A mixed report

One in seven primary heads is weak in leadership and fails to give clear educational direction, according to the latest annual report from the chief inspector of schools. Three-quarters of secondary schools have a good quality of leadership from their heads and senior management teams but in one in 10 it is described as "weak and ineffectual".

One-third of special school heads did not give enough central direction to curriculum development and other aspects of management were "weak". Though leadership and management were "satisfactory" overall in three-quarters of special schools, financial planning was "poor".

The day-to-day administration and organisation of schools was good in a large majority of schools which contributed to good behaviour and a calm working atmosphere - but schools were less good at strategic planning and setting priorities.

In his commentary on the report, Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector, says there were signs that heads and governors were focusing more on standards. But he said: "In many primary and secondary schools head-teachers and senior management need to invest more time in monitoring the quality of teaching. Too often unacceptable variations in the quality of teaching lead to variations in pupil achievement from class to class in the same school."

The report says primary schools often did not evaluate their performance with any rigour. And too few headteachers monitored and influenced classroom teaching.

At secondary level checks on school policies and procedures were poor in one in three schools, with weaknesses found "at all levels of management".

In at least four out of five primary and secondary schools, OFSTED inspectors rated routine administration and organisation, internal and external communications and financial control as "good". But reviewing of school's work was poor in a third or more, and planning and priority setting and the implementation of plans were poor in more than one school in five.

The efficient use of resources and financial decisions were "good" in fewer than two-thirds of primaries and slightly more than two-thirds of secondaries.

Value for money: Failure to check whether money had been spent well weakened financial management. Just over half of primary schools were thought to provide good value for money compared with two-thirds of secondary schools; the same proportions of primary and secondary schools - one in 10 - were found to provide poor value.

Checks on cost-effectiveness were weak in one-third of secondary schools; financial management was unsatisfactory and gave cause for concern in one in 10. Weaknesses included decisions taken with insufficient information, slack monitoring of major spending items, and financial planning insufficiently linked to development planning.

Spending was linked to development plans in only three-quarters of the secondaries inspected. "When departments produce their own curricular development plans which are carefully linked to anticipated expenditure, this creates a system which is clear and easily monitored.

"In some schools, however, long-established arrangements for allocating funding to departments are inadequate and sometimes conflict with development planning."

Resources for learning: The report comments guardedly on the varying sums schools were able to spend on improving teaching resources. "The amount of money schools receive varies significantly across LEAs. Some of these variations can be justified in terms of the different needs of pupils in different schools."

In a sample of primary schools visited, the sums spent on resources varied between 2 and 9 per cent of the schools' total expenditure. This was "dependent to a large extent on the school's staffing profile. It was also influenced by management decisions about priorities and the school's ability to achieve value for money.

"Schools which spend similar amounts of money on the education of their pupils have very considerable differences in the quality of their learning resources."

The reasons some secondary schools had inadequate learning resources were complex. "High teaching costs, costs of cover for absent teachers and contingencies such as those for replacing stolen or damaged equipment compete with levels of expenditure on books and equipment. "

Development plans: The report finds "a considerable improvement in the quality of development planning" in secondary schools. Most produced good or very good plans but as yet their impact on teaching was limited.

Secondary schools were now "more likely to prioritise aspects for development, set improvement targets, identify milestones to be aimed for, detail the staffing and other resources needed to achieve targets and indicate who is responsible for taking action."

Appraisal: Most schools have the required arrangements in place but these have yet to have much impact on teaching and learning or in-service training. Staff development is effective in about half primary schools inspected but weak in one in five because of the failure to relate training to school development needs or specific teaching and assessment requirements.

In secondary, again staff development is effective in half the schools but although most were able to identify training needs, some were ineffective at this because of inadequate monitoring of teaching.

Middle managers: These received a mixed report. Subject co-ordinators were rated "effective" in half the primary schools inspected.

"They have the most positive impact where they are able to evaluate and feedback advice on the teaching of the subject by looking at pupils' work, visiting colleagues' classes and helping with their planning.

"The long-standing problem of non-contact time for co-ordinators, including special educational needs co-ordinators, continues to limit their effectiveness."

Leadership of heads of department in secondary schools is described as "variable". At best they identified strengths and weaknesses in teaching, established in-service training needs and checked how well pupil achievements matched departmental targets.

In one-third of special schools, "insufficient central direction is given to curriculum development while in half, the role of subject co-ordinators is poorly developed. Almost all senior management teams have yet to take practical steps to monitor what is being taught and whether it is being taught effectively."

Buildings: The state of school buildings had a detrimental effect in one primary school in seven. One in three was short of space and PE was the subject most commonly affected by lack of specialist accommodation.

One in five secondaries had significant accommodation weaknesses which had direct impact on specialist teaching in one in six schools, particularly in science, technology and art.

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