NGA responds to Ofsted's Annual Report

02/12/2015

This morning Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI) Sir Michael Wilshaw launched Ofsted’s annual report for 2014/15.  Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors Association responds:

 “the National Governors’ Association is pleased that an increasing number of schools in England are rated good or outstanding especially given the pressure on finances and staff, as well as numerous changes from curricula to school structures.   We completely agree with the Chief Inspector that good people - teachers, leaders and governors - create this improvement and like him, governing boards are very concerned about the difficulty in recruiting good teachers and school leaders. Although there are some relatively small scale initiatives supported by the Government to tackle these staff shortages which were predicted some years ago, NGA would like to see more attention being paid to this problem nationally as otherwise it will become increasingly difficult to sustain these achievements.

Changes in qualifications and performance measures may in part explain why on average secondary schools are not doing quite as well as primaries, and NGA suggests that those local areas which are struggling would benefit from a wider Challenge programme similar to the one which began transforming London schools over a decade ago.”

Following HMCI's recent commentary on the importance of governance (see NGA's response), Emma has written for Schools Week on the priorities for governors going forward. 

A North-South divide?

In his speech, Wilshaw commended the increase in good and outstanding schools in England, in particular commending that 85% of primary schools In England were now good.  However he also spoke of “a nation divided at the age of 11… with schools performing well overall in the South but struggling to improve in the North and the Midlands”.

The headline figures cited as evidence of this divide are that:

  • 79% of secondary schools in the South of England are currently ‘good’ or ‘outstanding'
  • 68% of secondary schools in the North and Midlands are currently ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’

16 local authorities are singled out as having less than 60% of children attending ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ secondary schools, lower than national GCSE attainment and less than national levels of expected progress. Of those, 13 are in the North and Midlands: Middlesborough, Hartlepool, Blackpool, Oldham, Doncaster, Bradford, Barnsley, Stoke-on-Trent, Derbyshire, Liverpool, Knowsley, St Helens, and Salford. The three in the South are the Isle of Wight, Swindon, and South Gloucestershire.

Although disadvantaged pupils are particularly impacted by attending schools which are less than ‘good’, Ofsted argue that the divide is not simply a product of greater number of disadvantaged pupils in the North and Midlands; the divide is not evident in primary education yet there is a 4% gap between the North and Midlands and the South in terms of attainment of five GCSEs grades A* to C, including English and maths.

Education Datalab have questioned Ofsted’s conclusions in a blog on their website, positing that the attainment of disadvantaged pupils is a systemic problem and not a geographical one: the difference in GCSE outcomes between the 16 local authorities pinpointed by Ofsted and other local authorities was only 2% once differences in pupil intake such as prior attainment, free school meal eligibility, and ethnicity were accounted for.

Bradford was particularly singled out by HMCI as an area where both primary and secondary schools underperform. In his speech to launch the report, Wilshaw said that as Bradford’s social composition and challenges are comparable to London’s East End, a relatively high performing area, “I believe the situation is so bad that a commission of enquiry should be set up to investigate the problem”.

Reacting to these comments, Bradford Council’s strategic director of children’s services Michael Jameson pointed out that Ofsted’s inspection of the council’s school improvement arrangements earlier this year identified “a new direction in the local authority and a cause for optimism” and that in light of this they would expect Ofsted to support current efforts towards improvement.

Pupils with special educational needs

While special schools in general continue to perform well in Ofsted inspections, outcomes for pupils identified as having special educational needs or disability (SEND) in mainstream schools were lower in the North and Midlands. Ofsted intend to consult on a new inspection framework to identify what local areas are doing well in identifying and meeting the needs of SEND pupils.

An academy solution?

In his commentary, HMCI argues that, while it can create conditions conducive to improvement, structural reform such as conversion to academy status “can only do so much” to promote school improvement. Although converter academies (which were ‘good’ or better prior to conversion) broadly continue to perform well, there were 99 instances of converter academies being judged less than ‘good’ by Ofsted in 2014/15.

The report finds that “regardless of structure, improvement across all types of school depends on oversight and challenge”: both internally from governing boards and externally through partnerships between schools and relationships with a local authority. This accords with NGA’s view that no school structure is intrinsically better than another in producing positive outcomes for pupils.

Teacher recruitment a key concern

Ofsted is highlighting a shortage of high quality teachers and leaders as a key obstacle for schools, especially in challenging or isolated parts of the country. Earlier this year, respondents to NGA and TES’s survey of governors and trustees revealed that over a third were finding it difficult to recruit staff to senior posts. Today’s report raises concerns that, despite  programmes such as Future Leaders, arrangements for developing new school leaders are not large scale or targeted towards the geographical areas where the need is greatest.

Wilshaw described an “emerging two tier system” in teacher recruitment, with teaching schools offering jobs to the best trainees while schools in other areas struggle to fill vacancies.

Ofsted will be conducting a survey into teacher recruitment in the coming year.

The quality of governance

The annual report highlights the vital importance of good quality governance to driving school improvement, with the availability of skilled governors pinpointed as another capacity issue for schools. This follows Wilshaw’s commentary on governance, to which NGA responded in November.

Ofsted recommended external reviews of governance for almost 500 schools in 2014/15, which represents nearly a third of those judged ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ for ‘leadership and management’. Reflecting on the effectiveness of the recommendations made in 2012/13, Ofsted stated that 71% of secondary schools improved their ‘leadership and management’ judgements at the next inspection compared to 61% of schools for which a review had not been carried out. NGA are aware that a diversity of providers are carrying out external reviews of governance and therefore the quality and impact of these reviews is likely to vary significantly.

Touching on governance arrangements in multi academy trusts (MATs), Ofsted report that the best outcomes are found where the scheme of delegation is clear and well understood and boards are focused on strategic rather than operational matters. This mirrors NGA’s experience of working with MATs; however, evidence from Ofsted reports and feedback from members suggests that most Ofsted inspectors do not have a robust understanding of how MAT governance differs from governance structures in a maintained school or stand-alone academy.

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