Ofsted Annual Report: Steadily improving picture in education and care, but ‘social contract’ remains fractured

This year’s Annual Report from Ofsted concludes there are reasons for optimism, as education and children’s social care continue to recover from the lingering impact of the pandemic restrictions

The report finds a broadly positive picture in all the sectors that Ofsted inspects and regulates. However, it draws particular attention to a troubling shift in behaviour, attendance and attitudes towards education since the pandemic.

The report looks back at findings from inspection and regulation over the last academic year, from September 2022 to August 2023. Amanda Spielman – in her last Annual Report as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector – also considers the changes and challenges she has seen during her 7-year term.

Read the 2022/23 Annual Report.

Amanda writes that the social contract between parents and schools has been fractured. This unwritten agreement expects parents to ensure their children go to school every day and respect the school’s policies and approach. In return, schools give children a good education and help prepare them for their next steps in life.

Since the pandemic, absenteeism has become a stubborn problem in schools disruptive behaviour has become more common. Poor behaviour affects pupils and teachers’ experience of school and their ability to learn or teach. There is also more anecdotal evidence of friction between schools and parents, who are increasingly willing to challenge school rules.  

Most schools are working hard to address these issues, but the social contract took years to build and consolidate, so it will take time to restore.

Despite these ongoing challenges, the report finds there are reasons to be optimistic about education and social care:

  • There is evidence that the curriculum has improved with many subjects and the teaching of reading in primary schools is significantly better.
  • There has been a marked increase in interest and policy development around further education over the past 7 years. The skills agenda has re-energised the conversation about post-16 education.
  • Improvements in education have been supported and reinforced by the progress in teacher training.
  • Some local authorities are making substantial improvements in social care.

His Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, said:

"In my last annual report, I want to draw attention to the progress I have seen in education and children’s social care, not just over the last academic year but over the 7 years I’ve had the privilege of being Chief Inspector.

"The pandemic, with all its disruptions, has of course overshadowed this period and left a troublesome legacy. This is evident not just in the educational and developmental gaps that some children are still struggling with – but also in a fracturing of the traditional social contract between schools and families. We see its impact in lower school attendance, poorer behaviour and friction between parents and schools. Restoring this contract is vital to sustaining the progress we’ve seen.

"My final Annual Report as His Majesty’s Chief Inspector shows that we can and should be optimistic about education and social care in England. That optimism reflects the remarkable resilience of children and the determination of learners of all ages. And it’s also testament to the talent, commitment and effort of thousands of people working in education and social care."

Other main findings in this year’s annual report

This year, Ofsted carried out 7,240 inspections of state-funded schools. This is a substantial increase from 4,670 in 2021/22 and is the highest number of inspections completed in the last 5 years. This is largely because of additional funding to catch up on inspections missed during the COVID-19 pandemic and to inspect all schools at least once between April 2021 and August 2025.

Inspections this year resulted in:

  • 88% of schools judged good or outstanding
  • 90% of previously good schools remaining good or improving to outstanding
  • 75% of schools that previously required improvement improving to good or outstanding
  • 97% of previously inadequate schools improving

Overall, 89% of all schools are now judged good or outstanding at their most recent inspection, a slight increase from 88% at the end of last year.

While school inspections show a broadly positive picture, current realities in education and social care include persistent gaps in children’s learning and increasing demands for additional services that are already overstretched. High demand for special education needs and/or disabilities (SEND) and mental health services is particularly straining limited resources.

The report finds continued pressure on social care with increasing demand and limited supply meaning the right provision and support for children and young people is not always available locally. The pressure has led to an increasing number of children ending up in unregistered placements, often deprived of liberty or living too far from home.

The best performing local authorities and providers have mitigated these issues, to provide continually good, and sometimes improved, practice for children and their families. However, there is still too much national disparity in the services and support children receive.

Unregistered homes represent a significant issue in the social care sector. Last year, Ofsted identified 370 such premises that were operating illegally. Most closed when they were challenged.

In addition, the report describes the recruitment and retention issues across education and social care:

  • In the early years, providers are having to either use agency staff and apprentices to maintain child staff ratios or scale down their provision.
  • In schools, staff shortages are reducing expert teaching, increasing stress, limiting intervention when children struggle, and creating a barrier to teachers accessing training and development.
  • In further education and skills, shortages in key industries are tempting tutors back into the workplace because their skills command a premium.
  • Social care providers are competing against roles in sectors like hospitality, and in social work there is an overreliance on agency social workers.

Every Annual Report over the last 7 years has highlighted that some children are invisible to authorities, including children in illegal unregistered schools. Most of these places offer a poor standard of education and many are unsafe. Without new legislation, Ofsted’s powers to investigate and close these schools remain limited.  

As well as illegal schools, there are children in unregistered alternative provision (AP). Currently, not all AP needs to be registered or inspected, leading to a wide disparity of provision for some of the most vulnerable children. Where AP is registered, inspection outcomes are worse than for other schools. Tackling substandard unregistered AP and improving registered provision must be priorities.