The uneven quality of schools across the country means England is a nation divided into “lucky and unlucky children” in terms of access to high-quality teaching, and poverty is no longer a predictor of educational failure, the head of Ofsted will argue today .
Launching his annual report card, the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, will hail reforms to inner-city education in London, Manchester and Newcastle. He will say some of the least fortunate pupils are going to poorly performing schools in the relatively affluent home counties and the east of England.
The Ofsted chief is expected to say that in effect an “educational lottery” consigns children in some parts of the country to study in substandard schools.
Wilshaw, the former head of an academy in Hackney, east London, will say: “Children from similar backgrounds with similar abilities but who are born in different regions and attend different schools end up with widely different prospects because the quality of their education is not consistently good.”
Ofsted’s data is to show that seven of the best performing local authorities are in London, with the likes of Tower Hamlets in the East End boasting schools that have all been judged to be outstanding or good by Ofsted’s inspectors
But in contrast, Wilshaw will say that the “unluckiest children” are those poorer children living in relatively affluent areas, including parts of the home counties as well as counties such as Nottinghamshire and Suffolk. East Anglia is to be picked out as home to the worst-performing primary schools in the country.
Improvements have been seen among deprived children from every minority ethnic group in recent years according to Ofsted, but that progress has been sluggish in schools dominated by working-class white children.
Despite that, the man responsible for overseeing the inspection and grading of England’s thousands of state schools will present an optimistic picture of education in England, saying that the “battle against mediocrity” is gradually being won. Nearly eight out of 10 state schools are now judged good or outstanding – the highest proportion in Ofsted’s 21-year history – which Wilshaw will attribute to better teaching and leadership in schools.
The chief inspector will argue that a tougher inspection regime has driven the improvement. “Coasting schools now know that mediocre standards will no longer be tolerated,” Wilshaw is to say.
But Wilshaw’s view places him at odds with that of the Department for Education, which attributes recent improvement to reforms initiated by the government.
A DfE spokesman said: “The government’s reforms are already raising standards but there is still more to do. We are especially targeting areas where there are long-term problems, and recruiting new sponsors. It is vital that all children get a first-class education – wherever they live and whatever their background. The pupil premium is giving extra money to the poorest pupils to narrow the attainment gap between them and their better-off peers.”
The chief inspector will also warn of poor discipline in the classroom, calling it “a culture of casual acceptance of low-level disruption and poor attitudes to learning. The sort of culture that is a million miles away from the sort of cultures we see in some of the high-performing Asian countries.”
Ofsted’s figures suggest as many as 700,000 pupils attend schools where behaviour needs to improve. “Unless this changes, teachers will struggle to create an environment in which all children learn well,” Wilshaw is to say.
Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, said that school improvement required highly trained teachers to boost learning and discipline.
“Unqualified teachers lack the training to manage classroom disruption. It’s a scandal that [David] Cameron is allowing unqualified teachers into classrooms on a permanent basis, damaging education. Labour would end this watering down of standards, insisting all teachers are qualified,” Hunt said.
The DfE spokemsan said the department agreed with this part of Wilshaw’s remarks: “Bad classroom behaviour is hugely disruptive to children’s education. It means teachers can’t teach and pupils can’t learn. That is why a key part of our reforms is restoring discipline in schools and why we have strengthened teachers’ powers to put them back in charge.”
Teachers are now able to search pupils for prohibited items and more easily remove disruptive pupils, the DfE said.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said Ofsted’s annual report blames school leaders for poor discipline, despite Wilshaw himself recently blaming poor teaching. “The public will be right to question whether Ofsted makes it up as it goes along,” she said.
Keates said Ofsted’s tougher system of inspections had created a climate of fear among teachers. “No other education system, including those often cited as high performing and fast improving by ministers, has resorted to use of such crude approaches to holding schools to public account for their work as those in place in England.”
Tower Hamlets, which is to be praised by Ofsted for its achievements, is described as having some of the best urban schools in the world, according to a new report that charts the local authority’s transformation.
In 1997 Tower Hamlets schools were rated as the worst in the country. But the report – backed by the local authority and written by Professor Chris Husbands and others from the Institute of Education – says that their improvement since then is “a genuinely exceptional achievement, worth celebrating, worth understanding but, above all, worth learning from”.
Source: Guardian News