country very well for generations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    @ 337. Bob Roberts
    "make a prediction of GCSE grades based on results of a test taken in year 6"
    We have that, it's called Contextual Value Added (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contextual_value_added) just it's the A*-C that everyone shouts about.
    @All. Some of the vitriol on here about teachers is appalling. No wonder teacher morale is at rock bottom and people are leaving in droves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    355.Rebecca Riot
    I suspect that some saw your comment as mockery rather than an honest report & marked down accordingly. Your later statement that it's all about class (it isn't) didn't help. I had pretty similar experiences & accepted some time ago that I am some form of changeling that doesn't fit. That's not about class either.

    To be a good plumber you need to be good at maths.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    My partner is a Year 3 teacher, she works till late in the week and most of the weekend planning to cater for each of her pupils, why? Well even in Year 3 some pupils are still on p-scales (reception level) ranging up to target level. We are talking about 7-8 year olds here. She tries her best to raise their levels but what a divide! The government and some parents have a lot to answer for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    Forty-odd years ago, I was in the top three brightest at primary /middle school. At my final establishment the quality of teaching was such that my only memories of it are 1/ English Teacher drunk 2/ PE teacher going for a fag behind the bike sheds, on final day, a word of encouragement from the head of the 6th form "Ah , good luck, you'll need it, I don't think you'll make much of life" Good eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    The comprehensive system is about mediocrity. It fails the very able and the least able. The system breeds a culture where success and failure are equal bedfellows - neither being seen as desirable. This sustains a culture where no-one fails and everyone is a winner and future employers are left with candidates who can't compete with the best. The brightest go abroad and UK plc loses out.


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