Family & Education

Ofsted warns schools against 'disadvantage one-upmanship'

Monty Python
Image caption John Cleese and Eric Idle re-create a Monty Python sketch about boasting about a tough childhood

Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman has warned that underperforming schools can get caught in a culture of "disadvantage one-upmanship", where schools focus too much on their pupils' deprivation.

She likened it to a Monty Python comedy sketch where people compete with claims to have had the toughest childhood.

Ms Spielman was presenting her annual report, which highlighted a small core of persistently underachieving schools.

But she said disadvantage was not an excuse for low achievement.

The Ofsted chief suggested schools seemed sometimes to be competing over how many pupils were on free school meals or how many did not speak English as a first language.

Teacher 'burnout'

"I think people become absorbed by this narrative," said Ms Spielman at the launch of the annual report from England's education watchdog.

"They've got big and daunting challenges, but we want to encourage people to look past them. We want them to focus on what can be done."

She likened it to the Four Yorkshiremen comedy sketch performed by Monty Python, where characters make increasingly exaggerated claims about hardship when they were growing up.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The annual report says 90% of primary schools are now good or outstanding

The report highlighted schools from this year's round of inspections which had repeatedly failed to improve, with around 80 primary and 50 secondary schools below the level of "good" in inspections since 2005.

There are also about about 500 primary and 200 secondary schools which have been rated as requiring improvement on their previous two inspections.

These struggling schools were most likely to be in disadvantaged areas with a high proportion of poor white pupils, to have a high turnover of staff, and heads and teachers facing "burnout".

But Ms Spielman said that there were thousands of other schools facing similar challenges which were performing much better.

Teacher recruitment

The annual report shows that overall 90% of all primary schools and 79% of secondary schools are rated good or outstanding.

Although outstanding schools are no longer routinely inspected - and almost one in 10 have not been inspected in the past 10 years.

But the Ofsted chief said against a positive backdrop it would still be wrong to "turn a blind eye" to weaknesses.

She warned of an ongoing problem with unregistered religious schools which were operating illegally and which could be teaching extremist views and seeking to "isolate young people from the mainstream".

Image caption Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman warns of struggling schools where teachers 'burn out'

Ofsted has warned for several years of children being taught in squalid conditions with inadequate lessons.

Ms Spielman called for stronger rights for inspectors to intervene and seize evidence, such as books or documentation.

She warned of such schools promoting sexist or homophobic views.

Life sentence

Ms Spielman's report also raised particular concerns about education standards in young offenders institutions, which she said could be "extremely poor".

"Without access to a proper, decent learning and training we are passing de facto life sentences on young offenders," she said.

Responding to concerns about schools which seemed to have "intractable" difficulties in improving, heads' leader Geoff Barton said Ofsted could be part of the problem.

When schools were "stigmatised" by bad Ofsted reports, recruiting staff and pupils became more difficult and schools could be "trapped in cycles of underperformance", said Mr Barton, leader of the ASCL head teachers' union.

He said the problem was exacerbated by a "teacher recruitment and retention crisis" and the "underfunding of schools".

Paul Whiteman, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the high performance of so many schools was "all the more remarkable against the backdrop of austerity and all the added pressures that brings".

Angela Rayner, Labour's shadow education secretary, said: "The fact that under the Tories schools have consistently struggled to improve, have struggled to recruit staff and had high levels of turnover should come as a wake-up call."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We are targeting the areas that need the most support through our opportunity areas.

"And by investing £280m over the next two years to target resources at the schools most in need to improve school performance and deliver more good school places."

Schools that have received Ofsted ratings below 'good' in inspections since 2005

Schools consistently 'less than good' Local area
Cavendish Close Junior School Derby
Ironville and Codnor Park Primary School Derbyshire
Somerlea Park Junior School Derbyshire
Langley Mill Junior School Derbyshire
Pinxton Kirkstead Junior School Derbyshire
Linton Primary School Derbyshire
Howitt Primary Community School Derbyshire
Tupton Hall School Derbyshire
Whittington Green School Derbyshire
The Ripley Academy Derbyshire
The Grove Primary School Leicestershire
St Paul's Community Primary and Nursery School, Spalding Lincolnshire
The Gainsborough Academy Lincolnshire
Alfred Street Junior School, Rushden Northamptonshire
Exeter - A Learning Community Academy Northamptonshire
St Mary's CofE Primary Academy, Burton Latimer Northamptonshire
Olympic Primary School Northamptonshire
Kettering Science Academy Northamptonshire
Weston Favell Academy Northamptonshire
Lodge Park Academy Northamptonshire
Kingswood Secondary Academy Northamptonshire
Wrenn School Northamptonshire
Hillocks Primary and Nursery School Nottinghamshire
Coleridge Community College Cambridgeshire
Ernulf Academy Cambridgeshire
Potter Street Academy Essex
Southminster Church of England (Controlled) Primary School Essex
Bedmond Village Primary and Nursery School Hertfordshire
The Cavendish School Hertfordshire
Diss Church Junior School Norfolk
Cliff Park Junior School Norfolk
The Norman Church of England Primary School, Northwold Norfolk
King's Lynn Academy Norfolk
Gusford Community Primary School Suffolk
Sanders School Havering
The Brittons Academy Trust Havering
Bower Park Academy Havering
Prendergast Ladywell School Lewisham
The Royal Docks Community School Newham
St Hild's Church of England Voluntary Aided School Hartlepool
The Blyth Academy Northumberland
Boldon School South Tyneside
Norton Primary Academy Stockton-on-Tees
St Antony's RC Primary School Blackburn with Darwen
Smithills School Bolton
University of Chester CE Academy Cheshire West and Chester
Newman Catholic School Cumbria
Kirkby High School Knowsley
St Joseph's Catholic Primary School, Lancaster Lancashire
Heysham High School Sports College Lancashire
Corpus Christi Catholic High School Lancashire
Fulwood Academy Lancashire
Moston Fields Primary School Manchester
The Sutton Academy St Helens
New Charter Academy Tameside
University Academy Warrington Warrington
Lowton Church of England High School Wigan
The Aylesbury Vale Academy Buckinghamshire
Peel Common Junior School Hampshire
Fernhill Primary School Hampshire
Newtown Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School Hampshire
All Saints Church of England Primary School, Freshwater Isle of Wight
Tree Tops Primary Academy Kent
Milton Court Primary Academy Kent
St Gregory's Catholic Primary School, Margate Kent
Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey Kent
High Weald Academy Kent
Featherby Junior School Medway
Kingfisher Community Primary School Medway
The Robert Napier School Medway
Battle Primary Academy Reading
St Matthew's CofE Primary School Surrey
Henbury Court Primary Academy Bristol
The Kingfisher School Bristol
Bream Church of England Primary School Gloucestershire
Picklenash Junior School Gloucestershire
All Saints Church of England Academy Plymouth
Manor Court Community Primary School Somerset
The Taunton Academy Somerset
Oasis Academy Longmeadow Wiltshire
St Mary and St John Junior and Infant School Birmingham
Chilwell Croft Academy Birmingham
Oasis Academy Blakenhale Junior Birmingham
Four Dwellings Primary Academy Birmingham
Hawkesley Church Primary Academy Birmingham
Yarnfield Primary School Birmingham
Albert Bradbeer Primary Academy Birmingham
Wallbrook Primary School Dudley
Broadlands Primary School Herefordshire
St Martin's Primary School Herefordshire
Cheswardine Primary and Nursery School Shropshire
Grange Primary Shropshire
Bird's Bush Primary School Staffordshire
Staffordshire University Academy Staffordshire
Willenhall E-ACT Academy Walsall
Kingsway Community Primary School Warwickshire
St Alban's Church of England Primary School Wolverhampton
Ss Peter and Paul Catholic Primary Academy & Nursery Wolverhampton
South Wolverhampton and Bilston Academy Wolverhampton
The Dearne Advanced Learning Centre Barnsley
Knowleswood Primary School Bradford
Merlin Top Primary Academy Bradford
Dixons Allerton Academy Bradford
St Joseph's RC Primary School, Todmorden Calderdale
Mount Pellon Primary Academy Calderdale
Sowerby Bridge High School Calderdale
Stirling Primary School Doncaster
Pheasant Bank Academy Doncaster
Armthorpe Academy Doncaster
Balby Carr Community Academy Doncaster
Winifred Holtby Academy Kingston upon Hull
Healey Junior Infant and Nursery School Kirklees
Pudsey Tyersal Primary School Leeds
Cottingley Primary Academy Leeds
South Leeds Academy Leeds
Leeds East Academy Leeds
The Co-operative Academy of Leeds Leeds
West Melton Junior and Infant School Rotherham
Westfield School Sheffield
Sheffield Springs Academy Sheffield
South Elmsall Carlton Junior and Infant School Wakefield
Castleford Park Junior Academy Wakefield
St Helen's CE Primary School Wakefield
New Earswick Primary School York
Source: Ofsted

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