The highlights of 2015/16

Ofsted publishes its Annual Report around this time each year and on 1 December the final Annual Report of Sir Michael Wilshaw’s tenure was laid before Parliament. In it he talks about the changes over the last five years since he became Chief Inspector and of an education and skills system that has improved considerably in that time.

This year’s report is based on the evidence from almost 25,000 inspections of schools, colleges and providers of early years and further education and skills. Here are a few of the highlights.

Secondary schools – a persisting geographical divide

Once more the North and the Midlands is faring less well. Last year there were many more good secondary schools in the South and East of England. This year that gap has widened slightly – the North and Midlands are dropping further behind the rest of the country with more than a quarter of secondaries still not good enough. In every region they’re falling below the national level on every major measure: Progress 8, Attainment 8 and achievement of the English Baccalaureate.

The knock-on effect of this is that pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities, along with the most able children, are particularly affected. These regions also have the largest proportion of schools with leadership problems. Nearly three quarters of secondary schools judged inadequate for leadership were in the North and Midlands.

Early years performing well

In the early years it’s better news. Continuing a six year rise, 91% of primary schools, nurseries, pre-schools and childminders are now good and outstanding. As a result there’s a more level playing field for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Sir Michael Wilshaw summed this up, “For children under the age of 11, truly high standards have almost been achieved. Over the age of 11, there is still much to be done.” He reflected on the past five years and said there has been ‘considerable change for the better’.

The proportion of good and outstanding nurseries and pre-schools is now almost identical in the least and most deprived areas. And in 2016 over two thirds of young children reached the government’s ‘good level of development’, compared with just over a half in 2013.

Post school

The further education and skills sector isn’t performing so well. In 2015/16 the overall performance of general further education (FE) colleges continued to decline. There are good and outstanding colleges. However, for the second year in a row, the proportion has fallen from 77% in 2014 to 71% in 2015.

General FE colleges are still struggling to meet all of the requirements of the study programmes for 16- to 19-year-olds. And half the colleges inspected this year didn’t demonstrate good leadership and management.

When it comes to apprenticeships there are some signs of improvement in the quality of what’s on offer. Schools are doing more to raise awareness of apprenticeships as an option. And as a result, there’s greater demand for high-quality apprenticeships, particularly at level 3. However, the supply doesn’t meet this demand, which is widely acknowledged and government recognises that reforming the skills system is one of the most important challenges we face as a country.

Offenders’ needs not met

The least successful aspect of our education and skills system this year, by a wide margin, is prisons and young offender institutions. Sixty–five per cent of prisons have learning, skills and work activities that aren’t good enough.

In reading, for example, many prisoners only have primary-level abilities. When it comes to English and mathematics, the number of successfully completed courses was nine percentage points lower than four years ago.

A litmus test for the work ahead

This year’s Annual Report reflects some improvements and continuing challenges. Sir Michael Wilshaw commented, “Our education system has always served some very well, but access to an excellent education has long been a dividing line in this country. In some parts of our education and skills system, this is now changing.

“For the youngest children, we are now closer than we have ever been to an education system where your family background or where you live does not necessarily determine the quality of teaching you receive or the outcomes you achieve.

“Our education system is not yet world class, but some aspects are much closer than they have ever been.

“It would be wrong to look at this picture and conclude we need a radical rethink. The solutions are within our grasp – and they depend on learning from some of the remarkable improvements of the past few years.”

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