Reading the runes
As we approach the end of a long term in education and skills and a momentous year of Olympic, Paralympic and Jubilee celebration, it is fitting not only to take stock of our education system but also to look at the portents for 2013.
When I published my first annual report as Ofsted's chief inspector at the end of last month, it was heartening to announce that schools in England are improving. Nearly half a million more children are attending good or better schools than was the case three years ago. There are nearly 1,000 more outstanding schools and nearly 1,000 fewer satisfactory and inadequate schools.
Much of this improvement stems from better leadership. Heads are now firmly driving change, with more autonomy and more control over their resources than ever before. The evidence suggests that many of them - whether in academies or maintained schools - are using this freedom well.
Leadership is not confined to the headteacher but runs throughout the institution. The best heads and principals develop and capitalise on the talents of their colleagues, trusting them to be responsible for the quality of provision. Above all, good leaders focus on teaching and learning. As a result, we have detected a perceptible improvement in teaching. I must emphasise once again that Ofsted does not have a preferred style of teaching. What matters is that children are learning.
A particularly welcome finding is that school-to-school support is now firmly embedded across much of our system, with many heads of good and outstanding schools committed to helping other schools through a variety of partnership arrangements. All outstanding schools and converter academies should see it as a moral obligation to engage in such work.
Although schools have improved, there is still much to do if we are to match the best education systems in the world. We must ensure, for example, that the unacceptable inequity of provision across the country is robustly addressed by local authorities and others responsible for governance.
However, there are already some encouraging signs that underperforming schools across the country are responding positively to Ofsted's new inspection framework and its insistence that a satisfactory education is no longer good enough.
I would encourage all school leaders to read the recent Ofsted publication Getting to Good, which highlights good practice in some schools that have successfully tackled underperformance.
Our report found less to cheer about in the FE sector, which educates the majority of young people over 16. For the second successive year, inspectors did not judge a single college outstanding for teaching, while the number judged inadequate alarmingly jumped from four to 13 in one year.
It is crucial that colleges equip our young people with the skills they need to secure gainful employment and ensure our businesses aren't outflanked by their global competitors. Government must shine as bright a spotlight on the FE sector as it has done on schools.
There is much food for thought in the report and much to consider in the new year, but for now, let us look forward to a restful Christmas break.
Sir Michael Wilshaw is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.