A new report by New Schools Network has found that more than a third of primary schools rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted are failing to teach pupils basic skills. We asked the experts what they thought of the findings.
Stephen Chamberlain, CEO of the Challenger Multi Academy Trust, says: “Not only does this raise the issue of how we assess our schooling, it also highlights a much wider debate on what ‘basic’ skills really are.
“The report outlined failures in teaching ‘basic’ skills like reading, writing and maths resulting in falling GSCE results. And it does not stop there. The report goes on to suggest that parents have been misled into sending their children to the wrong school as a result of Ofsted’s misguided ratings – a messy picture all round.
“What the report poignantly highlights is that it is very hard to judge the success of a school and the education it offers by one measure alone. Having worked with a plethora of schools, I can safely say that their quality is never purely down to exam results and this assumption that basic skills should be judged on grades alone is a misguided one. Of course exam scores are important, and we must ensure our young people are on track, but it would be hasty to write off a school due to poor exam results in any one year, and at a time when accountability measures at both primary and secondary level are changing.
“I find it worrying that we feel basic skills can be measured solely by grades, as this totally ignores how skills, including soft skills, can often develop over time, in line with a child’s character. The danger is that the report entirely sidesteps soft skills, especially at an age at which they are so crucial.
“Though results can be an important yardstick, they are not the be-all-and-end-all of a school’s quality, and philosophy or suitability as an environment for your child to learn and grow. There are myriad factors to think about, not least of which is how seriously a school takes instilling and enriching character in its students to complement the necessary hard skills the report points out. Developing traits like grit, resilience and confidence will help students make the most of their lives, settle on their aspirations and hone the skills they will need to attain them.
“For schools encouraging holistic and diverse extracurricular activities including the likes of sport, art and travel, it may be worth holding off our criticism where results do not meet our Ofsted-fuelled expectations knowing that more is being done than can be summed up in a number or percentage.
“Only by widening our focus will we get away from this damaging results-focused approach to education, which places pressure on teachers, parents and students alike.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “We are not uncritical of Ofsted judgements, but the NSN claims are based on even flimsier analysis and a slanted view of the statistics. We are choosing here between a two day on-site visit by education experts or an ideologically driven scan of a spreadsheet of data.
“It is entirely possible that a student may not achieve a level four at the end of primary but still make exceptional levels of progress from their starting point. You have to look at progress and attainment together, not separately, to form a fair judgement. Nor is it right to claim that a child achieving below a level four necessarily lacks the ‘basics’. They are still literate and numerate – we just want them to achieve even more.
“We agree that strong accountability is critical to the success of our school system. However, the claim that academies and free schools are more accountable than those in the maintained sector is inaccurate. New academies and free schools have just been granted a three year window free from inspection and are exempt from the measures applied to coasting schools in the Education and Adoption bill.
“Yet again we see the New Schools Network acting as a battering ram for the government’s policies. This time they are undermining the maintained sector to boost the Education and Adoption Bill’s provisions around academisation. The fact is academisation is a means to an end rather than an end in itself; the New Schools Network should recognise this, and adopt a less dogmatic approach.”