Teams of Ofsted inspectors have yesterday begun the first in a wave of focused school inspections across local authority areas, where thousands of children are being denied the standard of education they deserve.
The exercise now underway in Derby marks the start of a concerted programme of action by the inspectorate to establish why children in some parts of the country have a much lower chance of attending a good or better school than their peers in other similar areas.
The planned measures, announced yesterday by HM Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, in a keynote speech to the North of England Education Conference, include:
A series of targeted school inspections within a condensed one-week period in areas where the proportion of children attending a good or better school is currently well below the national average for England
A new framework for Ofsted to inspect the school improvement service being provided by under-performing local authorities
A good practice survey, now underway, to share and showcase some of the best examples of local authority support and challenge for schools across the country.
These measures follow the publication of Ofsted’s Annual Report at the end of November, which found marked and unacceptable variations in school performance between local authority areas with similar demographics and levels of deprivation.
Sir Michael said that Ofsted was determined to find out what lies behind these variations and to work with others to raise standards and close the gap between the worst and best performing authorities.
'It cannot be right that in local authorities with the same demographics, the same sort of population, and the same levels of deprivation, parents have such widely varying opportunities of finding a good school.
'In some it is over 90%, in others it is just over 40%. This cannot continue.
'In these focused and concentrated inspection programmes, we will be seeking to determine whether councils are really fulfilling their statutory duties to promote high standards and fair access to educational opportunity.
'Ofsted will inspect without fear or favour, and with no preconceived idea of what we will find. If we find that the local authority is proactive in addressing the key issues, and standards are improving, that’s absolutely fine.
'But where we find evidence that the local authority is not demonstrating effective leadership, then we shall inspect it.'
Starting with Derby and continuing throughout the current term in other local authority areas, schools involved in the co-ordinated inspections will be asked a series of questions about the effectiveness and impact of the support they receive from their local authority and about the authority’s vision for improvement. The same questions will be asked in a separate telephone survey of a further 10% of the area’s schools, which are not being inspected.
Together this will give a powerful snapshot of not only how well schools are doing in that area since the Annual Report data was collected, but also a strong indication of the quality of external support and direction given to the schools by the local authority.
Evidence gathered from this exercise will be drawn together by inspectors for HM Chief Inspector and the relevant Ofsted Regional Director. The findings and any recommendations will then be shared with the local authority as well as schools, parents and the wider local public.
If Ofsted finds that the local authority is proactive in addressing key issues and that standards in schools are improving, this will be made clear in the letter setting out the principal findings to the local authority.
However, if there is evidence that the local authority is not fulfilling its statutory duty to promote high standards and fair access to educational opportunity, Ofsted will move to carry out an inspection of that authority’s school improvement function under the new framework.
Once this new framework is in place from April, Ofsted will be able to inspect the school improvement functions of any local authority where there are concerns that the statutory duty to improve school standards is not being met. This may include areas where the performance of schools has declined since the data was collected for the last Annual Report.