Woodhead's 'ray of hope'

11th February 2000 at 00:00

The literacy and numeracy drives mean primary pupils have never had it so good, claims the chief inspector in his annual review. But the picture for secondaries is bleaker. Warwick Mansell reports

THE national literacy and numeracy strategies have dramatically improved standards in primaries and are the key to addressing underachievement in secondaries, Chris Woodhead claimed this week.

The chief inspector's sixth annual standards report highlights improved teaching in primary schools and heartening progress in national tests. He claimed that the national literacy strategy offered a "ray of hope" to children from disadvantaged areas who currently left primary school unable to read and write.

But in secondary schools, the message was mainly bleak. Mr Woodhead described it as "deeply disturbing" that 6 per cent of pupils still leave school with no GCSEs.

The report highlighted the jump in the performance of 11-year-olds in national curriculum tests last year. English improved by five percentage points, and maths by 10 points. Mr Woodhead claimed the literacy strategy, introduced in 1998, and the numeracy strategy, for which schools were preparing in 1998-99, were largely responsible.

He said schools were increasingly realising the importance of clear planning in lessons and, in particular, of whole-class teaching.

But many primary schools still need to raise their expectations of pupils, said Mr Woodhead. Controversially, he said the key to raising expectations was improving teachers' subject knowledge.

He said: "If standards are to rise further in primary schools, then teachers must have better access to high-quality training designed to deepen their subject knowledge."

Mr Woodhead claimed there had been "much less progress" in secondary schools, where a third of 14-year-olds fell short of level 5 in national English and maths tests. Thirteen per cent of pupils failed to pass both English and maths.

There needed to be better co-ordination between primary and secondary schools to ensure that children did not fall back in their eary secondary years.

Not surprisingly, Mr Woodhead welcomed the Government's move to extend the literacy and numeracy strategies to secondaries.

However, inspection evidence in the report suggests that the quality of teaching and children's progress in lessons at key stage 3 is only fractionally behind that at key stage 2.

Mr Woodhead said that eight out of 10 schools inspected had more good lessons than in their previous inspection - but that the gap between the best and the worst continued to widen. To tackle this, he said teachers should be paid more to work in challenging inner-city schools.

He described as "bleak" the fact that only nine local authorities out of 41 inspected by the Office for Standards in Education by the time his report went to press were giving effective support to their schools. The cause of failure in the worst-performing authorities was a lack of political leadership.

There was some scepticism from Mr Woodhead on the number of initiatives raining down on schools, from national as well as local government. He said many heads had said these initiatives were not relevant to their schools' priorities.

And he sounded a word of caution on appraisal, a key plank of the Government's performance-related pay plan for teachers. He said: "In many schools, appraisal of any kind has stalled. A great deal of work needs to be done if the Government's initiative on PRP is to have any real impact."


Proportion of unsatisfactory lessons down from 8 to 6 per cent; proportion of "good" lessons up from 54 to 58 per cent.

Behaviour "good" in 83 per cent of primaries and 74 per cent of secondaries.

Children failing to build on key stage 2 results when they sit key stage 3 tests.

School leadership is improving, particularly in secondary schools. However, there is weak leadership in one in 10 primary schools and one in 12 secondaries.

Subject knowledge poor among students on three-quarters of English primary teacher-training courses.

During 199899, 230 schools came out of special measures and 193 went into them.

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