Capital ideas

14th September 2012 at 01:00

This is a significant moment for the English education system, with the introduction of a new school inspection framework. I know this is a more demanding framework that aims for all schools to achieve at least a "good" judgement within a prescribed period of time. Nevertheless, I am sure heads and teachers recognise how important it is that all our children and young people go to a good school or college - they have but one chance of a good education.

On the controversy of the recent GCSE results, teachers have asked me whether a drop in performance will affect their Ofsted grading. Let me assure everyone that inspectors evaluate the progress and achievement levels of a school not only on one year's attainment, but on results over a period of time. They will fully take into account problems experienced this year.

In spite of the dip in this year's results, we can take heart in the knowledge that standards have radically improved since the 1970s, when I started teaching in London. At that time too many children and young people were failed by low expectations and an unaccountable education system. Therefore, it is heartening to see that standards in London across the phases have improved to the extent that the capital is now showing the way for the rest of the country.

London is ahead in standardised tests at 11, and more of its state-educated pupils meet the national benchmark of five GCSE passes at A*-C including English and maths. More than any other region, London has closed the gap between the richest and poorest pupils. The share of children eligible for free school meals gaining five A*-C grades is well above that of all other regions.

The capital, of course, has some obvious advantages: a very diverse, often aspirational population and a vibrant metropolitan culture. Nevertheless, these massive improvements are impressive and serve as a reminder of what needs to be done in the rest of the country.

If a poor child in London who speaks English as an additional language can achieve so well, why can't children from low-income families achieve as well in other parts of the country? Why should a London child have a better chance of success than a child from outside the capital?

These are questions Ofsted will seek to answer through its major study on access and achievement over the past 20 years and in this year's annual report, which will have a much more regional focus. We are also restructuring Ofsted into eight regions so that our inspectors can focus on regional differences and work with schools, colleges and local stakeholders to ensure that inspection is driving improvement on the ground.

Hard work, commitment and a determination to succeed can bring Olympian results, as we have all seen in recent weeks. The outstanding athletes we have watched are a product of good teachers and coaches who have identified talent, nurtured it and brought it to fruition. Good schools across the state and independent sectors make a real difference to the life of the nation. London is showing us just what can and must be done and it is up to the rest of the nation to follow.

Sir Michael Wilshaw is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.

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