Ofsted judges seventy percent of schools to be good or better at teaching English

Francis Gilbert's picture
A new report on English teaching from the schools' inspectorate, Moving Forward,  says that seven out of ten state schools are good or better at teaching English. In other words, the vast majority of teachers are doing a great job at teaching English and it's a complete myth that are state schools are failing to teach our children basic literacy skills. The report says: "Around 70% of schools inspected in this survey were judged to be good or outstanding in English. This reflects the high profile the subject enjoys in schools, the emphasis placed on raising standards in English and the impact of substantial recent training and support."

The report goes on: "Since 2008, attainment in English has risen in secondary schools. There has also been improvement in the proportion of children who are secure in all aspects of communication, language and literacy at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage."

The report is supportive of English teachers. The report says: "The quality of teaching was good or outstanding in seven in 10 of the lessons seen. In these lessons, teaching plans were clear about the key learning for pupils, teaching was flexible and responded to pupils’ needs as the lesson developed, and tasks were meaningful, giving pupils real audiences and contexts where possible."

"The curriculum for English was judged to be good or outstanding in the large majority of schools inspected. The most successful schools were those that had identified the particular needs of their pupils and then designed a distinctive curriculum to meet those needs."

The report does highlight some issues that need to be addressed -- there is some weak teaching which is to focused upon teaching to the test but this is hardly surprising given this government's (the last government's) obsession with testing and league tables. Overall though the report dispels the myths perpetrated by the likes of Michael Gove that our nation's English teachers are failing our children because they're not teaching them Dryden.


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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 10:13

Thanks, Francis, for another positive story. One of the useful figures available in the new school performance tables is one which shows the proportion of pupils in a school's ability band (low, medium, high) that made the expected progress in English. In Lincolnshire, a selective county, a secondary school with a comprehensive intake, Queen Eleanor School, Stamford, outperformed all Lincolnshire secondary schools including the grammars on the proportion of children making the expected progress in English. The figures were: low attainers 91%, middle attainers 100%, high attainers 100%.

The matrix used to measure expected progress is on page 2 of the following document:https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:75Vfv9jFRW8J:https://www.rais...

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 10:14

The important point that you highlighted, Francis, was that Ofsted recognised that the most successful schools were those that tailored the English curriculum to the needs of their particular pupils. This is unlikely to be Pope and Dryden for the majority of pupils. Neither is it likely to be a diet of "functional skills" for those pupils not deemed capable of getting a GCSE C grade as is proposed by the group consulting on the free schools in Saxmundham, Beccles and Stoke-by-Nayland.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 11:21

Or, another way of putting it:

Ofsted has found that the teaching of English is NOT good in nearly one third of our schools.

That doesn't seem to me to be anything to crow about.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 13:35

Ricky - the report said that 70% of lessons were good or outstanding. It then said that 30% were no better than satisfactory. What it doesn't say, and what it should say, is how many of that 30% were, in fact, satisfactory. Satisfactory means satisfied the criteria, so it's a glaring omission not to say exactly how many lessons were satisfactory and how many were unsatisfactory.

The implication is, of course, that the 30% were unsatisfactory, but the evidence in the report doesn't support that. The "no better than satisfactory" phrase will no doubt be seized upon (as you did) to "prove" that a third of English lessons are unsatisfactory.

The report makes many positive comments about English teaching (Francis has highlighted several of them) and has useful advice about what it considers to be "myths" about English teaching (often caused by mistaken assumptions about what Ofsted regards as a good lesson). However, I get the impression that the report is actually downplaying the overall success of the teaching of English by lumping together satisfactory and unsatisfactory. This ploy portrays a more negative picture than would otherwise be the case.

So, what the report says is that the overwhelming majority of English lessons satisfy the criteria. As 70% are known to be good or outstanding, then the number of lessons that satisfy the criteria will be more than 70%. If, say, 5% were inadequate then that would mean that 95% of English lessons satisfied the criteria.

Ofsted should be been less economical with the truth and let us know the exact number of satisfactory lessons.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 15:25


I gather Ofsted have redefined 'satisfactory' as 'needs improvement' for the overall measure of school performance. Effectively, that means satisfactory=unsatisfactory.

Given the vast increase in resources given to schools in recent years, the taxpayer has a right to expect teachers to deliver lessons that are good, not just adequate (or inadequate).

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 16:40

You "gather" correctly - Ofsted have indeed redefined satisfactory as needs improvement. It is indeed that anyone whose work is satisfactory can improve it but if s/he doesn't riase the standard of work above satisfactory then that doesn't mean the work is unsatisfactory. No amount of Orwellian alteration of language can alter the dictionary definition of satisfactory as satisfying a set criteria.

The taxpayer and future taxpayers (ie the pupils) should expect as a minimum that teachers deliver a lesson that satisfies the set criteria. If the education is good, even outstanding, that's great, but no child will be harmed by receiving a lesson which satisfies the set criteria just as no-one would be harmed by receiving a satisfactory level of care from a doctor, dentist or lawyer.

The Sutton Trust in 2008 noted that the then Government kept changing what was meant by "standards" and introduced a plethora of benchmarks, indicators and targets. This trend has been continued by this Government - if "standards" constantly mutate how can it be possible to judge whether "standards" are rising or falling? This is discussed in more detail on the thread below:


Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 18:54

Ricky -

It would also help children's education if governments stopped putting all the blame on teachers, stepped back and took a long, hard look as to how state education has reached this great level of fragmentation. Successive governments have not succeeded in tackling the most challenging areas of the schools system but have instead introduced a series of quick and, yes, expensive fixes that do not really address the underlying problem which is how to raise attainment for all children, rather than this segregation of the able and the less able, exemplified at its most obvious by grammar schools and secondary moderns.

One of the reasons that the Finnish school model is held in such high esteem is because back in the 80s, the government knew that it had to tackle the income gap between rich and poor alongside the schools policy. The result is that with poverty virtually eradicated, the Finns have also eradicated the cycle of poverty/low attainment that all serious studies of educational outcomes recognise as being a major challenge to nations in their attempt to improve overall results. Finland is both a capitalist and an egalitarian society and one that reveres teachers, who are highly trained and respected by the community and the government. It would have been a good idea of Michael Gove had taken teachers more seriously and respected their experience when it came to his putting together his self-style "radical" reforms. Arguably worse than this, his Free Schools and Academies are free to cut teachers pay and even employ unqualified teachers, so no one should be surprised when teachers protect their profession from the constant .assault from the government.

The taxpayer has the right to expect the government to deliver policies that are good. Policies which support teachers and keep them motivated to stay in the profession and to motivate students. A demoralised workforce never works, but unfortunately under an educational autocracy governed by ideology, this is what we have got and Gove only has himself to blame.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 13:38


I am glad you are a fan of the Finnish approach to education. Let's recall to mind some of the features of the Finnish basic comprehensive phase (up to age 16):

* Compulsory curriculum includes: Finnish, Swedish, another modern foreign language, maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Geography (- i.e. a kind of EBacc. plus.)

* Schools enjoy high level of autonomy, as do department heads/teachers within schools. Teachers are well paid.

* Teachers are drawn from the top levels of university graduates. Entrance to the profession is highly competitive and teachers possess higher levels of subject knowledge than is generally the case in the UK. (i.e. Finnish teachers are more like the Teach First cohort, favoured by Gove).

* Pupil achievement in each subject is graded on a scale of ten twice per year. Any pupil graded at 4 or less in the Easter term is set an improvement target to be reached by the end of the summer term. Failure to improve can result in being required to repeat the year.

So, to sum up: a traditional, academic curriculum; autonomy, better qualified teachers; a focus on assessment and progress.

Sounds just like what free schools and academy chains are doing, and what Gove exhorts the rest to do.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 17:24

The Telegraph described the Ofsted publication as a "damning report". Is this a sign of declining standards of comprehension? Perhaps the journalists needs more practice in analysing "non-literary" texts.

The article's headline said English standards in primary schools were "too low". These two words were put in quotation marks indicating that they appeared in the text - they didn't. "Low" only appeared when discussing "low prior attainment". "Too" appeared several times, as in "Too many schools" failing to have a rationale for Key Stage 3 because they focussed too much on KS4 GCSE, and "too few" opportunities for creative work because of an over-concentration on GCSE skills, and "too few" schools developing reading skills like skimming, scanning, summarising and so on (all valid criticisms).

The Telegraph wasted a good opportunity to discuss how best to raise the already satisfactory and better standards of English teaching in UK schools to rubbish English state education (again).


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 14:26

Ricky - could you please provide the link where you found the information about the Finnish education system.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 15:14


I didn't find it from a link, but from visiting Finland and talking to a range of Finnish educators. However, you can find the core curriculum subjects listed at the website of the Finnish National Board of Education (scroll down to para 3) here:

Wikipedia has a page on Academic Grading in Finland here:

(It seems I'm out of date - grades below 4 have been scrapped).

A general overview emphasising the importance of professional autonomy is given by Pasi Stahlberg in a 2011 article for the American Educator downloadable in PDF form here:


For Finland's high standard of recruit, you could read Michael Gove's 2009 Conservative Party Conference speech here:


Hope that covers it.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 23/03/2012 - 08:38

Ricky - thank you for providing the link. I requested it because I feared you had based your comment on the Wikipedia article (link below) which carried a warning about neutrality and lack of citation.

You are, of course, aware that the national curriculum in Finland is a core curriculum and teachers are given considerable autonomy to decide what and how to teach. No-one is disputing the importance of autonomy - OECD has found that greater autonomy tends to be linked with higher educational outcomes. OECD also found in 2009 that UK was among only four countries in the world that allowed considerable autonomy, see http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/lsn_faq/is-it-true-that-schools-wi...

I'm surprised that you used Michael Gove as an example of unbiased evidence as he has a tendency to mislead. He is, however, correct in saying that Finland recruits from the top graduates and that Finnish teachers are held in high esteem. It's odd, then, that he allows free schools to employ untrained teachers, encourages the DfE to publish press briefings which promote the idea that English education is "failing" while ignoring positive stories, and demotes teaching from a profession to a "craft".

You will also be aware that in Finland "the only external testing in comprehensive schools is done on a sampling basis and is designed to provide information on the functioning of the system as a whole, assessment in Finnish schools is a classroom responsibility." There is no barrage of external testing through a pupil's life as there is in England.

As far as grading is concerned, "Numerical assessment (scale 4-10) describes only the level of performance in relation to the objectives of the curriculum" and "The scale of numerical grades used in all reports and certificates is 4–10, where 5 is adequate, 6 moderate, 7 satisfactory, 8 good, 9 very good and 10 shows excellent knowledge and skills. Grade 4 is for failed performances. The assessment is carried out by the relevant subject teacher."




Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 23/03/2012 - 12:44


Yes, Finland doesn't require an Ofsted because its teachers are highly motivated professionals with specialist subject knowledge, who can be trusted to do a decent job - as opposed to the shambling, de-denimed armchair sociologists and leftist political agitators, who dominate the scene here. Perhaps once the Teach First ambassadors are well dug-in on SLTs, we will be able to wind it down too.

The point I was making was that the content of the Finnish curriculum, leading up to Matriculation exams (at 16) bears a strong resemblance to the E Bacc, and the freedoms afforded to schools (both in curriculum and other matters) resemble the autonomy enjoyed by free schools and academies.

So, free schools and academies employing good teachers (of the kind Gove champions), teaching a traditionally academic range of subjects, and enjoying professional autonomy are much closer to the Finnish model than community schools which push their pupils into courses on Resistant Materials, Textiles, Hairdressing, Beauty Science and so on at the expense of academic GCSEs.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 23/03/2012 - 18:03

Ricky - please read the comment by Sirkku Nikamaa-Berg on the thread linked below. It makes it quite clear that children in Finland do not matriculate until the end of upper secondary school (18 years).

I'm sorry you haven't yet grasped that English schools already had considerable autonomy in 2009 over such things as courses offered, what and how to teach, the national curriculum notwithstanding.

I'm actually quite sorry that you've resorted to parodies to attack the teaching profession of which I am a retired member. I thought at one point that you might have something useful to say. It's quite laughable when someone's argument descends into name-calling based on caricature - it usually means that the one doing the mud-slinging has run out of things to say.


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 26/03/2012 - 11:39


I am sorry if any of my light-hearted parodies have offended you. Joking aside, I do feel that you tend to underestimate the influence of cultural marxism in school staff rooms. I also think that you and Mr Beavis have an unduly cynical take on Coalition/Conservative policy. Beavis (in one thread here) even said that the Conservative ideology (sic) is underpinned by a belief in "unfettered free markets". That is so silly. Hardly any proper Conservatives believe in that - and certainly not Cameron.

Leonard James's picture
Sun, 08/04/2012 - 06:05


Surely you don't think that the unions represent the views of most teachers so on what evidence do you conclude that 'cultural marxism' is influencing staff rooms?

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