Public Accounts Committee

Press Notice No. 60 of Session 2005-06 dated 17 October 2006

59th PAC Report 2005-06

Improving poorly performing schools in England

Chairman: Edward Leigh MP


Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"Nearly one million children in England attend schools which, according to government definitions, are providing a poor standard of education. To waste so much human potential in this way is a tragedy. The consequences in the long term for the pupils themselves and, more widely, for our society will be severe.

"The signs of decline in a school need to be picked up early and effective remedies applied. It is worrying that comparative information about primary school performance is particularly hard to come by. If primary school pupils are not getting the education that they should, then that's storing up problems for their secondary education.

"The swifter, lighter-touch inspection regime for secondary schools is intended to identify a declining performance earlier. That's good if Ofsted keeps clearly in mind that poorly performing schools require closer scrutiny than the highly performing ones and also more support following an inspection. And the leaders of weaker schools are hardly the best people to evaluate their own performance. Inspection reports must include a distinct assessment of the headteacher.

"The ethos of a school is a fundamental factor in the attainment of its pupils, as is seen in the case of faith schools. And the ethos flows in large part from the calibre of the headteacher. If talented and administratively able teachers are to be motivated to apply for headteacher posts, then those teachers have to know they have the support to carry out an immensely demanding role."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 59th Report of this Session, which, on the basis of evidence from the Department for Education and Skills and Ofsted, examined trends in poorly performing schools, developing simpler relationships with schools, strengthening school leadership, and dealing with deep rooted failure.

All children and young people deserve a good education that helps them to develop their skills, knowledge and personal qualities. In 2004-05, schools received around £25 billion and the Department for Education and Skills (the Department) spent around £837 million on a range of national programmes to help improve school performance. In addition, Ofsted inspections of all schools in England cost around £60 million a year. Most schools in England do provide a good standard of education. However, though the number of poorly performing schools has been reducing, there are still around 1,500 that fall within the definitions that the Department and Ofsted use for poorly performing schools.

Improvements in data on secondary school performance are making it easier to identify school decline early, and to give support at a time when the school is relatively capable to respond. Similar improvements need to be made to the data on primary schools, so that they can be identified and helped in the same way.

Shorter inspections by Ofsted, involving smaller inspection teams, were introduced in September 2005. Though the shorter inspections may be right for the majority of schools that provide a good standard of education, Ofsted needs to develop proportionate inspection to apply more of its resources to under-performing schools. The shorter inspections are predicated on schools evaluating themselves effectively. Some schools are not doing so, and these are also likely to be the schools than need the most support. Ofsted and the Department need to create incentives for schools to evaluate themselves honestly and effectively.

Leadership in schools, especially by the headteacher, is essential to achieving and maintaining school improvement. Honest and effective self-evaluation is especially important but also difficult to achieve in this area. In poorly performing schools, most self-evaluations of leadership and management are over-generous. It is important to diagnose clearly the nature of the leadership problem in these schools, and Ofsted reports should do so explicitly.

An increasing proportion of schools are finding it difficult to make suitable headteacher appointments. Headteachers face big challenges that are unlikely to be reduced in the medium term, but they could be better supported to deal with them. Recent improvements in the training of school leaders should be supplemented by more innovative approaches to recruiting into difficult posts and more support to individual headteachers at local level, which will attract talented teachers into becoming headteachers and help them do a good job once appointed.

Local authorities and other schools are important sources of support for struggling schools. Local authority practices vary widely, and there is substantial scope for disseminating good practice. School-to-school collaboration can bring good results but could be used more routinely if there were better incentives on schools to collaborate.

School funding has been simplified and schools will be given more certainty about their future funding. For schools to gain maximum benefit from these changes, they will need access to financial management expertise.

Notes for Editors

1.Contact details for requests for further comment from Mr Edward Leigh are provided below. ISDN facilities are available for broadcasting purposes.

2.The full text of the Report is attached to this press notice.

3.This report can be accessed via the internet from around 00.01 am on the day of publication.

All media enquiries to:

Luke Robinson, Select Committee Media Officer Tel: 020 7219 5693 Mobile: 07834 312705