Chief inspector cast as villain as she unveils Ofsted annual report
With headlines about "bad teachers", warnings of persistent mediocrity from a chief schools inspector and howls of outrage from teaching unions, it felt as if we had travelled back in time more than a decade.
Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert introduced her annual report this week with a warning: "There is a stubborn core of inadequate teaching and teaching that is only satisfactory; teaching that fails to inspire, challenge or extend children."
It all felt a little reminiscent of the mid-1990s when Chris Woodhead, Ms Gilbert's predecessor and teachers' favourite pantomime villain, would regularly bash the profession.
And when Chris Keates, general secretary of teaching union the NASUWT, responded in typically robust fashion we really were rolling back the years.
"The commentary that surrounds this report every year is hugely demoralising for teachers," she said. "Whatever the report says, the focus is always on any negative aspects. This regular 'talking down' of teachers and state schools is not only totally unfair, it is grossly inaccurate."
Ms Keates was right to point out that the actual report is "overwhelmingly positive". A record 69 per cent of state schools are now judged good or outstanding, and there has been a big jump in the proportion of good and outstanding teaching in schools - with just 2 per cent judged inadequate.
To be fair to Ms Gilbert, she was hardly "doing a Woodhead" and calling for the sacking of 15,000 "incompetent" staff. Her report offers suggestions on how the satisfactory and inadequate can improve.
It is a long way from those second-term New Labour days when fresh-faced ministers would suck up to the profession by trotting out Ofsted's line that we had the best generation of teachers, ever. But times have changed. The fashionable focus of raising educational standards is no longer the school, it is the teacher.
In a special section focusing on improving teaching, the annual report quotes extensively from the 2007 study by global consultancy McKinsey announcing the shocking news that teacher quality is a key component of "world class" education systems. Ofsted looks at how that realisation can be applied in England, setting out what good teaching looks like and how it can be supported.
There is specific advice for initial teacher training providers. Ofsted reports that 88 per cent of them are good or outstanding, with none inadequate, but it pinpoints four areas where trainees could be better prepared for the classroom.
The watchdog says their assessment skills are lacking, too few are prepared to work with pupils with special educational needs, some lack a clear understanding of how to use systematic phonics and their knowledge of how to teach pupils of different faith, cultural and linguistic backgrounds is too variable.
In fact, it is white British pupils from deprived homes that the annual report singles out as particularly at risk of underachievement. Asked why, Ms Gilbert told The TES: "It is to do with aspirations and low expectations."
But there was a mixed verdict for academies - one of the Government's key tools in tackling this problem. In 200809, five were judged outstanding and 12 good, but another eight were only satisfactory and five received the lowest - inadequate - rating.
Ms Gilbert said: "For this latter group, raising standards and establishing a settled ethos remain a considerable challenge."
She refused to be drawn on whether this was because these state-funded independent schools lack the support mechanisms available to conventional state schools, saying there was not yet sufficient evidence to comment on academies as a group.
REPORT AT A GLANCE
- Proportion of good or outstanding state schools up again, to 69 per cent.
- Proportion of inadequate state schools down to 4 per cent. But proportion of inadequate secondaries (6 per cent) "still too high".
- Nearly half of satisfactory schools do not improve at subsequent inspection.
- Teaching and learning outstanding or good in 70 per cent of schools.
- As in 200708, a very large majority of nursery and special schools are good or outstanding.
- State schools sustained "generally high-quality" provision for 0 to five-year-olds following introduction of Early Years Foundation Stage.
- Schools in categories of concern down from 471 to 360. Proportion of inadequate pupil referral units stable (7 per cent), but "too high".