INCREASING NUMBERS of schools are not providing a high enough quality of education with almost 200 judged inadequate during last year's autumn term, according to Ofsted figures.
Inspectors put 82 schools into the most serious special measures category, taking the total number of failing schools from 208 to 243; 45 schools were removed from the category and two were closed.
But Jim Knight, schools minister, said it was normal for the number to go up in autumn as there are more inspections then. "The total remains below 1 per cent of schools and half the number in special measures in 1998," he said.
The picture was particularly bad for primary schools, with 171 put into special measures - a rise of 25 per cent since the end of the summer term.
A further 113 schools were given "notice to improve", defined as inadequate but with the capacity to get better. This took the number of schools from 312 to 367. Fifty-seven schools were removed from the grouping. An Ofsted spokeswoman said the results reflected the fact that the bar had been raised since a new inspection framework was introduced in September 2005.
"What was considered good 10 years ago is not considered good any longer,"
she said. "Our expectations as taxpayers and consumers are always rising, and so are expectations of public services. Parents want good schools for their children and schools should aspire to be good or better."
But Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham university's centre for education and employment research, said the figures showed that the Government's drive to improve standards in primary education had stalled.
He said: "They have got as much out of the national literacy and numeracy strategies as they can."
He said a review of nursery education was needed to give children a stronger foundation by the time they reach primary school.
When Ofsted published its annual report for 20056 in November last year, it said there were fewer schools in special measures at the end of the year than at the start. Of schools inspected, 2.7 per cent were put in special measures, the same proportion as the previous year. Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector, said more than half of secondaries were providing a satisfactory education at best, adding: "Satisfactory can never be good enough."
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said: "The constant moving of goalposts to define satisfactory or unsatisfactory means teachers and heads are increasingly setting less and less store by Ofsted's pronouncements.
"No school wants to be labelled as failing. The reasons for decline are usually complex and often outside the school's control. It should not require an adverse judgment by school inspectors before schools receive the support they need."
Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said:
"Schools now find themselves in an Alice in Wonderland situation where what was once considered satisfactory is now unsatisfactory. Inspections are in urgent need of review. Accusations of blame and failure are not the best ways to achieve school improvement."
Almost 3,000 inspections took place last term; 2.79 per cent of schools were put into special measures and 3.84 per cent were given a notice to improve.