Ofsted warns of 'two nations' gap in school standards

Sir Michael Sir Michael, the chief inspector of schools Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw wants all regions to match London school standards

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The "battle against mediocrity" must be fought to improve school standards across all parts of England, says the head of education watchdog Ofsted.

Launching Ofsted's annual report, chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the regional gap was like "two nations".

Sir Michael called for more testing, proposing formal tests in English and maths at age seven.

The report showed that eight in 10 schools were now good or better, the highest in Ofsted's history.

But there were still nearly 250,000 pupils being taught in inadequate schools and 1.5 million in schools that require improvement.

Sir Michael raised concerns about the differences in pupil attainment across the country, with London an example of rapid improvement and warnings that areas such as Doncaster, the Isle of Wight, Norfolk and Suffolk were falling behind.

There are now nine authorities where all secondary schools are either outstanding or good - with seven of these in the London area.


  • Bath and North East Somerset 100%
  • Camden 100%
  • Hammersmith and Fulham 100%
  • Hounslow 100%
  • Islington 100%
  • Kensington and Chelsea 100%
  • Rutland 100%
  • Tower Hamlets 100%
  • Westminster 100%
  • Hackney 99%

Source: Ofsted

Ofsted figures also show that other areas in inner London have a very high proportion of pupils in outstanding or good secondary schools - 99% in Hackney and 98% in Haringey.

'Born in the wrong area'

Sir Michael said there needed to be a fairer distribution of good teachers and school leaders across the country, with incentives to encourage the best teachers to move to the areas of greatest need.

To have a world-class education system, he said "we've got to iron out these regional differences".

He warned that children who are "born in the wrong area" should not have lower expectations in what they can achieve.

He also drew attention to the plight of white working class boys, saying this group was being left behind.

The Ofsted chief also raised concerns about poor behaviour, such as pupils answering back to teachers or "background chatter".

Sir Michael compared this low-level disruption to the classroom discipline of the east Asian school systems, such as Shanghai and Singapore, which dominated last week's international Pisa tests.

In response, Sir Michael said there would be unannounced school inspections to check on classroom behaviour.

He also called for a return to external testing for tests taken at the age of seven.

Ofsted inspectors reported there were "worrying inconsistencies" in teachers' assessments and that an external check would create a more reliable measure of how well young pupils were progressing.

London challenge

One of the areas Ofsted praises for raising attainment is Tower Hamlets in east London.


  • Bradford/ St Helens/ Blackpool/ Salford 47%
  • Tameside 46%
  • Doncaster 43%
  • Middlesbrough 42%
  • North East Lincolnshire 41%
  • East Riding of Yorkshire 38%
  • Hartlepool 35%
  • Stoke-on-Trent 34%
  • Barnsley 22%
  • Isle of Wight 14%

Source: Ofsted

Di Warne, head of secondary learning and achievement there, said the key to success was working in partnership with other schools and high expectations and support from local politicians.

"One of the biggest things has been our focus on monitoring and tracking the progress of young people and we do that really rigorously," she said.

"I suppose what I would say to them [regions that are struggling] is to raise your aspirations and make your aspirations for your young people really clear and that poverty is no barrier to success and I think that is what London has proved more than anything."

Malcolm Trobe, deputy leader of the ASCL head teachers' union, said the report showed: "Children in England now have the best chance they have ever had of going to a good school."

But Mr Trobe warned that there were challenges to schools improving further, including difficulties in recruiting staff in key subjects such as maths. He called on the government to address the supply of teachers as a "matter of urgency".

Christine Blower, leader of the National Union of Teachers, said that Sir Michael was "quite right to praise the progress of London schools".

She said the success was the result of schools working together and sharing best practice and that it was "political stubbornness" that prevented this model from being replicated across the country.

Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt said the "postcode lottery" of regional differences needed to be tackled - and he accused the government of weakening rather than improving standards.

"By allowing unqualified teachers into our classrooms and having no strategy for school collaboration," he said the government was "damaging school standards and hurting children's life chances".

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education welcomed the proposal for unannounced inspections on behaviour.

"Ofsted is right to place a high premium on good behaviour. Bad classroom behaviour is hugely disruptive to children's education. It means teachers can't teach and pupils can't learn.

"A robust behaviour policy, properly enforced, is the bedrock of all outstanding schools' success. That is why we have strengthened teachers' powers to put them back in charge of their classrooms and their schools."

The Department for Education said its reforms were already raising standards.

"We have an increasing number of brilliant schools and of outstanding heads and teachers. More and more are working with others to share their expertise to drive improvement in weaker schools. We are especially targeting areas where there are long-term problems, and recruiting new sponsors to turn round poor schools."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    Mediocre schools can still get a "good" Ofsted rating and don't actually have to make the changes that Ofsted has suggested to them. They may not be visited again for another 5 years or more and may still have exactly the same problems then ! Only the "requires improvement" and worse schools are checked to see if they are actually making the recommended changes soon after the inspection.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    I went to one of the highest performing private schools in the country. Average class size was 32 up to age 11 and 28 up to GCSE.

    The reason it did well - ethos, good behaviour and most importantly of all, parents who FULLY supported the school and took an interest in their child's education.

    My parents gave up a LOT to pay for my education - No way I'd let them down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    Good education has nothing to do with money but if the culture to learn is not there then even the best teacher in the world will not succeed.

    It is time to put all the back-biting and vested interests away and accept that there are only two types of schools in this country: the good ones and the bad ones.

    Now we need to work out the difference and deal with it. Standing still is not an option.

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    The school my wife teaches at was classed as 'needs improvement' because the A-C pass rate was below what was required. The teachers that were monitored were all rated as good or outstanding. The teachers are now monitored even more stringently which is strange as they are good or outstanding....

    does this mean the kids are letting the teachers down ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I reckon learning styles vary more than teaching styles nowadays but I was a child of a 70s catholic system where I had to endure the cane and slipper at home and the strap at school along with being physically pushed around even in primary. So much for progress. Teaching critical thinking from an early age is lkely to help as young people now need to see the value of learning for themselves.


Comments 5 of 7


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