A New Year is always a great opportunity for a fresh start and a reinvigorated approach – and Ofsted were ultra-quick off the mark this time around, releasing their annual report into the state of the country’s school system just before 2018 came to a close.
The report covers the academic year 2017 to 2018, focussing on schools, early years, further education and skills and children’s social care, providing a really wide-angle view of the education sector.
In its report, the inspectorate drew on visits from thousands of different institutions, including schools, colleges, early years and care providers. This allowed them to make detailed assessments of the programmes and curricula in place throughout the education sector.
Looking closely at the section of the report dedicated to schools, based on almost 7,000 inspections of state-funded schools, the inspection watchdog highlighted a number of key issues.
Some schools are stuck in a cycle of poor performance
Specifically, Ofsted have identified 490 schools which have not been rated as ‘good’ since 2005, meaning that there are cohorts of pupils whose entire secondary education has been completed in a school graded as either requiring improvement or inadequate.
In its report, Ofsted refers to these schools as ‘stuck’ schools, and as being caught in a cycle of limited to no development. They also highlight that pupils in stuck schools made poor progress by the end of key stages 2 and 4.
Looking ahead to 2019, Ofsted plan to undertake an evaluation project that aims to delve more deeply into the subject of stuck schools, hoping to understand why some school improvement interventions have failed to be effective and what the long-term future for stuck schools may be.
The academy sector continues to grow…
In the twelve months between August 2017 and 2018, the number of academies and free schools grew by around 1,000 and almost two-thirds of those were local authority schools choosing to become convertor academies.
A major catalyst for this continued increase is the Government’s legal changes via the Education and Adoption Act in 2016, which mean that any school maintained by an LA and judged to be inadequate is required to become an academy.
Combining this with Ofsted’s view on stuck schools, it could be possible to draw a conclusion that some of the academies converting due to poor inspection results are yet to benefit from their academisation and may need additional support to achieve their desired grading uplift.
…But assessing multi-academy trusts remains a challenge
The Department for Education is continuing to come under pressure from Ofsted to allow full inspections of multi-academy trusts (MATs), to better reflect the changing structure of the education system.
Ofted’s view, much like my own is that MATs now have increasing responsibility over many of the major decisions made in schools, not just in regard to financial management but in terms of what is taught and how it is assessed.
In the report, the inspectorate says: “The fact that Ofsted is unable to inspect MATs directly means that parents and government are missing out on information about an important part of the evolving educational landscape. We look forward to engaging with the DfE as it develops the Secretary of State’s plans for greater MAT accountability.”
In addition, the above comments notwithstanding, the report identifies that there may be a shortage of good MATs, which could undermine the Government’s ambition to raise school standards across the board via the academies programme.
There seems to be a degree of difficulty in matching schools to MATs once their need to convert to academy status has been confirmed, with some leaving local authority control having been rated inadequate only to be held in limbo for up to 18 months before becoming an academy or joining a MAT.
To help address this growing issue, Ofsted hope for more outstanding school leaders to make the step up to providing system leadership in MATS and take bring their knowledge and experience of working on the education front line to multiple schools.
Off-rolling rolls on – but for how much longer?
The worrying – and illegal – trend of off-rolling to artificially improve performance data, where pupils are removed from school rolls only to not re-appear at another school, grew significantly in the last year. Almost 19,000 pupils were removed from school rolls between 2016 and 2017, with around half then not joining the rolls of other schools.
Of course, this observation excludes formal exclusions or situations where parents choose to home-school their children, but it does provide food for thought in terms of how some schools manage poor behaviour or potentially game the system for their own interests rather than those of the pupils affected.
In particular, around 300 schools have been identified as having high numbers of pupil movement and can expect to come under close scrutiny from Ofsted.
When the watchdog launches its new inspection framework later this year, inspectors are likely to be given more power to report on schools they consider to be guilty of off-rolling pupils.
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