Weak schools ‘improving too slowly’, says watchdog

The BBC is reporting warnings from the National Audit Office that there are 1.6 million pupils in schools in England that are not good enough and interventions to improve them are not working effectively…

…The report from the National Audit Office warned that despite £382m being spent each year on monitoring schools and interventions, there are weaknesses in efforts to raise standards.

In particular it raised questions about how much the Department for Education knows about problems at school level, in a system with increasing autonomy for individual schools and academy chains.

Head teachers also argued that it was painting an excessively “bleak picture” of school standards.

“Some academy sponsors are very successful, but the department does not yet know why others are not,” said the National Audit Office.

It drew attention to concerns, voiced by Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, that the watchdog cannot inspect academy trusts.

“Ofsted is unable to inspect sponsors and multi-academy trusts so there is no independent source of information about the quality of their work,” said the spending watchdog.

Concerns over the oversight of academies emerged in the wake of the Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham – and the report warned of a lack of checks on governors to “prevent risks such as entryism” – where a group of like-minded individuals infiltrate an organisation aiming to subvert its objectives.

“Greater school autonomy needs to be coupled with effective oversight and assurance. The department has made some improvements but has further to go,” said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office.

“There are significant gaps in the department’s understanding of what works,” she said.

The report highlighted the 1.6 million pupils in schools which have inspection grades of either “inadequate” or “requires improvement”.

Mrs Hodge said the figures from the spending watchdog showed it is “hard to see how formal interventions make any difference”, with 52% of schools not improving Ofsted grades after intervention and 59% improving without any intervention.

She said it was a “sorry state of affairs when the department has to rely on whistleblowers to spot declines in school performance”.

But head teachers rejected the findings.

“The reality is nowhere like the bleak picture painted somewhat dramatically today,” said Malcolm Trobe of the Association of School and College Leaders.

“The evidence from Ofsted is that schools are improving year on year,” he said…

…a Department for Education spokeswoman said “huge progress” had been achieved in improving schools.

“England’s schools have been transformed over the past few years with 800,000 more children now being taught in good or outstanding schools since 2010.

“This is a great achievement but we would be the first to admit that the job is not yet done.

“Any child being taught in a failing school is an opportunity lost, which is why we have intervened in more than 1,000 failing schools over the past four years – pairing them up with excellent sponsors to give pupils the best chance of receiving an excellent education.”

More at: Weak schools ‘improving too slowly’, says watchdog


What do you make of this intervention from Margaret Hodge and the National Audit Office? Valid points? An overstatement of the state of issues facing schools and the extent to which they are improving? Playing politics? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. ballater6

    SchoolsImprove improvement takes longer if it is to be sustained, short fixes, might be easy to do but are not the answer

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove No wonder people think schools/teachers are rubbish with reports like this. Highlights corrosive nature of Ofsted judgements

  3. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove If you wanted informed opinion about schools in England I’ll guarantee that National Audit Office wouldn’t be in your top 10

  4. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Picture painted by the report is one of schools/teachers are so bad schools in England need scrapping. Another morale boost

  5. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove A minor silver lining from this is that finally the DfE utter incompetence is highlighted to an extent

  6. Janet2

    The DfE trots out the same tired line that pairing ‘failing’ schools with an ‘excellent sponsor’ gives pupils ‘the best chance of receiving an excellent education’.  But it didn’t work with pairing schools with E-Act, a long-serving sponsor, or AET, a rapidly-growing chain criticised twice by Ofsted and has just been told to get its finances in order by the EFA. Or those other academy chains sent warning notices.   And two B’Ham schools sponsored by one of the highest-regarded chains, ARK, went from ‘improving’ before being paired with ARK to not improving as I point out here:


    That said, there may be valid reasons why schools don’t ‘improve’.  Yes, they are schools where leadership is incompetent but others struggle against a perfect storm of disadvantages (usually dismissed as ‘excuses’) eg a combination of a large number of disadvantaged pupils in a disadvantaged area, an intake skewed towards the bottom end, a sudden influx of pupils who can’t speak English well, high staff turnover, temporary leadership, a mobile pupil population, a falling roll which results in less funding.

  7. Janet2

    The NAO press release doesn’t define ‘underperformance’.  It implies this is a poor Ofsted result.  But that’s not the same as underperformance as measured by results which is, in any case, a misleading way of comparing schools.

    That said, the NAO is right when it says:

    ‘Greater school autonomy needs to be coupled with effective oversight and assurance.’

    One of the responsibilities of the EFA (it has others) is overseeing academies.  But it’s supposed to reduce its operating costs at the same time.  This is likely to mean it won’t be able to oversee academies and chains properly as I discuss here:


    The NAO press release is here: http://www.nao.org.uk/press-releases/academies-maintained-schools-oversight-intervention/

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