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IMPROVING EDUCATION SYSTEM BUT CLASS GAP HOLDING BACK SOME YOUNG PEOPLE FROM ACHIEVING FULL POTENTIAL

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England has an improving system of education, according to the latest...
England has an improving system of education, according to the latest

annual report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools. The

report, published today, draws upon evidence from inspections that

took place during the academic year 2003/04 and also comments upon

longer term trends within the education sector.

In the report's commentary, chief inspector David Bell points to a long term trend of improvement in education and examines the key factors contributing to this success as well as the problems that threaten to undermine it.

Particular successes evident during 2003/04 and highlighted in the

annual report include an improved quality of care and education for

young children; a strong cadre of headteachers in schools;

improvements in school self-evaluation; improved flexibility in the

curriculum for 14 to 16 year olds and the continuing success of sixth

form colleges.

Issues of concern include the continuing difference in progress

between different groups of pupils; slow progress in reducing the gap

in achievement between schools with high and low levels of

disadvantage, and no reduction in the proportion of schools where

behaviour overall is unsatisfactory. The quality of assessment

continues to be the weakest aspect of teaching.

Mr Bell identifies four factors that are underpinning long-term

improvement as well as the major issues of concern that could prevent

the education system fulfilling the potential of every learner. The

first factor underpinning improvement is a widely-held recognition

that education needs to be broad and balanced: nurturing pupils as

individuals while preparing them to fulfil their responsibilities and

appreciate society's diversity.

Mr Bell said:

'My own longstanding beliefs about the value of a rounded education

are based on the superb grounding that I received as a pupil in a

comprehensive school. Ofsted's evidence demonstrates conclusively

that commitment to curriculum breadth and balance, as well as

personal opportunity and responsibility, is increasingly the norm in

our state schools. This commitment is the bedrock of further and

future success.'

Mr Bell identified the expansion in childcare places, matched by

improvements in quality, as the second factor helping to benefit

children. Almost all childcare is at least satisfactory, and

increasingly good, and early education for three to four years olds

in day care providers funded by the government is mostly good.

The education sector's ambitions to do better and to tackle failure

were also identified by Mr Bell as the third and fourth success

factors. Over the last ten years a focus on the basics of English,

mathematics and science has resulted in improved standards, and test

results for 2004 show that this progress has been maintained at the

same time as other improvements in primary schools have been made.

Mr Bell identifies two major issues of concern that could prevent the

education system fulfilling the potential of every learner: the

impact of social class and the continuing variability in performance

of schools and colleges.

Mr Bell said:

'I was the first from my family to attend university. I find it

troubling that over 25 years later many of our least advantaged young

people still believe that higher qualifications are beyond their

reach. However, pilot projects providing a more vocationally

orientated curriculum at Key Stage 4 are helping to re-engage the

missing 40 per cent of youngsters who do not achieve 5+ A*-C GCSEs.

'About 1,000 schools are not making sufficient progress between

inspections. Over the last three years 10 per cent of schools

inspected have not improved enough.'

However, for 393 schools and colleges identified in today's Annual

Report the story is one of outstanding achievement. They stand out as

having done particularly well on virtually all fronts, or as having

achieved highly against the odds. Colleges listed in the report are

very well led and provide a consistently high standard of education

and training for their students. The annual report also lists well

over 100 schools that improved so significantly that they were

removed from special measures during 2003/04.

After several years in which National Curriculum test results have

been static, 2003/04 results for Key Stages 1 and 2 show a little

improvement. However, the gap in achievement between core and other

foundation subjects, and between boys and girls, remains a concern.

Achievement for primary age pupils is not as good in the foundation

subjects - particularly geography and religious education - as in the

core subjects of English, mathematics and science. Information and

communication technology (ICT) continues to improve, but it is still

the subject where there is most underachievement.

Teaching continues to be strongest for nursery-age children and

pupils in Year 6; it is weakest in Years 1, 3 and 4 and there is too

much variation in the quality of teaching across subjects. The

proportion of schools where teaching is only satisfactory or

unsatisfactory is slightly higher than last year at just over a

quarter of schools.

Pupils' achievements in Key Stage 3 National Curriculum tests have

improved, but unevenly, and there has also been a slight improvement

in GCSE results. There is a pressing need to tackle literacy and

numeracy for pupils in Year 7 who have not reached the expected level

in their primary schools, if these pupils are to achieve academic and

personal success in their secondary schools.

Greater variety in Key Stage 4 programmes, particularly the provision

of vocational courses, is increasing pupils' motivation. However, the

report points out a number of concerns in the secondary curriculum.

Citizenship is the worst taught subject at secondary level, there has

been a decline in the take-up of modern foreign languages and

geography at Key Stage 4, and the requirements for ICT are not being

met in a significant proportion of schools.

In colleges the quality of provision was slightly better in 2003/04

than the previous year, but the pace of improvement is slow and there

has been an increase in the proportion of colleges judged inadequate.

Sixth form colleges continue to be highly successful in almost all

aspects of their work. Educational provision for 14-19 year olds in

areas, vulnerable young people in young offender institutions and

children in secure children's homes remains too variable.

Attendance in primary schools has shown a slight improvement but is

still unsatisfactory in a quarter of schools. Often this is where

schools are not supported sufficiently by parents in ensuring their

children are punctual and attend school regularly. Unauthorised

absence rose slightly in secondary schools to 1.14 per cent.

In primary schools pupils' attitudes to school are almost always

positive and behaviour is good. Schools generally work hard to

promote good relationships and almost all deal successfully with

bullying and racism. In secondary schools the great majority of

pupils continue to behave well, but behaviour overall is

unsatisfactory in nine per cent of secondary schools. The proportion

of schools where behaviour is unsatisfactory shows no sign of

reducing. Serious incidents remain rare; most unsatisfactory

behaviour involves low level disruption.

By the end of 2003/04, 50 more schools were subject to special

measures than at the same time the previous year. 213 schools became

subject to special measures compared with 160 in 2002/03 - an

increase of 30 per cent. By July 2004, 332 schools were in special

measures, representing an increase of 18 per cent on the previous

July's figure. In all, 1.5 per cent of English schools are subject to

special measures.

Explaining this increase, Mr Bell said:

'School inspections are more rigorous. In September 2003 we

introduced a new school inspection framework that set new

expectations of schools. As the performance of schools has improved

over the years it is only right that we should have higher

expectations. Not to do so would be to condemn youngsters to a

standard of education that might have been acceptable 10 years ago

but is clearly no longer so.'

Since 1993 just under 1,800 schools have required special measures

but the vast majority have improved, with some going on to be praised

as outstanding in subsequent annual reports. Almost 60 per cent of

schools from which special measures have been removed have become

good schools by the time they were inspected two years later. Seven

schools in this year's list of outstanding schools were once in

special measures.

Mr Bell said:

'The progress that some 60 per cent of former special measures

schools have made to be judged good or better is testimony to the

hard work of their headteachers, staff, pupils and governors and

proves that special measures are the first step on the road to

recovery for failing schools.'

In conclusion Mr Bell said:

'We have moved from a system that educated a few superbly, and the

rest indifferently, to one that is attempting to educate everyone

very well. Those who criticise improving test results and GCSE grades

as evidence of 'dumbing down' are really only interested in those at

the top end of the academic scale and are paying lip service to

having an education system that meets the needs of all.

'In a modern democracy it is essential that the education system

maximises the talent of all. It is possible to offer greater

challenge and rigour to the most academically able while ensuring

that a vocationally relevant curriculum becomes a genuine alternative

for the many.'

Schools minister Stephen Twigg has welcomed Ofsted's confirmation in

its annual report that the government has made significant progress

in education in recent years.

Mr Twigg said:

'I welcome this report and in particular the chief inspector's view

that we now have an improving education system and one that has in

place many of the preconditions for further improvement.

'We have made significant progress throughout the system: we have a

firm foundation in early years; our reform programme is ambitious and

is delivering a general trend of improvement; the focus on primary

maths, English and science is a success story, with progress

maintained in 2004; we are successfully tackling school failure; and

the quality of teaching and leadership in our schools is good.

'The report gives us no room to be complacent. I am determined that

we must break the link between disadvantage and achievement. The

fundamental aim of both the Primary and the Key Stage 3 National

Strategies is to ensure that all pupils have the opportunity to

achieve regardless of their circumstances.

'We are seeing the fastest improvements at GCSE in some of the most

deprived areas through initiatives such as Excellence in Cities and

London Challenge. London is now ahead of the national average for the

number of students getting five good GCSEs and in Gateshead the

number of pupils achieving the same standard has increased by 19

percentage points since 2000.Nationally there are now only 71 schools

below the 20% floor target compared with 112 in 2003 and 361 in 1997.

'We must now rise to the challenge of improving the vocational offer

and reducing drop-out rates beyond GCSE. These were some of the major

challenges addressed by Mike Tomlinson and his 14-19 Working Group,

which the government will be responding to in the forthcoming white

paper.

'I am pleased to note that pupil behaviour remains good or better in

most schools and incidents of serious misbehaviour remain rare, with

our Behaviour Improvement Programme proving effective. Of course,

any poor behaviour is too much and should not be tolerated, and the

secretary of state yesterday underlined her support for schools to

take a zero tolerance approach in tackling low level disruption of

lessons caused by a minority of pupils.'

Mr Twigg also noted the following key points from the report:

* 15 per cent growth in quality childcare places

* The majority of primary schools are good or better and about 20 per

cent are highly effective

* Most secondary schools are demonstrating leadership at a good or

better level

* The majority of secondary schools that are found to be failing are

judged as good on re-inspection

* Improved flexibility that we have introduced at 14-16 has motivated

more young people to gain the recognition they deserve for their

achievements at GCSE.

* School sixth forms and colleges provide successfully for students,

especially at A-level

The annual report is available here.

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