Governing bodies in secondary schools in England are continuing to lag behind in ensuring that their schools fulfil their statutory duties, according to the latest Ofsted annual report.

In 2003-2004, Ofsted found that almost half of all secondary school governing bodies were unsatisfactory or poor at ensuring that statutory duties, including the promotion of inclusion policies, were fulfilled. A year later this had improved to just over a third, but there were still only 15% of secondary governing bodies judged to be excellent or very good at the task.

This contrasts with 35% of secondary schools where governors have an excellent or very good understanding of their school’s strengths and weaknesses, and 25% of schools receiving a top rating for their overall standard of governance.

The most common failure in secondary schools continues to be the provision of a daily act of collective worship, where almost three quarters do not meet their statutory duty. It is now more than 18 months since Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, called for this statutory requirement to be removed. But, although Ofsted inspectors are now instructed not to downgrade the overall performance of a governing body purely because it fails to meet its legal obligations on collective worship, there is no sign of the government changing the law.

Inspectors judged that about two thirds of secondary schools evaluated their performance well and made good use of the evaluation. They found that the rigour and use of self evaluation vary sharply with the quality of leadership and management. Self evaluation was judged to be unsatisfactory or poor in 7% of secondary schools and 8% of primary schools.

Strategic planning and self evaluation were also found to be good or very good in slightly more than two thirds of special schools, although one in 10 schools was unable to use its self evaluation accurately to determine priorities for improvement effectively.

The report was the second to be published this year as Ofsted has been able to complete the analysis of inspections made under the 2003 framework closer to the end of the academic year they apply to. The Chief Inspector said the report presented an encouraging picture, highlighting many strong features including:

  • a large majority of effective and improving primary, secondary and special schools, with which pupils and their parents are generally very satisfied;
  • schools that respond well to a range of initiatives, such as the development of ‘extended schools’, particularly for primary age pupils, and the opportunity to offer increased curriculum flexibility in secondary schools;
  • effective teacher training, which has improved in recent years and is preparing new teachers well for the future.

The report also included data showing a 27% fall in the number of schools in special measures between July 2004 and July 2005 to 242. The number of schools going into special measures in that time more than halved.

While welcoming these improvements, David Bell warned that, ‘there are schools that, while not in a state of crisis, are providing nothing better than mediocrity’. He added: ‘While on the surface all might appear to be well in these schools, if we dig deeper we find that achievement could be better in some subjects or for some groups of pupils.’

The Secondary Heads Association, which welcomed the report as an accurate reflection of the work put in by schools and school leadership teams, took up the point about under achieving schools. Its deputy general secretary, Martin Ward, said: ‘In regards to David Bell’s comments on “coasting” schools, there will always be room for improvement in some subjects and with some groups of pupils, even in schools at the top of the league tables.

The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools 2004/05 can be read online at: www.ofsted.gov.uk/publications/annualreport0405/.

New style inspections under way

Reports on the performance of schools inspected under the new shorter, sharper regime, are already appearing on the Ofsted website. The reports often run to no more than six pages of judgements and two pages of summary tables and Ofsted says they will normally appear on its website within three weeks of the end of an inspection.

Ofsted made 86 inspections in the first week of the new system, which began on September 12. It judged 79 schools (92%) to be in the top three grades of satisfactory or better, with 48 being judged good (grade 2) and seven making grade 1 for outstanding performance.

Seven schools were given the new grade 4 judgement of inadequate, with six of them being given a notice to improve and the remaining one put into special measures.

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