THE quality of teaching is now good or better in a record number of lessons, Mike Tomlinson,the chief inspector of schools, will say in his annual report to be published next week.The report will show that the proportion of good, very good and excellent teaching has risen during the past year.
But, while the gap between the best and worst primaries is narrowing because of the literacy and numeracy strategies, that between secondary schools is widening.
The report will show that English schools are better than ever and point to the growing proportion of good headteachers as their training improves and they become accustomed to the demands of modern headship.
Mr Tomlinson will also highlight teacher shortages and warn that the crisis will threaten standards. Shortages are not yet affecting results, he believes, because heads ensure that test and exam groups have teachers.
Mr Tomlinson, an HMI for 20 years, told the Society of Education Officers' winter conference in Manchester last week: "I cannot remember a time when there has been so much good teaching."
He felt that teachers did not get the credit they deserved for the major improvements in teaching brought in against a backdrop of almost constant change.
Narrowing the gap between secondary schools is more difficult than improving standards in primaries, he said. Achievement of Afro-Caribbean pupils is of particular concern and there are problems too for white boys.
But Mr Tomlinson told the SEO: "We are better placed than ever to make improvements."
In primary schools, only four out of 10 lessons were judged by inspectors to be good in 199495. By last year the number had jumped to seven out of 10. Forty per cent of primaries did not have a single lesson judged less than satisfactory. Secondary schools recorded similar improvements.
"These are not only real achievements," said Mr Tomlinson, "but given the climate in which they have been achieved they are a dramatic improvement.
Nine out of 10 secondaries are now showing signs of improvement by the time of a second inspection and often instigating change themselves. The number of schools going into special measures has fallen dramatically. Last year just 137 were declared to have serious weakness. In 1999, it was 230.
But Mr Tomlinson said: "It would be foolish if we didn't recognise that the global picture hides an important message about what is happening at a micro level - at a school, pupil level."
Good self-evaluation by schools, linked to performance management, was one of the key things for improving education of individual children, he said.
The Government wants all schools to have 25 per cent of pupils with five A*-C grades by 2006. Just 370 schools fall below this target and education minister Stephen Timms told the SEO that the signs were "encouraging".
Mr Tomlinson said: "Schools are improving and the evidence suggests that improvement and the capacity to improve have become more entrenched over time."
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BURNT OUT BUT STILL SHINING BRIGHTLY
Catton Grove first school offers its pupils high-quality teaching and recently received an excellent Office for Standards in Education report - despite having to go through a baptism of fire.
The Norwich school came to the rescue after the middle school, which shares its campus, burnt down in a building accident. For several weeks in the run-up to its inspection the first school was sharing its classrooms with the older pupils.
Despite this disruption, inspectors said the school was "outstandingly effective". The report said: "This is exceptionally high-quality teaching and it extends across all year groups and all subjects."
Scarlett Trafford, headteacher, put the school's excellent performance down to effective behaviour management. "If children are self-confident and comfortable with themselves, they come into school with good learning attitudes," she said.