Secondary schools across the country are failing to stretch their most-able students, according to Ofsted.
A report from the watchdog said schools had been “slow” and “complacent” in this field, despite its call in 2013 for “urgent action” to make sure the brightest students achieved their full potential.
The report, published today, said too many pupils were left “treading water” when they started secondary school because of “poor transition arrangements” between primaries and secondaries.
Schools’ assessment, performance tracking and target setting systems were “not effective enough” at key stage 3 and this meant that students had been “left to flounder for too long” by the time they reached Year 10, it warned.
It said these pupils were too often repeating work they had “already mastered” and, as a result, were “not able to maximise their potential” when they reached GCSE level.
“Her Majesty’s Inspectors identified too much complacency in many of the schools visited," the report said. "In these schools, the leaders indicated that they were satisfied with their most-able students making the ‘expected progress’, but all too often, aspirations of what these students could achieve were simply not high enough."
Sean Harford, Ofsted’s national director of schools, said the findings were "disappointing", and called on school leaders to heed the "call to action".
“While inspectors found pockets of excellence, too many of [the brightest] children are not being challenged sufficiently – and thousands of highly performing primary pupils are not realising their early promise when they move to secondary school," he said.
“It is especially disappointing to find that, almost two years on from our first report, the same problems remain. I hope that school leaders see this report as a call to action – and raise the bar higher for their most-able pupils, so that they can reach their full potential.”
He said Ofsted would focus “sharply” in its inspections on the progress of the most-able students, particularly those from poorer backgrounds.
In almost half of the 40 schools visited in researching the report, Ofsted said headteachers did not prioritise the needs of their most able students early enough.
It found that at some schools, “not a single most able student achieves the A-level grades commonly preferred by top universities.”
The watchdog has called on school leaders to give key stage 3 “equal priority with other key stages” when allocating teaching staff to classes. Schools should also appoint staff and governors with a duty to champion the needs of the most-able students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In response to the findings, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said Labour would, if elected, establish a “gifted and talented fund” to help schools to stretch their most-able pupils.
“Young people, especially those from low- and middle-income backgrounds, are all too often not given the challenge and support that they need to fulfil their potential,” he said.
Ofsted takes aim at ‘worrying lack of scholarship’ – 14 December, 2014