Today we had the annual report from Ofsted  which looked at the performance of schools in 2013/14 – as measured by their inspections – compared to the previous year.

For primary schools the news was good and quite straightforward.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector, says:

“Primaries continue to improve. Eighty-two per cent of them are now good or better – an increase of 13 percentage points since 2012.”

That means that 700,000 more children are at good or outstanding primary schools than was the case in 2012.

But what about the secondary schools?

The Ofsted report says:

“The picture in the secondary sector is not as positive. The overall proportion of secondary schools that are good or outstanding remains unchanged from last year at 71%.

“In 2012, the proportion of good or outstanding secondary schools lagged behind primary schools by only three percentage points.

“This year, that gap has grown to 11 percentage points.”

But does this really mean that standards at secondary schools have stalled?

Ofsted’s tougher new inspection framework, introduced in September 2012. So the schools inspected for the academic years 2012/13 and 2013/14 were both comparable. But, in practice, might greater rigour have been applied in the second year?

This reference from the annual report suggests that Sir Michael is – quite rightly – always looking to ensure that poor performance does not go unchallenged:

“In my last annual report I emphasised the importance of school culture and good behaviour as a prerequisite for raising standards. As a result, our guidance was tightened in January 2014 to ensure that inspectors looked more closely at this issue.

“In the secondary schools inspected in 2013/14, there was a seven percentage point fall in the proportion of schools where behaviour and safety were judged good or outstanding compared with inspections conducted in 2012/13.”

So does that really mean that behaviour is worse – or that the bar of what constitutes good behaviour has been set higher?

The general message from Sir Michael is quite right. Schools – especially secondary school – need to do better. This is not just about a message for teachers but also for parents – and for governors “who are accustomed to agreeing wholeheartedly with the head.”

Why are the schools in some local authorities better than others?  Why are girls doing better than boys? Why are the white British behind the ethnic minorities?

Schools have more freedom but not all of them are using it.

Too often there is weak leadership. Low level disruption is tolerated too widely.

But an Ofsted spokesman tells me:

“It’s also fair to say that Ofsted’s tougher inspection is a contributing factor – the introduction of the requires improvement judgement, instead of satisfactory, now means that ‘good’ is the only acceptable standard.”

But don’t be too gloomy. I suspect that our secondary schools have not stalled but – in general – are improving. The challenge for them is to keep up with the expectations that Sir Michael has for them.

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