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 97.

    He has been awfully quiet for a week or so, has he been on a course or something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Yeah I can't really see the conservatives caring about little things such as social mobility, economic equality, creating a Meritocracy and making what you know more important than who you know; given that the only reason they're in government is because their Daddys are rich.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    53. That was the problem with the old grammar school system (those schools themselves were great vehicle for social mobility), but the secondary moderns where the rest of us were dumped were inadequate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I suspect MPs don't want the masses to be highly educated children lest they can work out what 11% means.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    £1.5 billion on free schools private more like gove is a joke

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    When you teach the national curriculum in special needs schools this tells you how good the curriculum is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Funny old world. When I became a teacher there was much debate on the improvement of teaching in the classroom.
    Various government have messed around with the system, and guess what, it is still not working.

    So Dear Gove,Gov,

    As a teacher I can tell you very simply what the problem is. Stop interfering in education, adding reform after reform, loads of paper work and let teachers teach.


  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Too many tests, and endless layers of bureaucracy, are tying the hands of teachers.
    But the primary problem is the lack of support from parents. I'm in the unfortunate position of knowing a large number of parents, whose attitude is that schooling has nothing to do with them!
    There needs to be some sort of system, that can bring laissez faire parents to book!

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    The problem is that we now have to educate most of Europe and half of Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    @49. betsyboo
    "bad parenting leads to bad outcomes"
    I agree to an extent, but those "bad outcomes" affect others that come from good parenting. Bullying and disruption are two examples.

    Ofsted and teachers are at forefront and need to tackle these problems, because these problems affect performance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Any kid can achieve but they need their parents to step up to the plate and provide a good example and encouragement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.


    for the most part you have it right - but you'll be lambasted by the modern day comprehensive pushing foot soldiers who read the Guardian and pay their NUT dues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Something I am against are these schools where they only teach Asian children yet a catholic school has to take in a percentage of other religions.

    I can also see that a proportion of the school my nephew goes to are immigrants and they didnt do well in English, surely this brings down the average score not to mention my nephew has also picked up some slang from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    It's the teachers unions, always has been, always will be. More interested in 13 weeks off, cushy hours, baker days gold plated pensions and guaranteed pay rises than teaching. 17 teachers have been fired in 10 years. Says it all. Of course the Beeb has no interest in reporting this, no need to shine a light on their tax guzzling Union Guardianista buddies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    For education to thrive there needs to be a visible and obvious link between educational achievement (in its widest sense) and future life prospects. This is instilled in kids by good parenting but evidently not by the rest. If you don't pay for something you don't value it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    2.anorrax "We must get rid of the crazy idea that all schools and children can be above average"

    You're right but it's the tory pseudo policies of inaquality and divide and conquer which ring true here. Yes, people have different abilities, that is why people are different and are the spice of life, but they shouldn't be treat differently as this government is keen on doing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Alan Loughlin: repeating your post, with the same literacy errors, over and over again doesn't make it any more valid. Or even true.

  • Comment number 80.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    pupils spending barely half a day in school for barely half a year are we surprised that they leave barely literate, this is not difficult to comprehend.


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