Teachers escape Ofsted's glare as it takes aim at LAs
Given the potshots that are traditionally taken at schools in Ofsted's annual reports, teachers could have been forgiven for approaching the first one published under the stewardship of Sir Michael Wilshaw with some trepidation.
But rather than pillorying the usual suspects, the outspoken chief inspector was at pains to point out that schools are, in fact, getting better: the proportion rated good or outstanding has increased from 66 to 70 per cent over the past three years.
Although he insisted that schools still have work to do, Sir Michael had a new target in his sights: local authorities.
While many have argued that they are increasingly being sidelined by the expansion of the academies programme, Sir Michael claimed during the report's launch on Tuesday that local authorities are partly to blame for the disparity between the performance of schools in different parts of the country.
And rather than simply ignoring the academies that have opted out of their control, he called on councils to keep an eye on the performance of the whole "family" of local schools.
Sir Michael also fired a warning shot to academy chains that let standards slip: if there is evidence that a number of schools in a chain are struggling, the leadership of the chain can expect a visit from the inspectors, he said.
Ofsted's report revealed that, of the 355 schools inspected in 2011-12 that were previously found to be inadequate, two had made the "exceptionally rapid journey to outstanding", with 62 and 255 schools rated good and satisfactory respectively.
At the end of August 2012, 71 per cent of schools were judged to have outstanding or good teaching, compared with 65 per cent in August 2008.
For the first time, the report ranked councils according to the inspection performance of schools in their patch - including, surprisingly, academies that are outside local authority control.
While 92 per cent of pupils in the London Borough of Camden attend a primary school rated good or outstanding by Ofsted, the odds are considerably worse in Coventry, where just 42 per cent of children have the same opportunity.
And the odds are not just stacked in favour of children living in affluent areas. The northern towns of Wigan and Darlington, where 80 per cent of schools are good or outstanding, were picked out for praise by Sir Michael (pictured above), who pointed out that the equivalent figure in the relatively wealthy county of Oxfordshire is just 59 per cent.
"The inequities for local children are stark," the chief inspector said. "This is completely unacceptable." Ofsted's new cohort of regional directors will be tasked with uncovering the causes of these disparities in the new year.
Sir Michael was adamant that councils have a key role to play in ensuring high levels of performance across all local schools. "A good local authority will know what is happening in all of its schools, including academies," he said. "It might not have visited them (but it) will know from the data that's coming through - the word on the street, if you like, from parents - about what's happening in these academies."
Councils should air their concerns to the school, its sponsor or, if necessary, the education secretary, he added.
Debbie Jones, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, welcomed Ofsted's highlighting of the "critical role that local authorities play in improving schools and educational outcomes for all children".
But Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, warned that naming and shaming poorly performing authorities could be a "thinly disguised strategy" to "force more local authorities into widespread academisation of local schools".Although the report insisted that the jury is still out on the impact of converter academies - they "have yet to make the most of their freedoms and contribute significantly to the system" - it welcomed the "positive" impact of academy chains. While 8 per cent of sponsor-led academies have been rated outstanding, the corresponding figure for those run by a chain stands at 25 per cent.
However, Sir Michael insisted that chains could also be subjected to inspections. "If we identify constituent academies within academy chains that are not doing well, and we sense they are not doing well because of poor monitoring and poor governance, we will inspect those academy chains," he said.