OFSTED wants all schools to be above average

Ian Taylor's picture
According to this report in the TES, OFSTED is planning to "fail" schools with below average results.
Of course, everyone wants schools to improve. The man in the street sees the word "average" in a negative light. Most people want their children to be above average. However, OFSTED need to do better.

About half of all schools will always be below average by definition. I am surprised that OFSTED is not insisting on all schools being in the top 10%. Does this loose talk by OFSTED assist schools to improve or is it a political gesture to gain public approval for their organisation? What effect will it have on schools working in difficult circumstances?

Can we please have public policy which helps teachers do their jobs improving the education of all children. Not policy which stigmatises those with the greatest challenges.
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Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 16:22

No marks for Ofsted. Don't they realise what an average is? There will always be groups of pupils below average, just as there will be pupils at average (most of them) and pupils above average. And schools which take a large number of below average pupils will by necessity have below average raw exam results.

This is another blow to education standards. OECD says it's concerned about the excessive emphasis on grades in English schools, says Contextual Value Added (CVA)was a step in the right direction, but warns that the UK government should introduce more sophisticated ways of measuring schools. So what does Mr Gove do? Scrap CVA. Then Ofsted announces this nonsense about failing schools that are "below average" (thus making them ripe for Mr Gove's requirement for them to become academies under governance of his choosing, whether or not parents want it).

The TES reports that a worried head is considering offering more BTec to increase the school's score and avoid the damning "below average" grade. So that's how educational standards are improved, is it? By pushing pupils into easier exams to increase raw exam results.

This is becoming a farce.


Andy Smithers's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 16:29

I am surprised none of the regular posters picked the following article up from The Guardian below.......

Why are so many children being failed ? Its simply not good enough and illustrates why we need a major overhaul of our education system.

"Hundreds of thousands of pupils are falling behind in the basics after starting secondary school, official figures suggest.

More than a third of children are failing to make the expected progress in maths, while three in 10 are not making enough progress in English, according to Department for Education data.

Boys are making less progress than girls, and in maths the gap has widened since 2009, the figures show.

Overall, more than 215,000 state school pupils (38%) failed to make the progress expected of them in maths between starting secondary school and sitting their GCSEs.

In the same period, more than 170,000 youngsters failed to make the expected progress in English.

On average, if a child leaves primary school with a Level 4 in maths or English, they are expected to get a C in the subject at GCSE. The statistics, for 2010, show that two fifths (39.5%) of boys failed to make the expected progress in maths, compared with more than a third (36.5%) of girls – a gap of three percentage points. In 2009 the gap was 2.2 percentage points.

In English, 36.7% of boys failed to make the expected progress last year, compared with 24.9% of girls – a gap of 11.8%. This gap was 11.1% in 2009.

These figures are for all maintained schools, including special schools, academies and city technology colleges.

Excluding special schools, more than 200,000 pupils overall did not make enough progress in maths and more than 160,000 did not make enough progress in English.

The schools minister, Nick Gibb, said it was "not good enough" that so many pupils were falling short,.

He said: "It's a huge concern that one in three boys fail to reach their potential in English, with the gap with girls remaining stubbornly wide. Children only get one chance at education and we know that the further behind pupils are at 11, the less likely they are to catch up.

"Every child needs to master basic English and maths at primary school. That's why our reforms will give all pupils a solid grounding in reading and arithmetic, with the right catchup support if they start to fall behind."

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 16:31

It is always worth remembering that the old O level converted to the A-C grade of GCSE was only ever intended for the top 20% of the population....

Jane Eades's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 17:24

We can't win. I see that now a "failing" school is one which doesn't get 40% 5 A*-C including English and Maths. When this is achieved, of course, the accusation will be that the exams have just got easier.

Ian Taylor's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 17:51

Andy, consider what is meant by "expected standard" and "expected progress". Most people would not have a clue what it actually means. Does it mean that all children should achieve this?
If you look at all the children with KS2 level 4 in maths and follow them 5 years later to GCSE maths, you will get some children with maths GCSEs grade A, B, C, D, E, F, G, or U. If more than 50% get a grade C or above, then grade C is the "expected standard". Currently it is not much more than 50% who achieve grade C or above. If more than 50% got maths GCSE grade B, then grade B would be the "expected standard". You can see that like "average", it is impossible for everyone to reach the "expected standard". You might wonder then why there is all this outrage about students not reaching the "expected standard". So do I. I guess it allows politicians to make sweeping statements. Who could object to the minister demanding that everyone should reach the expected standard?
I doubt that people like Michael Gove have any idea of what the "expected standard" really is in technical terms. It probably would not serve his purpose to know. To be fair I don't think previous Secretaries of State for Education had any idea either. So it is little wonder that members of the public can only go by the facts and figures such as those you quote above, and consider them outrageous. It helps the Daily Mail sell newspapers too, and as you can see they will always be able to use the headline "shock x% do not reach the expected standard".

Even when explained as I have done above, it is difficult for most people to understand this concept. Unfortunately it does allow politicians to attack teachers. I guess it is a way of controlling the system and putting the teaching profession on the defensive.
I wish we had more enlightened politicians who had a better understanding of maths, statistics, and evidence.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 19:36


Is is possible that many below average schools are not fulfilling expected standards that, on average, should be achieved? I agree that without proper use of statistics and objective competencies describing what children should attain this is all smoke and mirrors.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 01:17

Andy Smithers -

Ian is absolutely right. It would be very disappointing if OFSTED were to follow this path of political expediency, especially since the present government seems hell bent on pursuing a policy which callously makes little provision for quite a large number of children who can’t conveniently be moulded into some kind of Academic Aryan Über-elite. Unless a schools has selected its pupils based on ability, many complex factors will contribute to the results achieved by the school – demographic, social, cultural, languages spoken and how many children have English only as a second language, whether the school is in an area of high deprivation or greater wealth…

It is therefore facile to ask “Why are so many children being failed? Its simply not good enough and illustrates why we need a major overhaul of our education system.” This kind of comment reveals a profound ignorance of the relationship between student and school, as if a purge of below outstanding schools and a totalitarian one system fits all prescription of education will be the answer to providing the media with a more grandiose interpretation of statistics.

I should think no one with a questioning mind would have posted up this Guardian piece without first subjecting it to some scepticism, just as they would not have given much credence to the Evening Standard’s campaign to fight illiteracy in the capital. A campaign which distorted data and the truth just so that Michael Gove could step in today with an editorial all of his own to back the paper’s covert support of the government’s segregational policies.

Middle class children and those from wealthy families will usually do well because they can articulate their demands by using their financial or social advantages to get what they want. Not so the disadvantaged. They can’t just sell up and move to the catchment area of a good school, they can’t afford private, they may have severe domestic, financial or worse burdens which over-ride the luxury of worrying about the quality of education for their child. It is these people which Andy Smithers and the government don’t give a hoot about.

There are many teachers in state schools who have dedicated their careers to caring about these children and have done their utmost, often under very trying circumstances, to get the best out of the children in their care. But the fact remains that not every single child is going to over-achieve above the average, not even if subjected to the type of draconian teaching methods which I am sure Smithers would favour.

The tiresome data and percentages trotted out do absolutely nothing to improve education. They just whip up a whole load of prejudice and instead of being used quietly in schools to measure pupil’s progress and achievements, they are being used as a weapon with which to punish teachers. It is as wrong as it is malicious. Gove needs to start improving for each and every child. Not just the favoured ones.

Andy Smithers's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 17:46

I am astounded that some contributors feel it is accetable that 200,000 pupils per year do not make the MINIMUM expected progress in our most important basic subjects (English and Maths).
This failure to achieve a minimum progress is across the board, regardless of background and ability on entering state secondary schools

It amazes me that certain contributors want to blame politicians for schools being unable to achieve this.

I spent the afternoon with a headmaster of an outstanding inner city school. He was amazed that any school, headmaster or teacher would allow the pupils in their care to not achieve this minimum target of children progressing by a minimum of 2 points per year - it is simple to measure and monitor.
His feeling was that each teacher is accountable for ensuring this happens, it is a minimum target and in fact his school wants all pupils to improve at a greater rate.

So who is failing our children and why do so many contributors to this site think it is acceptable that state secondaries do not enable children to reach their full potential in English and Maths ?

Tim - Note original article was from the Guardian (not the Daily Mail) and most parents (and I hope teachers) understand the premise of minimum progress a pupil should make (this is not about averages or GCSE targets).

Allan - great to see you resorting to your usual insults about me because I simply posted an article from the Guardian about minimum expected progress.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 11:37

I don't think any of us , the founders of the site at least, believe it is acceptable for children to fail to reach their potential. Our argument is that the best and most cost effective way to address this issue is by supporting existing local schools to become better if they are underperforming. That is indeed what many of us our doing, or have done, with our local schools. The latest DFE performance tables are interesting but not really surprising since we have known all along that simply giving schools independence is not a 'magic bullet' that will then rapidly improve progress. You need strong, aspirational leaders, great teachers, and good governors who will hold their schools to account in all schools, especially those with the most disadvantaged intakes.

Andy Smithers's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 13:53


The problem and rhetoric of the far left (see Allan's and Ian's comments on this very thread), is that they fail to see that there is even a problem. As you acknowledge this is a real problem. Whilst there may not be a "magic bullet", there needs to be change, schools and all teachers need to made accountable for ensuring their pupils progress - especially in Eng and Maths.
Unfortunately many local schools are unable to do this under their current structures.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 14:00

I think from reading Allan and Ian's comments, they have a very real understanding of what goes on in many state schools. I know Allan is a parent in one. It is completely wrong to claim that many local schools can't improve under their current structures. There are myriad examples of maintained schools that have improved rapidly in the last 15 years and remain popular and supported by their local communities, work closely with their LA's and other local schools.
It will be a great relief to me when we can get over this artificial debate about autonomy ( which can be quite a bad thing incidentally in the hands of a weak head and governing body) and focus on what really matters in schools - primarily the quality of leadership and teaching. Academies and free schools do NOT have the monopoly on these things.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 19:20

Wrong again Smithers. I have not failed to "see there is even a problem". I have never claimed that maintained schools are perfect. Only a fool would claim that and those of us in this site who support them are not fools. Of course they improve - many actually have and for a variety of reasons to do with good leadership, teachers, BSF, change of demographics in the local area. And some fail, for which there are sad consequences.

What you cannot admit even to yourself that other types of schools fail - Academies have failed; the way they are being set up, there is every chance that some free schools will fail; some private schools have failed. The big issue surrounding all this is the huge financial and social cost that is going into such a risky, divisive and competitive policy. It may benefit a few, at the cost of many. But then I guess you are happy with this, concerned as you appear to be to support the "aspirations" of a selected few, whilst the undeserving can just be abandoned to the poor houses of Victorian nightmares. Do sleep well tonight as you mull that that over in your head

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 18:28

Smithers -

What is the point you are trying to make? Are you trying to say that the Guardian are endorsing these "facts"? That even the liberal Guardian is shaking it's head at the dire state of education?

Just because the Guardian reported what the DfE claim, it doesn't mean the paper believes them or endorses them (unlike your beloved Daily Mail who are keen to endorse lies and propaganda). I expect someone at the guardian or elsewhere will challenge them before too long. I suggest you aspire to read papers carefully and not jump to conclusions about their reporting to skewer them to suit your prejudicial thinking.
Can you not tell the difference between reporting a press release from the DfE and a commentary piece?? I am astounded that you feel it is accetable that that you have not make the expected progress in this most basic subject (English).

I am sorry my comments about you hit such a raw nerve that you feel offended by them but you never actually defend your outrageous and biased prejudices but go onto the entrench them further. Why don't you now explain how you think it is fair and reasonable to blame teachers for not being able to achieve greater success given the extraneous factors affecting their schools? Can you explain why your desire for "aspiration" never extends beyond your own circle and why you find it so unacceptable to back a system which offers aspiration to everyone, not just your sort? Can you?

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 18:47

Smithers -

Why don't you have a look at the DfE website for yourself, rather than regurgitate the most sensational bits? http://www.education.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SFR/s001010/index.shtml

It seems that Academies, sadly, aren't doing so well.

In the Academies, 53.3% make expected progress in Maths compared with 60.6% in Community Schools and 63.3% in all non-special schools.

In English, Academies average 62.4%, Community Schools 68.3% and all non-special schools 70.7%.

Which all goes to prove that such a drastic reform of schools, based on the trashing of maintained schools and the supposed superiority of Academies and free schools, is based on very feeble foundations. And that using data like these to trash schools and denigrate teachers is malicious and deliberately misleading, given that the relationship between schools, its students, its community is so complex. Shameful really.

Ian Taylor's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 18:56

Andy, as I said in my last post above, it is difficult for most people to understand the concept that I explained. Even some headteachers do not understand it, nor the Guardian, so I suppose I cannot blame you for not understanding it either. It is nothing to do with progress and poor teaching. It is statistically impossible for a whole chohort of children to reach the expected standard. Perhaps someone from the DfE could come on to this site and explain. (Unlikely I guess.)
This does not mean I am against improving standards. I do want children to do better. In the same way that there will always be half the population above average and half below average, there will always be a large % who do not reach the expected standard. It is the way the expected standard is defined which causes this. The reason that it is important to understand this, is that ranting about not reaching the expected standard does nothing to improve the education of children. There will always be people who think you can have everyone above average if only you work harder. Maybe you are one of these people.
It is the way we measure things which is causing the difficulty. My argument is nothing to do with being complacent about standards. We need a better measure of what is happening. The use of contextual value added data was perhaps the best method so far, of comparing schools, but Michael Gove and OFSTED have moved away from this. This retrograde step means that I can write the headlines about underperformance for the next 10 years now, as it will always be there.

The general public will never understand contextual value added data. It is much easier to talk about "expected standards", especially if you want to slag off state schools. Everyone understands what "expected standards" means, don't they? Everyone has children who are above average, don't they?

Andy Smithers's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 19:28

Ian and Allan,

Back to school for you both. It is easy to understand.
This is not about averages it is about the basic, minimum level every child can progress by each year whilst at secondary school.

200,000 children are not achieving this in secondary schools in English and Maths.
These are DFE statistics based on SATs tests and GCSEs and quite easy to follow - they are facts.

You both seem happy that this many children fail to achieve their potential each year.
I think its a disgrace.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 19:40

Smithers -

Well clearly you would fail the minimum level for basic comprehension. Back to the nursery for you.

Another failing is your ability to sustain you arguments with facts when challenged. You simply resort to putting words into people's mouths to "prove" your point. You could "seem" to be happy to be borderline fascist but I wouldn't actually say or even suggest that.

Ian Taylor's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 20:30

Andy, I will be charitable and assume that you are not trying to be awkward just to wind everyone up.
Imagine we measure the heights of all 11 year old boys in the country. We then select all those who are 4ft 6inches tall. We know from past data that when these boys are 16 years old, 60% will be 6ft tall or more. For these 11 years olds we will expect them to be 6ft tall when they reach 16 years.This is their "expected height" at 16 years. When these boys reach 16, 40% have not reached 6ft tall and so have not reached the "expected height". Is this a shock? Is it front page news?

What we want to find out is whether any of the boys were stunted in their growth because of something we did or didn't do for them. Did they get enough food?
Ranting that 40% did not reach the "expected height" does not help us find the answer to this question. We will never get 100% of the boys to be 6ft tall, but this is not the problem.
We could set the "expected height" at 6ft 2in, or any height we like, it does not change the issue.
State education should be about helping all children to grow to their full potential, whether they be destined to be small or giants, and whether there is any food at home or not.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 08:57

I am every small - below five feet. I have not reached the expected standard for an adult. This is obviously the fault of my parents and my schools for not stretching me when I was younger.

Chris Bradley's picture
Thu, 18/08/2011 - 11:22

I have every sympathy with your approach, but you really need to be in my classes. Some kids can't read - they have support and teaching assistants to support. Thier parents can't read either. There is a problem for me. With enough one to one support they will get acceptable results, good for the figures, but they are not able to reason or independently reach the levels they are awarded. Some people simply cannot do it. That does not mean they are less valuable people or not deserving of our support, but they will not be able to continue to function at a level that they are pressured into.
Instead of average ability or achievment think of it as average height- they all have the same distribution. As Janet says no amount of persuasion is going to make her tall.

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