Access and achievement

Michael Wilshaw

I hope that now, after my first six months in post, people have realised that what motivates me is changing the education system so that all pupils can reach their true potential, and not be held back by a lack of ambition. The belief that every child should have a good education is at the heart of Ofsted's work and reform of the school inspection framework. To achieve a good education for all and close the attainment gap, I believe we simply can't maintain the status quo.

Disadvantage across many sections of society is a massive issue. We need to worry about the social and economic consequences if we don't make radical improvements. We only have to think back to the riots last summer for a reminder of what can happen when children and young people don't have access to the high-quality education they need.

That's why I am launching a commission this month to look into how we can help to break the cycle of deprivation and close the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots".

I know how difficult it can be. Schools too often have to pick up the pieces where society has failed. However great the teaching, schools can't provide all the solutions. We all know the real difference schools can make but we must not be soft on the shortcomings of society and underestimate their impact.

Two decades ago, Ofsted produced a landmark report, Access and Achievement in Urban Education, describing the lack of educational success and the paucity of good schools in deprived communities. Ten years later, David Bell, then chief inspector, produced another report under the same headline that painted a similarly bleak picture of underperformance in these same communities.

I will be producing a report early next year, under the same headline, to mark the 20th anniversary of the first report. I want to see how we can make a real difference to these attainment gaps. To prepare for this report, I will chair a commission that will be made up of a panel of leading heads and academic experts. Together we will seek to answer some key questions and identify possible solutions.

There is no single answer, but we need to learn from what we know works to help schools narrow the gap. If some can be outstanding while serving the poorest communities, why can't they all? We need more community cohesion, stronger home lives and more responsibility within families. But we also need to see where schools can make an even bigger difference. I want the inquiry to come up with radical recommendations for the government on what needs to be done to address these deep-seated problems.

We will need evidence from a wide range of sources. Of course, it is very important that your views, experiences and ideas as teachers and heads feed in to the commission. I want to ensure we continue not only to identify where things need to improve, but also to share what is working well in our schools.

We have a real chance to transform the lives of many more young people. Our teachers and heads have the experience and skills to meet this challenge. Children get one chance at a good education - and never get the chance again.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.

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Michael Wilshaw

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