Expert reaction to Ofsted Annual Report

Academic experts give their response to “Grounds for optimism but serious challenges remain” – Ofsted’s Annual Report 2012/13, published today:

 Becky Francis, Professor of Education and Social Justice, King’s College London:

“It is very encouraging to see the Ofsted analysis that education is improving across the board. This is of importance to all our young people, but especially for those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds. As my research on schools stuck at ‘satisfactory’, produced in partnership with Ofsted in 2011, highlighted, it is these young people who tend to be concentrated in lower quality schools.

While we can and should work to ensure equality in school admissions, it is likely that while the quality of our education provision remains patchy, more advantaged families draw on their financial and social capital to access better quality schooling, meaning that the children that need the best quality support are less likely to receive it. It is for this reason that we need to support struggling schools to improve, so that all children, whatever their background, have access to an excellent education.”

“The issue of in-school segregation also needs to be addressed, and I believe the pupil premium is concentrating minds here. However, to ensure that the research evidence and good practices of the best practitioners and schools are shared with others, we need a Royal College of Teaching to act as a forum for professional excellence.

We also need to consider ways to ensure that the networks and relationships we see between schools in some areas are extended across the board, so that no area or school is falling through the net.”

Professor Anna Vignoles, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge:

“It is good to see Sir Michael recognising that “tenacious and committed teachers” are driving the improvements to the system: there is definitive research evidence that the quality of teaching is absolutely central to pupils’ achievement. However, the relative importance of recent government reforms or the change in the OFSTED framework in explaining any improvement is yet unproven”

“Sir Michael highlighted a key issue, namely the extensive variation in academic achievement across different regions. There is indeed a great deal of difference in achievement levels across regions but what is far less clear is the role that underperforming schools per se play in creating these differences. Other factors are likely to be important too:

Resourcing levels vary extensively by area, particularly when one compares inner city London schools to those in say a predominantly non-urban area like Suffolk.

How we measure the socio-economic circumstances of children in different areas is a real challenge. We do not have good information on the family background of each child. Instead we use proxy measures. One measure of poverty often used is whether a child is eligible for Free School Meals. However, in many areas, families living in very impoverished circumstances are nonetheless in work and hence may not be eligible for FSM. More generally, it is important to recognise that a poor child in rural Suffolk may actually be living in quite different circumstances as compared to a child who is eligible for FSM living in London.”

Another factor that varies across regions is the ability of schools to attract teachers, as Sir Michael alludes to. London schools have been able to pay more to attract teachers. Some other areas of the country may be relatively undesirable for teachers to work in for various reasons, of which pay is just one. We do need incentives to encourage good teachers to teach in challenging schools, wherever they are located.

Finally we know from research that the last decade has been a success story for most minority ethnic groups, which have shown faster rates of academic progress than Whites. Again, regions that have lower levels of achievement tend to have low proportions of minority ethnic students. Understanding the poor achievement of Whites is a pressing issue and factors such as parental expectations are likely to be important, over and above any effect from attending a lower quality school.”

Professor Pamela Sammons, Department of Education, University of Oxford:

“The annual report has drawn attention to improvements in schools in England. It should be recognised this is part of a longer term trend that has been evident from the late 1990s and has been documented elsewhere.”

“Inspection has played a part in this process but wider policy developments and investments have also been important.”

“The London Challenge, for example, drew on the growing evidence base of school effectiveness and improvement research and evaluations indicate that this played a crucial role in the improvement of schools in the capital.”

“The Ofsted findings on regional variation and especially of poorer standards in ‘peripheral regions’ reflect the absence of such improvement strategies elsewhere.”

“School effectiveness and improvement research has consistently pointed to the importance of a positive school culture, high expectations and the quality of teaching and leadership in schools and the Annual Report echoes the conclusions of such research.”

“The evidence of a geographical lottery and the need to do more to improve outcomes for the disadvantaged children and students is compelling. It would be helpful to look at past improvement initiatives to disseminate good practice, for example building on the positive legacies of the National Strategies, the London Challenge and Excellence in Cities initiatives.”

Professor Steve Higgins, Director of Research, School of Education, University of Durham:

“When we look at schools with a 20-40% GCSE benchmark, we can see that results grew by 7.8% in academies and by 7.7% in maintained schools. A difference of a scant 0.1%. In the case of 40-60% band, on the other hand, maintained schools fared slightly better than academies.”

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