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The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2016/17

This is my first Annual Report as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector.

Throughout my first year in office, I have been struck by the exceptional dedication and commitment of the people who serve children and learners in this country. Millions of people work in our nurseries, schools, colleges, care providers and council offices. Together they form the bedrock on which education and care in this country are built.

They do a demanding, sometimes difficult job, but it is thanks to their effort that the quality of education and care provided to young people today is better than ever. Right across the sectors we inspect, we are seeing not only widespread good practice, but also evidence of continual improvement.

●● The quality of early years providers has continued to improve, with 94% now judged to be good or outstanding: a marked improvement from 2012 when this proportion was just 74%.

●● Ninety per cent of all primary schools and 79% of secondary schools are currently judged good or outstanding. Secondary schools, pupil referral units and special schools have all improved their position to a small degree compared with last year. Across all phases, a high proportion (83%) of good schools stayed good or improved to outstanding on a return inspection.

●● We have now inspected the quality of children’s social care in 146 of the 152 local authorities nationally. We found 34% of these to be good or outstanding, compared with 26% at the time of our previous social care annual report. Even within those authorities that require improvement to be consistently good, there are many areas of good practice.

●● There has been an overall trend of improvement across social care providers. The proportion of good and outstanding children’s homes has increased from 79% to 83% since we last reported in 2016.

Across all the many types of providers we inspect, only secure training centres have declined. Every incremental improvement represents extensive effort on many people’s part. Part of our role is to support their efforts by focusing on those remaining areas of provision that are less than good and highlighting the need for improvement. As long as some children and learners are less well served than others, and as long as some people in this country are given educational advantages that others don’t share, there is still more to be done.

That is why, this year, we have set out our intention to be a force for improvement in both education and care. We know that when we identify and report on an area for improvement, the sectors respond by making changes.

With that in mind, I would like to draw your attention to those areas of most concern. It is here that further effort is needed on the part of policy makers, professionals and Ofsted in order to improve outcomes for children and young people. These will drive our focus in the coming 12 months.

●● There is a small but persistent group of underperforming schools that have not improved enough over very many years. This includes some whose underperformance has lasted for a decade or more. All of these have received considerable attention and investment from external agencies. None of these interventions has worked. The focus on ‘Opportunity areas’ is a welcome innovation. However, more may be required.

●● The solution to the problem of school underperformance is often to look to the strongest providers and most accomplished professionals to effect change. In education, we are seeing that these institutions and individuals are spread too thinly. The system is asking a lot of the best multi-academy trusts and school leaders. It is not clear that a small group of large, high-performing trusts has the capacity to provide all the help that is needed.

●● We have learned over the past 10 years that increases in test scores do not necessarily reflect a real improvement in education standards. While tests are important and useful, they do not, and can never, reflect the entirety of what pupils need to learn. Exams should exist in the service of the curriculum rather than the other way round.

●● Children who need help and protection is still the area of social care that is most in need of improvement. We are now seeing greater attention being given to good basic social care practice. It is in the local authorities that have emphasised getting the basics right that we have seen improved outcomes for children.

●● Our early years inspections, whether of a Reception Year, nursery, pre-school or a childminder, are made with reference to the expectations of the ‘Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage’. However, our survey this year showed a number of weaknesses in this as a guide for children’s learning. We found that schools that are best at preparing children for Year 1 are going beyond the framework and setting more challenging expectations.

●● Many parents feel it is important that their children are educated according to their own cultural beliefs and community norms; and with an increasingly diverse population, these norms can now differ considerably. Yet the effective functioning of British society depends on some fundamental shared values as well as a culture of mutual tolerance and respect. We have found an increasing number of conservative religious schools where the legal requirements that set the expectations for shared values and tolerance clash with community expectations. The schools are, therefore, deliberately choosing not to meet these standards. This tension is also leading to the creation of illegal ‘schools’ that avoid teaching the unifying messages taught in the vast majority of schools in England. Both of these situations are of great concern.

●● This year, the case of learndirect limited has shown that no provider is too big to fail. This raises a question for us and for government about failure in market regulation and whether incentives drive the right behaviour. The apprenticeship levy is raising a very substantial amount of money to fund training. This carries the risk of attracting operators that are not committed to high-quality learning, as we saw, for example, with Train to Gain. We also see a high dependence on a small number of large providers in some areas of social care, such as children’s homes.

●● Domestic abuse is the most common factor in the lives of children who need social care services. Our joint inspections this year found that while there is a need to prevent, protect and repair the effects of domestic abuse, it is really only protection that is being given consistent attention. In particular, everyone needs to place more emphasis on tackling perpetrators and understanding what works to stop abusive behaviour.

●● Secure children’s homes are doing well for children and young people. By contrast, outcomes for children and young people in young offender institutions and secure training centres are much less good, and sometimes extremely poor. Lessons need to be learned urgently about how best to educate and take care of children in the secure estate.

●● Children and young people identified as needing SEND (special educational needs and disability) support but who do not have an education, health and care plan often have a much poorer experience of the education system than their peers. In the local authorities we inspected, leaders were not clear how their actions were improving outcomes for these children and young people. Some parents reported that they had been asked to keep their children at home because leaders said that they could not meet their children’s needs. This is unacceptable.