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The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2017/18

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

The education and care sectors have been criticised for lagging behind their counterparts in health or even criminal justice for not making enough use of evidence and research to improve their practice. That criticism may have been valid in the past, but our inspections and conversations this year show that this is now far from the truth.

I have been struck by how enthusiastically teachers, lecturers and social workers are discussing and debating how to improve their practice on the back of evidence based research, including Ofsted reports and surveys.

I have seen a really positive response to the focus we are bringing on the substance of the education – the curriculum. Across all the sectors we inspect and regulate, there is a real understanding that we need to regain our focus on substance: to teach an academic curriculum, to improve social care practice, to open up a range of future careers to young people.

We know that there are different gradients on the path to success in our system, with the most advantaged on the gentler incline. Each time we fail to teach a child to read, or fail to spot neglect, or assume that a child cannot study academic subjects or do not offer a good vocational pathway, we make the gradient they have to climb that bit steeper when we should be making it gentler.

The good news is that, across the sectors we inspect, we see people working well to deliver for young people. As a result, more providers are getting more of the basics right and, as a result, are improving.

●● The early years sector remains strong, with 95% of providers judged good or outstanding compared with 74% six years ago.

●● Eighty-six per cent of schools were judged good or outstanding at their most recent inspection. However, around 490 schools have been ‘stuck’ in a cycle of poor performance since 2005.

●● Sixty-nine per cent of all non-association independent schools are currently judged good or outstanding. Although broadly the same as last year, this is a decline from August 2015.

●● Seventy-six per cent of all general further education (FE) colleges are currently judged good or outstanding – a big improvement from last year.

●● The number of local authorities (LAs) judged good or outstanding for their social care continues to rise, while two thirds of LAs that were once judged inadequate have improved at re-inspection.

That paints a positive picture for much of the country. However, gaps remain. There are some children who may have never had the opportunity to attend a good or outstanding school in the whole course of their education. There are children who attend unregistered schools where British values are disregarded.

There are children who are not being given the care they need in order to be safe. We know that when we focus on an area for improvement, sectors respond and make changes. This year, we report on those areas most of concern. These are the areas that will require action on the part of policy makers, professionals and Ofsted.

●● Literacy is the key to success in a rounded, academic and vocational education. Schools that understand this both read to children and teach phonics really well. They help the children whose parents have poor literacy, the children who start school with poor vocabulary, the children who find learning to read that bit harder than their peers. These schools address the imbalance.

●● In the second year of our local area SEND inspections, we have seen a continuing lack of coordinated 0–25 strategies and poor post-19 provision. We have seen a continuing trend of rising exclusions among children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND). Mental health needs are not being supported sufficiently. The quality of education, health and care (EHC) plans is far too variable. Critically, the gap in performance and outcomes for children with SEND is widening between the best and the worst local areas.

●● For the second year running, we are concerned about the small but persistent group of ‘stuck’ schools – schools that have not improved enough over many years. This year, we have identified around 490 schools judged to require improvement or be inadequate in every inspection they have had since 2005. We need more outstanding schools and school leaders to help these stuck schools.

●● In the FE sector, the new apprenticeship levy and the merger of several colleges is changing the sector considerably. With the increase in new apprenticeship providers, we are concerned about the potential for a dilution in the quality of apprenticeships being offered. We are also concerned about access to apprenticeships for the third of students who leave school without a full level 2 qualification each year.

●● We are seeing an impact of the reduction in LA funding. Although statutory social care services have been largely locally protected, reductions in funding in other areas are leaving LAs unable to intervene early enough when young people present as needing help.

●● We continue to have serious concerns for the pupils who are being educated in unregulated settings that circumnavigate legal loopholes in order to operate. Children in these settings are being denied the education and opportunities they are entitled to. Some are at risk of radicalisation. The first successful prosecution of an unregistered school led to convictions in October this year. However, legislation needs to be strengthened so that these settings can be closed down and others deterred from operating them.

●● Too many non-association independent schools have been inadequate for too long and do not have the capacity to improve. Current timescales for regulatory or enforcement action mean that pupils are spending significant parts of their education in schools where they are not learning well or are unsafe.

●● This year, we have raised our concern about outstanding schools being exempt from inspection and the consequent gaps in our knowledge about the quality of education and safeguarding in these schools. For the outstanding grade to maintain its reputation, the exemption needs to be lifted and Ofsted needs the resource to inspect these schools.

●● There is a shortage of specialist mental health provision, and the provision that exists is not distributed evenly around the country. This puts pressure on LAs to find the right places for the most vulnerable young people. It also puts Ofsted as regulator in a difficult position because we know that sometimes LAs need to give a child a home and keep them as safe as possible in a setting that might be unregulated and sometimes unregistered. The whole sector needs to offer better provision to these children.

●● We have identified around 300 schools with ‘exceptional levels’ of pupils coming off-roll between Years 10 and 11. We know that the most vulnerable children are more likely to be excluded or off-rolled. The new education inspection framework (EIF) will allow us to identify and report on those schools that push young people who might achieve less well out of their schools through off-rolling.