More must be done to ensure children are not left behind, says Ofsted report

The Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman has launched her second Annual Report on state of education and children’s care in England

It finds that while the overall quality of education is improving, more action is needed to support the children being left behind.

The Annual Report provides a summary of Ofsted’s findings from inspections, visits and research over the past year. It presents a ‘state of the nation’ commentary on the quality of education, training and care services in England.

It reveals that people are working incredibly hard to deliver for young people but that deep inequities remain.

The Chief Inspector urged policy makers to avoid searching for the latest gimmicks from the tech world to tackle these problems, saying:
"Some policy makers and practitioners are constantly looking for the next magic potion that will infallibly raise standards or reduce the numbers of children in care. Indeed, despite the history of snake oil, white elephants and fashionable gimmicks that have in the main been debunked, there remains a curious optimism that the elixir of education is just around the corner. But the truth is, we don’t need an elixir to help raise standards, because we already have the tried and tested ingredients we need."

The report says the most important thing is to get the basics right, which begins with early literacy. However, what works for one group of children is not always translating to getting it right for another, the report says.

The phonics screening check has had a major impact on the standard of early reading, with year-on-year increases in the proportion of children reaching the expected standard on the check. However, the percentage of children on free school meals (FSM) who reach the expected standard on the check is 12 percentage points lower than their more affluent peers. There should be no reason for this, because the check is one of reading mechanics. Schools that focus on early reading make a major difference. Others need to do more. To support them, Ofsted will propose changes in the new education inspection framework that strengthen the focus on early reading.

There is also stark regional variation here, but not the usual pattern of advantage versus disadvantage. Areas such as Newham and Newcastle, which educate high proportions of disadvantaged children, excel in making sure that pupils eligible for FSM perform well on the phonics check. At the same time, more affluent areas like West Berkshire lag behind.

The Annual Report also highlights how provision for young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND) is too disjointed and inconsistent. Diagnoses are taking too long and are often inaccurate. Mental health needs are not supported sufficiently. The quality of education, health and care (EHC) plans is far too variable. Critically, the gap in performance and outcomes for children with SEND is widening between the best and worst local areas. Crucial to delivering a good service is having the right resources, a qualified workforce and strong leadership in order to be good or better. However, the Annual Report finds that in too many cases, the capacity for improvement does not exist.

There are almost 500 ‘stuck’ schools across England that have been judged inadequate or requires improvement at every inspection since 2005. This means that some children may have been in a failing school for their entire time at secondary school. More outstanding schools and school leaders are needed to help these schools improve.

Across the country, turnaround rates for underperforming schools remain too slow. A lack of sponsor capacity means some schools have been left in limbo for over 18 months before joining a multi-academy trust (MAT). The Annual Report argues that the current halfway-house approach to academisation is not working and calls for incentives to be reinstated to encourage the best schools to become academies and to use their expertise to sponsor.


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