Ofsted announces inspections blitz in underperforming areas

Sir Michael Wilshaw Sir Michael Wilshaw says there are "stark inequalities for children"

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Ofsted is planning an inspection blitz on underperforming schools in six regions of England.

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw says the performance gap between some areas is "completely unacceptable".

Inspections will be brought forward in those areas where, he says, standards are too low.

Derby is the first area to be targeted. Its city council said it had made huge improvements recently.

At an education conference in Sheffield, Sir Michael said that schools in underperforming areas that were due to be inspected during the next six months would be checked within a single seven-day period.

'Regrettable decision'

The concentrated inspections will be held in all targeted areas in the next few months.

Speaking on the BBC Today programme, Sir Michael said there was a "huge difference in school standards between local authorities," even when comparing areas that had similar populations and levels of deprivation.

"We are targeting the lowest-performing local authorities and we will go into Derby today to find out what is happening," he said.

"In Derby, parents have a less than 50% chance of finding a good primary school and a 40% chance of a good secondary."

At the North of England Education Conference, he told journalists local authorities had the power to intervene but "inertia" was stopping some from doing so.

He said councils had a statutory responsibility to ensure that all children in their area had access to a good education so should also raise the alarm if academies were underperforming.

'Privatise?'

If councils seemed unable to drive improvements, he said, Ofsted would report them to the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

This could lead to some councils being stripped of some of their responsibilities.

"The secretary of state has to look at a range of alternatives," he said. "He may want to use an academy chain or a private provider."

Ofsted identified several areas as underperforming in its annual report last November, saying these were places where too few schools were classed as either good or outstanding. The areas include Coventry, Derby and Doncaster.

Inspectors will descend on targeted areas in a set week and heads will be asked whether they are getting enough support from their local council.

'Inspections welcomed'

If Ofsted is not satisfied, it plans to go into town halls to inspect school improvement services for the first time, it is understood, although this change will require consultation.

Derby City Council's cabinet member for children and young people, Martin Rawson, told BBC Radio Derby he welcomed the announcement of fresh inspections as an "opportunity to demonstrate the huge improvements made in the last few months".

He said recent inspections in the area had shown that schools were making progress.

As a group, councils say they agree improvements are needed in some areas, but that their powers are hampered by bureaucracy and have been restricted by the increasing numbers of schools becoming academies, which are semi-independent and are outside of council control.

They say most of the powers they have to intervene in underperforming schools can be used only once Ofsted has put a school into a "failing" category and that they have less freedom than the trusts which run academies to intervene in struggling schools.

The Association of Directors of Children's Services says the decision to bring in new inspections of council school improvement services "without notice" is "regrettable and unsound".

'Stark inequalities'

David Simmonds, of the Local Government Association, told Today: "Mums and dads have an expectation that there will be a good school available to them and expect local authorities will take responsibility for making sure that this is the case, but there has been a very clear message from the government about school independence and separating schools from local authorities."

Head of the NASUWT teaching union Chris Keates called the wave of inspections "crude spectacles" aimed at creating a "climate of fear and panic".

She added: "As this announcement by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector comes only a short time after the secretary of state declared war on local authorities resistant to his ideological reform of school structures, it would be understandable if the conclusion was drawn that Ofsted was being used by the secretary of state to settle political scores against those who have had the temerity to challenge or criticise his policies."

In November Ofsted launched a league table ranking local authorities according to inspectors' ratings of schools.

At the time Sir Michael said the inequalities for local children were "stark".

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