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The gap in performance between primary schools and secondary schools in England is widening, according to the Chief Inspector of Ofsted.

Launching his third Annual Report, in December, Sir Michael Wilshaw said that primary school standards are continuing on an impressive upward trajectory – with more than eight in ten schools now rated at least good.

The overall rate of improvement in secondary schools, however, has stalled. A similar number of secondary schools inspected over the last 12 months improved as declined – while over 50 more secondaries are now in special measures than was the case a year ago.

During the same period, teaching in the further education sector has improved but too many college courses are still not equipping learners with the skills that employers want and the economy needs.

The Annual Report is underpinned by the findings of more than 7,000 inspections carried out during 2013/14 of schools, colleges and further education and skills providers. Separate reports dedicated to the children’s social care and early years sectors will be published in the coming months.

Cause for concern

The report reveals that there are now 700,000 more pupils attending a good or outstanding primary school than in 2012. A higher proportion of secondary schools than primary schools are outstanding, with 113 schools achieving Ofsted’s highest grade in the last year alone. However, more than 170,000 pupils are now in secondary schools rated inadequate, an increase of around 70,000 from two years ago.

There are 13 local authority areas of the country where children have a less than 50 per cent chance of attending a good or outstanding secondary school.

Sir Michael said more primary schools are improving because they attend to the basics, including improving the quality of leadership, effective governance and teaching focused on getting the basics right, including phonics. Effective primary schools focus on good attendance and behaviour, enabling the more able pupils to reach their potential, and narrowing the gap between those on free school meals and other pupils.

In secondary schools where improvement has stalled or standards have declined, inspectors identified a number of common characteristics. These include a failure to build on prior learning at Key Stage 3 (11 to 14), poor and inconsistent leadership, and an inability to narrow the gap for disadvantaged pupils or challenge the most able. Typically, these schools suffered from weak governance, ineffective middle management and too much low-level disruption.

The proportion of further education and skills providers that are good or outstanding has increased to 81 per cent from 72 per cent in 2013. However, the report says that in order to improve the quality and status of vocational training in England, careers guidance needs to improve, young people need to be encouraged to develop the right skills and attitudes, employers need greater involvement in vocational training, and the teaching of English and mathematics needs to improve in the further education and skills sector

The need for vigilance

Sir Michael said that in an increasingly autonomous education system, where schools have greater freedom to innovate and raise standards, the importance of effective oversight was greater than ever.

While he is encouraged by the rising quality of new teaching recruits and the high standards of initial teacher training in England, Sir Michael said he is becoming increasingly concerned about the declining numbers joining the profession and their uneven distribution across the country. “More teachers will be needed to match the substantial increase in the number of school-aged children expected over the next ten years. We also face a major challenge getting the best teachers into the right schools”, he said. He warned that if good and outstanding schools are allowed to cherry pick the best trainees this may further exacerbate the stark differences in local and regional performance. “The nation must avoid a polarised education system where good schools get better at the expense of weaker schools” he said.

The Chief Inspector’s Annual Report can be found on the Ofsted website:
www.ofsted.gov.uk

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