Strong on ethos, weak on goals
The headteachers of most primary schools inspected last year succeeded in creating a positive and welcoming atmosphere.
They provided good pastoral support, managed behaviour well and forged effective links with parents. At three-fifths of schools the head and governors provided clear educational direction.
But in 40 per cent of schools, the monitoring of standards and quality of teaching were weak. Schools increasingly focused on raising pupils' performance, for example by analysing national curriculum assessment results, but only a minority were establishing clear and realistic targets.
Most schools expressed their desire to raise standards in a rather vague exhortation to do better, without specific goals against which progress could be measured, the report says.
Governors are increasingly aware of their responsibilities, but they are not sufficiently involved in evaluating the effectiveness of their schools or in financial planning.
Few governing bodies used clear performance indicators to make decisions about the head's salary.
Class sizes have risen slightly in recent years, often because schools are devoting more resources to support and administrative staffing.
But in about 4 per cent of schools staff shortages were so serious that they had a "significant impact" on the teaching of the national curriculum.
Accommodation was inadequate in one in eight primary schools, including problems such as a lack of space for PE, temporary classrooms, leaking roofs, crumbling plaster, flaking paintwork and "bleak, unpleasant outdoor play areas".
One in eight schools had inadequate books for English. Too many were worn and dated, and schools taking part in the National Literacy Project were often not given enough money to buy the many new books they needed.
But shortages were not always to do with a lack of funds. In a sample survey of schools with inadequate resources, the inspectors found that in about half this was because money was spent ineffectively. Some, for example, spent heavily on already adequate computer facilities at the expense of books.
In nearly three-quarters of schools, though, the quality of financial control and administration was good. Many employed a bursar and good use was made of external audits.
Financial planning was satisfactory or better at most schools, but at one in six it was not linked closely enough to development planning and not enough thought was given to evaluating the cost-effectiveness of spending decisions.
Fewer than one in 10 schools provided poor value for money. Budget surpluses accounted for between 2 and 10 per cent of income and were mainly used for specific projects.